Life can be especially challenging for kids who grow up in the foster care system, and not all ever make it to high school graduation. But for 39 foster youth who persevered – and in some cases even thrived despite the challenges – a full-on celebration awaited.
Celebration of Dreams, hosted by Hamilton County Job and Family Services on June 9, honored graduating foster youth still in the custody of the agency. It was a chance, also, to thank those who helped get them there: caseworkers, mentors, court-appointed special advocates and guardians ad litem.
The 17th annual event featured a movie theme as the students prepared to be stars in the film called “Life.” The red carpet was rolled out at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley, and celebrants donned semi-formal dress for the event that included dinner, speakers, music, certificates of achievement and gifts for the graduates.
Among the graduates:
- Stanley Williams, a Withrow High School graduate, is an example of the determination it takes to graduate. Williams is from a family of eight brothers and sisters, all of whom eventually entered the child welfare system. After eight years in care and two foster homes, Williams plans to go on to Urbana University, where he received a scholarship to play football. He works at Frisch’s 20 hours a week, participated in the state wrestling tournament and was named prom king.
- Crystal Carter, who just had her second child, has been working toward her GED for several years. She has her sights set on a nursing career.
- Gail Johnson, who was voted prom queen at Finneytown High School, has been in foster care three years because her mother was no longer able to care for her. She thrived at Finneytown, where her wheelchair didn’t keep her from being a cheerleader. She hopes to become a veterinary technician.
Many others have started the transition toward independence and are living on their own.
“These are just some examples of the children we care for, overcoming great challenges that most of us will never understand,” said Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “Their resiliency is remarkable and a needed attribute as they transition into adulthood – many without a support system,” said Weir. “They have already proven they can overcome great odds and they can draw on those experiences as they move ahead in life.”
Keynote speaker at the celebration was Diego Fuller, a motivational speaker and rapper from Texas who spent time in the child welfare system. He experienced negative situations in foster care and a group home, eventually being welcomed into an adoptive family that turned his life around.
Many of the teens he spoke to had similar backgrounds. The 39 have overcome abuse, neglect, separation from their families and friends and many other hurdles to complete high school. Each has grand plans to be a “star” as he or she enters the next phase of life.
“This is our chance to thank them and those who helped them. For many, this will be the only graduation party they experience, and they deserve something very nice to mark this huge occasion,” said Weir.
Information on being a foster parent or adopting: 632-6366 or hckids.org
About the agency
Hamilton County Job and Family Services currently cares for about 900 foster children a day and has nearly 200 children available for adoption.
The department administers federal, state and local programs for those in need. It helps with local child protection, elderly protection, child care, child support enforcement, workforce development, cash assistance, food assistance and Medicaid disbursement.
Click on a thumbnail below to view photo gallery from the graduation.
Credit: Photos by Mark Lyons