Thursday, December 27, 2007

Winter Ball

Voicing Independent Solutions in Our Neighborhoods youth advisory board

During my childhood, I participated in the same activities as my friends - but something happened when I entered the foster care system.

It was as if I were a different person. Suddenly, I became a “group home girl” and a “foster kid.” People treated me differently. They increased their restrictions and lowered their expectations.

Schools initially placed me in remedial classes, until records arrived to notify them that I was an Honors student.

While my oldest stepdaughter prepared for Homecoming this year, I looked through a photo album from my teenage years. It is filled with photographs of my friends from high school, all dressed up for dances that I was never allowed to attend.

Thankfully, there were staff members who advocated for me to participate in school activities, such as: Junior Miss, All-State Chorus tryouts, art competitions and school plays.

Not only did participation make me feel more “normal,” but it also impressed my college admissions counselor to allow me to start college when I was 16 years old.

It is the advocates in our lives who make a difference.

Thanks to the initiative of VISION youth advisory board and the support of Doris Edelmann and Stacia Burlingame, foster care youth in Ohio have their very own dance to attend. As a foster care alumna, it was my privilege to attend as well!

This year marked the third annual Winter Ball. The youth advisory board chose the colors, food, music and theme. ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley came to show her support. There were approximately 180 youth and 20 adults in attendance. Participants voted for a Winter Ball king and queen.

My wish for the New Year is that, in 2008, youth advisory boards in each of Ohio’s 88 counties will be empowered to create and implement activities like this one!

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