'Rising Above The Odds Against Me' 2010 Foster Care Leadership Conference

May is National Foster Care Month.

Many kids wind up in foster care through no fault of their own. It is not unusual for them to live in multiple homes before they "age out" at 18.

Too often, once they reach the age of 18, they lose their network of support and face a future of homelessness, joblessness, and even imprisonment. For that reason, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Edward Sosnick and Cherish Thomas, a University of Michigan graduate student and foster care alumna, joined together with a committee of court and family service agencies to create a forum where youth transitioning out of foster care could discuss their challenges and ambitions and be encouraged to develop a plan for achieving their goals.

This conference is the brainchild of Thomas who graduated from the University of Michigan after aging out of foster care. During her time in the Foster Care system, she had more than 20 placements and attended 15 schools.

According to census data, fewer than 3% of foster care young people earn a college degree. Having proven the exception to the rule, Thomas wanted to share her own experiences so that similar youth who "age out" of foster care could see college as a real option.

As Sosnick notes, "For me, helping these kids to see college as a real possibility can open the door to a much better, brighter future for them."

On Saturday, May 8, approximately 250 current and former foster care and juvenile justice system youth between the ages of 14 and 20 along with foster parents and area agencies will have an opportunity to spend the day at Oakland University in Rochester for the 2010 Foster Care Leadership Conference. The event is designed to inspire foster children by showing them what resources are available to help them enter the mainstream of society by obtaining a college education.

This all-day program, titled "Rising Above The Odds Against Me," will be held at Oakland University in Rochester Hills. Youth at the conference will be addressed by keynote speaker Dr. Alduan Tartt, the "People's Doc." Tartt will show them how to reach their full potential with the topic "You're Supposed to be Successful." Other speakers include college professor Dr. Cherie Dotson of the University of Michigan presenting "How To Be Successful in the Face of Adversity." In addition, clinical psychologist Dr. Gail Parker of Bingham Farms and the Rev. Mark J. Lyons of the Second Baptist Church in Ann Arbor will continue the theme with the topic "Cuz You're Worth It." Foster care youth attending the conference will have the opportunity to participate in activities intended to encourage them to develop a plan for fostering and achieving their goals.

This event is intended to inspire youth to "hunger" for education as the means of breaking the cycle of despair that they faced during childhood, to realize the power and ability they have in overcoming the barriers they face, to recognize their potential to become leaders for change in regard to the foster care and child welfare systems, and to be encouraged to work collaboratively to develop outreach efforts for foster children.

The 2010 Foster Care Leadership Conference committee wishes to thank the following partners for their generous support: Catholic Social Services of Oakland County, Childhelp, Oakland County Circuit and Probate Courts, Oakland County Community College, Oakland County Department of Human Services, Oakland County Youth Assistance, Oakland Schools Tri-County Educational Center, Oakland University, Parker Counseling and Consulting Services, and St. Francis Family Center.

Also, the committee would like to acknowledge and thank their charitable and corporate sponsors: Baskin Foundation, Best Buy of Southfield, Beverly Hills Club, Bordine's, Childhelp, Dentistry by Trinity, Dunleavy and Associates, Easter Seals, Jack and Jill, Oakland County Youth Assistance, Parkwest Foundation, and Second Baptist Church.

Any staff person or foster teen 14 years old or older who is interested in attending the conference may e-mail Rachelle Rowell at rowellr@michigan.gov or call Mary Schusterbauer at (248) 858-0055.

Published: Tue, May 4, 2010