Saturday, August 5, 2017

Remembering Brittany Sergent


Brittany Lynn Sergent, 19 entered into eternal rest on Monday, July 24, 2017 in Ashtabula, OH. Her life ended much too soon and her death is grieved by all who knew her. Brittany was the biological daughter of Debra Zalimeni of Ashtabula and David (William) Sergent of St. Clairsville, and the beloved foster daughter of Rob and Angela Hytree of Painesville.

While the extent of her biological family is unknown in full, she is survived by several siblings, half-siblings, and aunts. Her foster siblings, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were also her "family". Her dear friends were her "family".

To Brittany, blood didn't make you family, love did. And there is no shortage of people who loved her.

Brittany attended Painesville Twp. And Painesville City schools, as well as earning her HS diploma through homeschool and online efforts. She was a true Red Raider at heart.

Britt love to sing. She was in choir at school and sang on the youth group worship teams at both Freedom Assembly of God and Painesville Assembly of God. She was an avid lover of contemporary Christian music. Some of her favorite artists include: Skillet, Lecrae, and Crowder and concerts were her favorite events. Britt was unashamed of her faith in Jesus Christ as her savior.

In addition to her love of Jesus and music, Brittany wrote poetry. She submitted a poem to a regional fine arts competition and scored so highly with the judges that she was invited back to compete at the national level.

Brittany's pain and struggles in this life were deep and they were real. If anyone reading this is dealing with similar struggles, please don't be ashamed. Seek help. Britt wanted to help everyone and she loved everyone. She would urge you to find someone you can trust and reach out to them in your time of need. Don't say you're "fine" when you aren't. Know that you're loved and you're worth it. Don't give up hope. You don't have to be alone.

Celebration of Life Service - Sunday, August 6th at Calvary Fellowship Baptist Church, 727 Mentor Avenue, Painesville, OH 44077. Family will receive friends at 2pm and the service will begin at 3pm.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Senators introduce their version of the 'Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act'


WASHINGTON (KCRG-TV9) -- Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, and Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Angus King and Sen. Tim Scott, have introduced bipartisan legislation to help youth aging out of foster care with housing needs.

“One of the biggest challenges facing older foster youth is aging out of care and being without a place to live,” Grassley said. “This bill would make it easier for such youth to get federal housing assistance so they can continue their education, get a job and have a good start into adulthood.”


“Homelessness and poverty are a real danger for teenagers when they age out of foster care,” Stabenow said. “We need to do everything we can to help them transition to stable and successful adult lives, and this bill helps with that process.”

“Every year, I am given the opportunity to welcome young leaders from the Foster Youth Internship Program into my office. It is amazing to see them push forward towards their goals, in spite of many challenges," Scott said. "That is why it is important for us to lift them up when necessary, and this bipartisan bill will help our foster youth who are aging out of care prosper and continue working to achieve the American Dream.”

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would grant priority preference for federal housing assistance to foster youth who are aging out of care and allow youth in foster care to apply for housing assistance at the age of 16, prior to aging out, which in many states occurs the day foster youth turn 18.

Foster youth face an especially difficult transition period from childhood to adulthood, and as many as 37 percent become homeless soon after aging out of care. Even more face housing instability such as frequent housing changes and “couch surfing.” They are particularly susceptible to human trafficking and other dangerous outcomes as a result.

Helping these young people access federal housing assistance will provide a safety net and allow them the opportunity to get on their feet and become self-sufficient adults.

The bill is the Senate version of a measure in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mike Turner.

Grassley co-founded the Senate Caucus on Foster with the goal of hearing directly from foster youth about the challenges they face. A focus has been on helping youth transition from care to adulthood. The transition is difficult, with some youth facing lack of employment or educational opportunities, substance abuse and homelessness.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Planning ahead for the 2017 Pathways Conference



The OHIO Youth Advisory Board will be facilitating two workshops during the Fostering Pathways to Success conference on October 12, 2017:
1.) Taking Your Future From Vision to Reality:
Youth will identify their vision for the future and receive tools to help map out the next steps to that future.

- Youth will set specific personal goals for their future   (“My Vision is…” shirt)
- Youth will receive hands-on support in mapping out action steps to move forward (“Please back my vision”)
- Youth will be informed with resources to help them build that future  (IL Roadmap draft)

2.)  Time Management:  Turning Your Passion Into Plans
As foster youth, we often come from chaos in our biological homes, experience chaos during our time in foster care, and then try to build stability as young adults. This workshop will help.

- Youth will receive concrete tools (Passion Planners)
- Youth will learn tips on time management and prioritizing.



Friday, July 21, 2017

DC Opportunities for Foster Care Youth and Alumni



1.) CCAI Foster Youth Internship Program

Throughout the summer, the FYI Program interns spend time researching about policy issues affecting foster children across the country. These experiences allow the interns to create a policy report that is presented at a congressional briefing and released to child welfare advocates across the country.



2.) Congressional Foster Shadow Day

Every year, the Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth hosts over 100 current and former foster youth from across the nation as part of their Annual Foster Youth Shadow Day. The young people are paired with a federal representative. They participate in legislative meetings, and have the opportunity to share their personal experiences to make a difference for others.



3.) National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council

This is a two year commitment that includes regular phone calls, meetings and trips Washington, DC. Flights, hotel and food costs are covered.

Three Upcoming Video Projects

Three Upcoming Video Projects:

1.) The OHIO Youth Advisory Board invites foster parents of teens and foster youth who have had a very positive experience in foster care to fill out our Video Application to create a future video to recruit foster parents for teens and host homes for young adults.

2.) The OHIO Youth Advisory Board invites foster care youth and alumni who want to share their insights about things they wish someone had told them to prepare for life after foster care as part of our upcoming Foster the Future video series.

3.) The Bridges team is partnering with the Ohio Supreme Court to work on a video series as well. Below is a hint of what they have in mind. Learn more by contacting them at Bridges@jfs.ohio.gov



2017 July OHIO YAB Meeting



During the 2017 July OHIO Youth Advisory Board meeting, Officers shared:

  1. The latest draft of independent living resources, authored by Michael Outrich - youth feedback and input is welcome
  2. The VISION shirts that will be given to youth who attend our "Take Your Future From Vision to Reality" workshop during the 2017 Fostering Pathways Conference
  3. The Passion Planners that will be given to youth who participate in our "Time Management: Turn Your Passion Into Plans," also during the Pathways conference on Oct. 12, 2017

    Link to more photos

Thursday, June 22, 2017

2017 CFSR


Kudos to our Ohio youth representatives for doing an amazing job on Tuesday, as part of the Federal Review of ODJFS.

Link to more photos.

Insights they shared included the following: 

  1. Appreciation for the Bridges program and YAB funding
  2. Ongoing challenges related to the fact that Ohio child welfare does the same thing 88 different ways, depending on county
  3. Expressing the need for Normalcy: Ohio's training went out to foster parents first, but many public and private child welfare agencies still haven't changed their policies
  4. Sharing the challenge of being in the custody of one county but placed in another: Ohio needs a bigger pool of foster parents for teens and host homes for young adults
  5. Reminding us of the need to make sure youth are still receiving copies of the OHIO YAB Youth Rights Handbook on an ongoing basis
  6. Sharing the need for more consistent Life Skills preparation: not just sharing a class one time; letting youth practice new skills more than once
  7. Reminding the Feds that Permanency needs to be permanent, rather than  adoptions that break down or are unsafe -- if only everyone did adoptions the Dave Thomas way
  8. Reminder again of the need for safe placements: our young people deserve to be safe in bio, adoptive, foster, kin, group homes, residential -- and it needs to be suited to their needs and development
  9. Asking youth why they ran away - and not just returning them to that same placement
  10. Youth also talked about higher education supports, like the CSCC Scholar Program

2017 OFCA Conference


Ashley Marie Williams and Katana Waters did a wonderful job representing the voices of current and former foster youth during the 2017 Ohio Family Care Association (OFCA) Conference.

Link to additional photos.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

2017 Foster Care Awareness Panel at Tri-C



Visit this link for more photos.

Five updates from yesterday's 2017 Foster Care Awareness Panel at Tri-C:
  1.  Excellent local partnerships to support higher education success for foster youth, including bridge between Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University
  2. TAGyc meetings are taking place on a college campus (this is Cuyahoga County's local youth advisory board)
  3. Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity Program has retained 11 Scholars, who continue to move forward to attain post-secondary success
  4. Current goal to recruit at least 10 new Pratt Center Scholars, with campus supports and scholarships of up to $1K
  5. Two scholarships available to high school seniors (full-four year scholarships, including housing, meal plans and textbooks

Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Safe Place program - do you know your local Safe Place?



What is a Safe Place?    It's a local place that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that youth can go if they are being abused or if they have (or are tempted to) run away. Safe Place is a national program - visit their website at nationalsafeplace.org to identify local help in your area.

Due to Ronnie Dotson and his leadership, he and I and a group of foster youth visited Huckleberry House yesterday. This is where homeless and runaway youth in our area are transported to if they go to a Safe Place in need of help.



It matters that today's young people throughout Ohio know about available resources when they don't feel safe in their own homes - including unsafe foster homes. It made me incredibly happy that two of our youth participants have stayed at Huckleberry House before, and they both had very positive things to say about their experience. I still wish I had got a photo of their kitchen - it was awesome, but it was also being cleaned at the time.

Here are the notes on how they said they would describe Huck House to other youth...

What to expect:

  • "Comfort" 
  • "Safe" 
  • "Fun" 
  • "Caring" 
  •  "Respectful" 
  • "Always have a nice meal" 
  • Xbox 1, PS4 and PS2 
  • School accommodations: COTA bus pass to district 
  • "Nice staff - friendly people" 
  • "Outings - fun weekend activities" 
  • "Somewhere to sleep" 
Additional things that we noticed during the tour:
  • The TV room was very cozy, and youth looked very comfortable watching the movie together 
  • I really liked the chalkboard walls that teens could write on 
  • It was very touching that many of them signed their name: "_________ was here." 
  • The music room, with a guitar and piano, was a great creative touch 
It's an impressive legacy that Huckleberry House has been around since 1970. It was interesting to hear the story behind it -- that teens would run away and hide at college campuses, because they could blend in with other youth. Kudos to Huck House for their dedication to surveying teens in order to include their voice on things like allowing cell phones.  (Yes, cell phones are definitely allowed).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Melissa Stroud, 2017 FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader




Congratulations to Melissa Stroud for being recognized as Ohio’s 2017 FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader.

She is the current Vice President and former Media Spokesperson of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board, which exists to be knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that affect all youth who have or will experience out-of-home care.


Melissa is known throughout the state for her leadership skills, maturity, and strong sense of responsibility. In her role, Melissa has:

  • Facilitated quarterly statewide foster youth advisory meetings
  • Shared her insights during the 2016 ODJFS All Staff Meeting
  • Celebrated a troop of Girl Scouts who chose to dedicate their efforts towards foster care
  • Led a youth workshop during the 2016 Fostering Pathways to Success conference 
  • Served as a youth panelist for the 2016 statewide Ohio Fostering Connections Symposium
  • Participated in Three Days on the Hill in 2016 and 2017

We are incredibly proud of her for the poise and maturity she brought to her multiple newspaper interviews, for the excellent job she consistently does in Washington DC, and, most of all, for the responsibility she has demonstrated in over the past two years in consistently following through on all her officer commitments.

At her local high school, Melissa is involved in the National Honor Society. She volunteers with Link Crew, a program that brings together high school juniors and seniors to mentor incoming freshman during their first year of high school.  She will be graduating high school in June, and plans to attend Cleveland State University to study Urban Affairs.
   

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Second OHIO YAB Officers Retreat, in Dayton

The threat of an ice storm prevented our Montgomery County Officers and Officer-in-Training from participating in the OHIO Youth Advisory Board Officers Retreat in January, because the county would not allow youth transportation.

So, we held a follow-up retreat in Dayton on February 5, 2017, to welcome on-board three more of our statewide youth officers.

They brought some great new ideas to the table when it comes to statewide strategies this year - can't wait to see how this all comes together...



Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 OHIO YAB Officer's Retreat



The 2017 OHIO YAB Officer's Retreat took place on Saturday, January 14, 2017, at the Dave Thomas Foundation.