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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Proud of Alex McFarland

I have known Alex McFarland since he was 17 years old through our mutual volunteer work on behalf of current and former foster youth. Alex entered foster care at 13 years old, and emerged as President of the statewide foster care youth advocacy board, and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University. He has always and will always be a role model.

Alex is known throughout the state of Ohio for his vision and determination. He arranged for Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies to visit 24 legislator’s offices on April 28, 2009, in order to promote Ready to Launch, a reminder to Ohio legislators of a front-end investment in foster care youth in order to support them in their efforts to build successful lives in young adulthood. His testimony before Ohio legislators led to the ultimate restoration of the statewide Independent Living funding allocation.

Alex was chosen by Ohio's First Lady to represent the needs of Ohio's foster care youth on Governor Strickland's 2010 Steering Committee on Transitioning Youth/Young Adults. The committee was convened by Governor Strickland to recommend alignment and consolidation of policies, efforts, and resources and to identify major gaps for this particularly vulnerable and often overlooked population: vulnerable youth and young adults, ages 14-25. Fellow members of this group were inspired by his insights. When Superintendent Deborah Delisle provided a keynote address for the Special Education Leadership Conference, hosted by the Office for Exceptional Children, she specifically referred to Alex in her closing; "Alex’s story was truly an inspiration to our crowd of more than 1,700. We are grateful for the work that he continues to do on behalf of Ohio’s youth. Without Alex McFarland, we might forget the meaning behind our efforts."

Alex was an integral part of establishing and building Ohio Reach, a statewide initiative to increase the enrollment and retention of foster youth in higher education. Alex was one of the founding members of Ohio Reach, presented at several statewide conferences, and served on the board. In 2011, he met with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and was able to successfully advocate for funding for a full-time position to support the Ohio Reach effort, in order to build up a network of campus liaisons throughout the state to help foster youth succeed.

Alexander McFarland served as an officer on the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) for three years. When the OHIO YAB lost its funding and supportive staff, Alex immediately began advocating for alternative funds, and succeeded in attaining a grant that continues to support the continued existence of not only the statewide board, but county and regional foster youth advisory boards as well. He has traveled throughout the state of Ohio to help create and develop county and regional Youth Advisory Boards. These youth boards serve as a way to build youth leadership skills and inform them about their rights and resources.

Alex was chosen as one of two former foster youth throughout the entire state to work on a grant project for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. He was an integral part to implementing and measuring the success of this pilot project: Connecting the Dots: From Foster Care to Employment and Independent Living. From the very beginning of this project, Alex was focused on expediency and evaluation. He understood that communication and accountability related to each pilot location was of primary importance.

Alex has been a national voice for foster care teens and young adults as well. He was selected to serve on the inaugural National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council, headed up by FosterClub and Foster Care Alumni of America. He was first named one of FosterClub’s Outstanding Young Leaders, and ultimately hired to work as a Policy Coordinator for that organization. In 2012, Alex was chosen to participate in the first ever Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Experience. In 2015, Alex was asked to help coordinate the event. He helped train 65 foster care youth to shadow their representative, visit the White House and interact with high-ranking officials.

Since relocating to Colorado, Alex currently serves on the Advisory Board for Forward Steps:From Foster Care to Independence. The mission of this organization is to empower foster youth to reach their full potential and become independent, active, self-sufficient members of their communities.

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