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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ohio County Map - Foster Care Youth & Alumni Communities

Please click on this image to view it at a larger size and higher resolution:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2009 Thanksgiving Together in Ohio

In 2009, the location of the statewide Thanksgiving dinner was changed from Dayton to Columbus, in order to make it possible for more foster care youth and alumni throughout the state to attend. Here is a link to more photos.

We appreciated that Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland took out of her busy schedule to participate in this statewide gathering of current and former foster youth. Our 2009 Thanksgiving Together was featured in the Columbus Dispatch and broadcast on 10-TV and Fox News.

Many thanks the sponsoring organizations that made this year's Thanksgiving event possible:

Monday, November 23, 2009

2009 Foster Care Thanksgiving in the Dispatch

Thanksgiving dinner provided for those who have experienced foster care
Crane, Misti. Columbus Dispatch front page, Nov. 23, 2009.

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Riccardo Rushin, 19, of Canton, talks with his Stark County group at a Thanksgiving dinner in Bexley that drew about 100 Ohioans, many of whom are or have been in foster care. Rushin has lived on his own since he turned 18 and "aged out" of foster care.

They might have nowhere to go Thursday, or somewhere that feels safe but is only temporary.

Young people who've known the hardship of living without family and who've been challenged to find strength despite a shaky foundation found communion yesterday at a meal that came four days before the holiday but embodied its spirit.

Thanksgiving is about family. It's about grace and gratitude.

For foster children and young adults who've moved beyond their temporary homes, family in its conventional sense can be elusive.

About 100 people from across the state, many of whom are in foster care or recently "aged out," as they say, gathered yesterday afternoon at Agudas Achim, a Bexley synagogue.

Thanks to the kindnesses of others and the dogged advocacy of former foster child Lisa Dickson, they found camaraderie and Thanksgiving.

Dickson founded the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America. She's 36 and has a family of her own, but she remembers the feeling of isolation that could accompany the holidays, particularly when she was a young adult.

"There wasn't a family to come back to; there weren't those roots," Dickson said.

"For a lot of people, the holidays can be the loneliest part."

In and of itself, being a foster child can be lonely, said Alex McFarland, who is 19 and president of the Ohio youth advisory board. He said it's worse when those outside the situation misunderstand.

"A lot of people have the image that we've done something wrong, when more than likely somebody's done something wrong to us," said McFarland, who lives in a suburb of Dayton.

The dinner was the third-annual -- the first in Columbus -- and was made possible because of a $1,000 donation from Capital University's student government that paid for food. The synagogue gave its space free, said Gabriel Koshinsky, vice president of student government and president of the Jewish Student Union.

The meal yesterday offered an opportunity to meet new people and learn about opportunities for foster children. It also gave guests the chance to reclaim the sense of belonging.

Dre Williams, who is 18 and lives in a foster home, and Kadeem Monroe, who is 19 and on his own, came to Columbus with a group from Stark County.

"I don't know how many days I felt like I was the only foster child in the world," Monroe said.

People who aren't part of the system don't understand the challenges or the emotional burdens or even how foster care works, the two said.

Williams said he wishes more good people would embrace children who can no longer live with their families, and that fewer people would invite foster children into their homes primarily for the money.

He's now living with Jodi Wilson, who has been a foster mom to 14 kids over 17 years. She maintains ties with many of them, and has a warm rapport with Williams.

"These kids are alone, or I believe they feel alone," said Wilson, who also works as supervisor of Stark County's independent-living program.

Bringing them together as a family of sorts is important, Wilson said.

"They have a common language, common experiences," she said.

"I'm 52, and I still talk to my mother every day. They don't have that."

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Lisa Dickson, a former foster child who founded Ohio's chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, snaps a memory of the event she sought.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2009 Thanksgiving Invitation

For our 2009 Thanksgiving gathering, we are partnering with the faith community and Capital University to host a Thanksgiving Seder for Foster Youth.

We welcome foster care youth, alumni, and allies/adult supporters, as well as active members of the Jewish community to attend.

Please RSVP
to our 2009 Thanksgiving Invitation

2:00 p.m. - Arrival
2:30 p.m. - Introductory Speakers
3:00 p.m. - Foster Care Youth/Alumni Panel
4:00 p.m. - Eat and Socialize
5:30 p.m. - Departure


Congregation Agudas Achim is welcoming us into their Social Hall. Capital University Student Government is contributing to the cost of food. Catering by Scott
is providing us with a generous discount. We are also receiving support from the Jewish Student Union at Capital.
History of this Event:
For young people in and from foster care, the holidays are often a harsh reminder of lost connections. We miss the comfort of knowing we have a place where we are always welcome, year after year.

For this reason, for the past three years, Thanksgiving has been a time for Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies/adult supporters to gather together.

In 2007, foster care alumni from all over the nation came Home for the Holidays to Washington D.C., to remind "our parents," the federal government about the need to foster connections to success.

In Ohio, our 2008 Thanksgiving event was sponsored by Montgomery County Children Services and the VISION Youth Advisory Board:

In 2008, OACCA assisted with the cost of meals, and PCSAO agreed to reimburse travel expenses.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 Ohio Summit on Children

During the Governor's second of two Ohio Summits on Children, foster care youth and alumni shared their insights during roundtables on:

1. Funding
2. Systemic Issues
  • Establishing a shared vision
  • Developing/maintaining a continuum of care in this economic climate
  • Measuring outcomes/data
  • Connecting data systems
  • Reducing staff turnover
3. Behavioral Health
  • Access to services
  • Placement prevention/intensive home-based services
  • Early screening for mental health and developmental needs
  • Application of trauma-informed care
4. Education
  • Increasing graduation rates and academic performance
  • Engaging youth who do not adapt to traditional education
  • Engaging families and building community partnerships
  • Creating safe schools and healthy communities
  • Supporting children with autism spectrum disorders and their families
5. Building and Sustaining Local Planning Teams
6. Health
  • Access to health care
  • Timely screening and coordination of care
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Prevention and prenatal care
7. Out-of-Home Care
  • Supporting kinship programs
  • Ensuring the sufficient availability of foster homes
  • Short-term residential/step-down care
  • Timely adoption of children in permanent custody
8. Family Engagement
  • Involvement of fathers
  • Parenting skill development
  • Parent advocacy/family-driven plans
  • Families separated by incarceration
9. Youth in Court
10. Transitioning Youth Out of the System

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Young Advocate Leadership Training on Saturday, Nov. 7th

The Ohio Children's Defense Fund is partnering with Central State University to host the first annual Young Advocate Leadership Training® program. This intensive organizing training will bring together over 100 student leaders from across the state.

Training Date: Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009

Training Location: Central State University, 1400 Brush Row Rd., P.O. Box 1004, Wilberforce OH 45384, in the Auditorium of the Center for Education & Natural Sciences Building, Room 114.

CDF-Ohio will provide meals and coordinate transportation for all successful applicants. This might be particularly helpful for youth who are over the age of 18/emancipated and actively involved in local and statewide youth advisory efforts.

Kelly Knight receives the Mary Ellen Social Work Award

During the 2009 Ohio CASA conference, Kelly Knight, one of the founding adult supporters of the Ohio YAB was awarded the Mary Ellen Social Work Award for Excellence in Children Services.

Since January 2008, Kelly has trained over 130 new CASA/GAL volunteers, during her nights and weekends. She tells her classes, "If you don't see concurrent planning, you should be questioning the case plan and insisting on its inclusion."

During her acceptance speech, Kelly pointed out that, "Time passes differently for children."

Kelly described how, for busy professionals, postponing paperwork or continuing a case might be tempting because time seems to be moving quickly. But for the child, that time is moving painfully slowly in terms of connecting them with love and permanency.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spotlight on Athens County

103 balloons;
103 kids in
Athens County
foster care.

Think of a balloon floating off into space, without a thread to hold it to the ground.

Think of youth, floating off into adulthood, drifting through the clouds without family roots to ground.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Temporary Setback - Aiming for Long-term Victory

Ohio is reeling from some very bad news when it comes to state investment in child protection and youth preparation for adulthood. Our best response is a collaborative one. Please be aware of the following Ohio-based collaborative initiatives:

1.) Ohio Reach is a statewide effort to address recruitment and retention of emancipated foster youth in Ohio’s higher education system and establish foster care liaisons at Ohio universities and community colleges:

2.) OACCA's Independent Living Legislative Committees include subcommittees on higher education, housing, healthcare/Medicaid, mentoring, transportation and the workforce:

In light of recent budget cuts, it is all the more important to connect young people who are "aging out" of foster care - in the midst of a recession - with a forever community.

Please make every effort to connect today's foster care youth and young adults with the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, and to transport them to statewide quarterly meetings. They need and deserve peer support and a voice regarding statewide policy and procedure.

This deeply matters to all of us.

When it comes to Ohio foster care alumni- we remember the jolt that took place in our lives when we realized that we had been emancipated, we were terminated, we were a closed case. The transition was over, and we needed to fend for ourselves.

This is one of many reasons why we maintained our stance in advocating for the Independent Living Allocation throughout this budget process, and will continue to rally for this cause,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to OACCA Board in praise of Mark Mecum

OACCA Board members,

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America is a membership organization of Ohio former foster youth and our allies in the child welfare system. We are writing to praise Mark Mecum, OACCA’s Associate Director for Government Relations, and to recognize his dedication.

The best way to rate an organization is by the model of the people who create and sustain it. By this reckoning, Mark Mecum’s example is a testimony to OACCA's importance as a leader for child advocacy.

Historically, the Independent Living Initiative has provided life skills training and work support services to prepare for foster youth for adulthood. However, the future of this funding has been continually threatened in 2009. For this reason, foster care youth, alumni and child welfare professionals partnered together to advocate for the needs of Ohio’s 1,300 young people who “age out” of foster care each year.

Mark Mecum's leadership in organizing and planning with legislative meetings were instrumental to getting this funding reinstated in the House, Senate and conference committee budget versions of HB 1. At each stage of the biennual budget process, Mark Mecum stepped forward to remind Ohio legislators to make it a budget priority to make sure that Ohio’s foster care youth receive adequate preparation to face the adult world alone.

Mark’s dedicated efforts include, but are not limited to, drafting templates for testimony, keeping advocates informed about opportunities to testify and establishing a Ready to Launch Coalition to advocate for the needs of Ohio’s transitional youth. We admire Mark’s skill in providing timely communication, and appreciate his structure and leadership, in terms of organizing OACCA’s Independent Living Committees.

Mark’s insight and knowledge were helpful during every step of our advocacy; moreover, he taught us how to better advocate for ourselves. Mark has done an excellent job of giving us insight into the intergovernmental workings of the legislature, as well as the peer politics of advocacy. Thanks to Mark, foster care youth and alumni entered budget hearings prepared to present with the highest degree of professionalism. Mark himself demonstrated extreme poise and confidence during testimony hearings.

Although ultimately Governor Strickland chose to veto the earmark, Mark's efforts generated numerous allies within legislature regarding this bipartisan issue. After meeting with Mark Mecum, for example, Representative Sykes announced that he will form a Foster Care-Independent Living Study Committee to develop legislative and funding recommendations.

Mark's hard work is greatly appreciated by the leadership and members of our chapter. OACCA's commitment, values, and vision are clearly represented through Mark's high caliber of leadership. We are deeply grateful for our continued partnership with your organization.


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair
Foster Care Alumni of America Ohio chapter

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reforming how IL Services are administered in Ohio

Definition of "tenacious:" Persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.
Ohio FCAA members need to be tenacious right now.

Breaking News: Governor Strickland VETOED the Independent Living Initiative.

Item Number 40
On page 2900, delete the boxed text.
Section 309.45.15 Earmark for Independent Living... Read More

Quote: "This provision earmarks $1.5 million of the Children and Family Services line item for independent living services to youth. The majority of the funds in this line item are already allocated to county agencies for their use to support child welfare programs, including independent living. This earmark will constrain the county agencies ability to use the allocated funds in a flexible manner that meets each county's needs to support children. For these reasons, a veto is in the public interest."

This is not a defeat; this is a 'Call to Action'
Regardless of whether or not this financial earmark was maintained, we still needed to follow up regarding how Independent Living funds were administered and whether available Independent Living funds were spent.

Our work was worth it, and our continued efforts are needed!

What do we have now, that we didn't at the beginning of this budget process?
Ohio legislators know who we are, and care about our cause. We gave a voice to a voiceless population - and they listened.

Please note that during our "Call to Arms" about this issue, we have no beef with Ohio Senators and Representatives - we have only heartfelt appreciation. Ohio legislators, in the Senate and the House, both Democrat and Republican, asked insightful questions each time we testified, and in each of their versions, they maintained IL funding.

Throughout this entire process, Ohio legislators have never let us down. The Ohio House of Representatives, Senate and HB 1 Conference Committee all maintained IL funding, and we sill need to write and thank them.

Because of our testimony, House Finance Chairman Representative Vernon Sykes is forming a Foster Care-Independent Study Committee to develop legislative and funding recommendations on funding for IL services for foster youth.

Our 'Next Steps' remain the same:
1. Thank our legislators and invite them to be a part of Rep. Sykes' IL committee
2. Be a part of Rep. Sykes' Independent Living committee
3. Work to establish a Regional approach to Independent Living preparation
4. Enlist our allies in supporting and being a part of our cause.
5. Build a relationship with Ohio journalists.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ohio Advocacy Efforts Throughout HB 1 Budget Process

The official version of HB 1 was released by the Finance Committee earlier this week, and the Independent Living Allocation was preserved:
SECTION 309.45.15. INDEPENDENT LIVING SERVICESOf the foregoing appropriation item 600523, Children and Families
Services, up to $1,500,000 in each fiscal year shall be used to provide
independent living services to foster youth and former foster youth

between 16 and 21 years of age. Page 2900

Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies should be proud.

Youth and alumni who experienced foster care firsthand were HEARD by the Ohio House of Representatives. We were HEARD by the Ohio Senate. We were HEARD by the conference committee.

We fought for an earmark to be amended into the bill from the very beginning. We successfully fought to maintain this funding, despite many rounds of funding cuts.

Without our efforts, this money would not have been inserted into the bill for transition age youth.

It's time to celebrate and give thanks!

1.) We are thankful to our legislators for hearing our testimony, reading our letters and maintaining this important funding allocation.

2.) We thank Mark Mecum of OACCA, Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services, Bryan Brown of Starr Commonwealth, Anita Wainwright of Mahoning County Children Services, Susan Ignelzi, and Brandi Scales, adult supporter of the OHIO YAB.

3.) We thank Nick Bates and Angela Lareviere for supporting Ready to Launch Day, for proudly wearing Ready to Launch stickers and for empowering YEP youth to speak out on behalf of young people throughout Ohio.

4.) We thank YEP youth, VISION Board youth, Mahoning County youth, Franklin County youth, OHIO YAB youth and FCAA Ohio alumni for sharing their voices and a strategic piece of their stories.

There truly is a foster care movement going on in Ohio...

Next Steps:
a.) Sending thank you letters to legislators, including personalizing letters to legislators who asked us thoughtful questions during our testimony and legislative office visits.

b.) Planning a shared celebration that includes foster care youth, alumni and allies from all over Ohio who were a part of this advocacy effort - including YEP youth and supporters.

c.) Meeting with Representative Sykes, in order to further reform the way that Independent Living is funded in Ohio in the future.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Engaging Speaker for Future Ohio Events

Jamole Callahan entered foster care at age 13. Since graduating from high school, he has attended Central State University. Jamole has hosted dozens of banquets for Franklin County Children Services and Youth over the years. He participated in the “All Kids Count” campaign, and has spoken before foster parent trainings and workshops for graduating seniors.

Jamole is currently working as a supervisor for the DCL Medical Laboratory in Indianapolis. In 2007, he started his own business: “90 Degree Entertainment,” managing seven artists in negotiating recording contracts.

Jamole has been married for three years to his college sweetheart, Nealita Cherie. They have three sons; ages 1, 3 and 5 years old.

Contact Jamole:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FCAA-Ohio Chapter Leadership Team

In 2007, when Ohio’s first FCAA elections were held, we determined that our chapter would allow elected officers the authority to modify officer positions in order to maximize the strengths of each person who is elected. This allows Ohio FCAA officers to negotiate the breakdown of duties in a way that makes the most sense for our chapter.

Ohio chapter membership has grown, in numbers and in experience. We have been aided in our growth through the annual Alumni Leadership Institute training, and opportunities to advocate nationally provided by Casey, NACAC and Foster Care Alumni of America. We have been challenged to deepen our advocacy expertise by repeated challenges to the future of our state’s Independent Living funding.

In 2009, Ohio FCAA officers and active members decided that we needed a larger leadership team in order to maximize our effectiveness. New positions include: Adoption Liaison, Media Spokesperson, Legislative Liaison, and a position of leadership over the newly established Cincinnati Subchapter.

2009 Revised Officer Positions

1. Operations Chair, Gabriel Koshinsky: Provides the structural component of our chapter. Ensures chapter compliance to national policies and procedures. In charge of finance-related projects such as fund-raising, and annual projects such as the FCAA Family Reunion.

2. Communications Chair, Lisa Dickson: Lead spokesperson for the chapter in terms of outreach, workshop development and policy. Maintains chapter records and communications, such as membership roster, volunteer hours, chapter newsletters, and website content.

3. Youth Outreach, Denee Foster: Facilitates peer support for the alumni of tomorrow, including enlisting youth insight in order to influence the Ohio chapter’s priorities and strategies.

4. Adoption Liaison, Amanda Dunlap: In charge of resource development and advocacy efforts having to do with adoptees. Ongoing communication and collaboration with NACAC, American Adoption Congress and Adoption Network Cleveland regarding issues such as sibling visitation, adjustment to adoptive families, and birth certificate issues.

5.) Media Spokesperson, Adrian McLemore: Represents the Ohio chapter to the local media. Responsible to be prepared discuss current initiatives and provide accurate quotes.

6.) Legislative Liaison, Alex McFarland: Responsible to stay informed about foster care news and advocacy areas in Ohio, and help devise advocacy strategy. Schedule legislative visits when needed.

7.) Cincinnati Subchapter, Amy Roberts: Facilitates membership growth and leadership development of Cincinnati FCAA members, with support from FCAA members all over Ohio, particularly members of the FCAA-OH chapter leadership team.

Subject Matter Experts
Since our inception, the Ohio chapter has established a strong statewide and national reputation regarding providing high quality workshops.

We’ve had the honor of presenting at It’s My Life, Daniel Memorial, NILA, American Adoption Congress and the Colorado Summit on Youth and Families. We’ve even been invited to apply as certified child welfare trainers for OCWTP.

This has created the need to tap into chapter member expertise regarding workshop subject matter.

Therefore addition to our Adoption Liaison, who will focus on adoption-related issues including sibling visitation, we are inviting members throughout the state to provide their expertise as SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) on various training topics such as:

- Juvenile Justice
- Teen/Single Parenting

Several members in Cleveland are experimenting with different ways to share our messages – through Digital Storytelling!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Letter to Representative Sykes and HB I Conference Committee Members

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Representative Vernon Sykes
77 South High Street
Columbus, Ohio

Dear Representative Sykes and HB 1 Conference Committee Members,

We are writing on behalf of current and former foster youth in the state of Ohio to ask you to make it a budget priority to make sure that Ohio’s 1,300 young people who “age out” of foster care each year receive adequate preparation to face the adult world alone.

Historically, the Independent Living Initiative has provided life skills training and work support services to prepare for foster youth for adulthood. However, the future of this funding has been threatened at several points during the biennual budget process.

Seven former foster youth, Adrian McLemore, Lamar Hammons, Sarah Callihan, Tim Hill, Lisa Dickson, Grace Hilliard and Gabriel Koshinsky, testified before the Human Services Subcommittee on March 19, 2009.

The March 19th Hannah Report referred to our testimony: “While they were lobbying for the restoration of $2.5 million/year in Independent Living funds to help foster youth who age out of the system, they themselves were perhaps the best selling point, with Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) commenting that they were a “thoroughly impressive group.”
Our May 30th testimony before the Ohio Senate was also published in the Hannah Report:

Dickson, a former foster child and youth advocate, said that foster children are not a line item and rely on the state to act as a parent. Without proper intervention, Dickson said, those children are at higher risk for poverty, unemployment and incarceration. "Ohio taxpayers will pay for their needs one way or another," she said.

McFarland shared his experience as a child who spent five years in foster care. "Without these services, I would not have been the person that I am today."

We are deeply grateful to the House and Senate for maintaining an earmark that would continue funding for these services a reduced level of $3 million over the FY 2010-2011 biennium.

However, unlike the House version of HB 1, the Senate version does not provide the extra $3 million in the General Revenue Fund to fund the program. Please consider setting aside $3 million over the biennium to GRF 600523 for the Independent Living Initiative.

The Hopes and Dreams of Ohio’s foster care alumni are displayed in a visual display of hands which we have delivered to Representative Sykes’ office, and asked him to share with the conference committee.

We are sharing our dreams:
I am reaching… “To be the best mother that I can be, while pursuing my college degree.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds helped Vanessa Jackson learn how to cook and budget.

We offer up our hopes:

Hoping you, like me, invest in their future: As a former foster child, Denee Foster knows the importance of Independent Living preparation.

Not a handout, but a hand-up… Denee volunteers her time at Children’s Hospital and teaches life skills to foster care youth at Village Network.

And we offer you our passion, dedication and energy. Regardless of the outcome of this budget, we believe that the way that independent living services are funded for Ohio foster care youth needs to be examined.

If a Foster Care-Independent Living Study Committee is established to develop legislative and funding recommendations regarding Independent Living services for foster youth, our members will actively participate.


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair

Hopes and Dreams of Ohio Foster Care Alumni

DREAMS of Foster Care Youth and Alumni:
I am reaching… “To be the best mother that I can be, while pursuing my college degree.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds helped Vanessa Jackson learn how to cook and budget.


I am reaching… “Toward serving my country in the military, while continuing to pursue my college degree.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds helped Lamar Hammons find a mentor through the College Bound Mentoring Program.


I am reaching… “Toward safeguarding the lives and homes of others by working for Jefferson Township’s Fire Department.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds provided emergency housing for Tim Hill when he first exited foster care.


I am reaching… “Toward finding a job after graduating from Wright State University
with a Bachelors in Criminal Justice and a minor in Political Science.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds equipped Sarah Callihan with life skills that helped her transition into college life easily.


I am reaching… “Forward to my junior year at Miami University, where I’m pursuing a double major in Psychology and Sociology with double minors in Black World Studies and Political Science.”

But I might need a hand to get me started! Independent Living funds helped Kierra Williams get involved with a youth advisory board, and find out that she has leadership abilities.


HOPES of Ohio Foster Care Alumni on behalf of their younger brothers and sisters:

Hoping you, like me, invest in their future: As a former foster child, Denee Foster knows the importance of Independent Living preparation.

Not a handout, but a hand-up… Denee volunteers her time at Children’s Hospital and
teaches life skills to foster care youth at Village Network.


Hoping you, like me, invest in their future: As a former foster child, Grace Hilliard has testified several times about the importance of the Independent Living Allocation.

Not a handout, but a hand-up… Grace graduated in May from CCAD with a BA in Fine Arts, and is entering graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.


Hoping you, like me, invest in their future: As a former foster child, Adrian McLemore has testified several times about the importance of the Independent Living Allocation.

Not a handout, but a hand-up… Adrian was recently named FosterClub’s Outstanding Young Leader of the Year. He is actively involved in Student Government at Wright State University – and he aspires to be President someday.


Hoping you, like me, invest in their future: Ralph Wills spoke before an audience of 100+ higher education officials and 100+ social workers during the 2009 Ohio Reach event.

Not a handout, but a hand-up… Ralph recently graduated from Muskingum College and
found employment through Maxim Healthcare Services.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hannah Report: Special Budget Edition

Vol. 128 – Special Budget Issue Saturday, May 30, 2009
Public Crowds Senate Chambers for Mixed Budget Testimony

The room was crowded Saturday for a public testimony session in the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee, with several dozen witnesses prepared to either praise changes made Friday to HB1 (Sykes), or to urge the chamber to restore funding to a cut program.

Acknowledging the long day ahead of them, Chairman John Carey (R-Wellston) said that he was invoking his powers as a committee chairman and allowing audience members to bring in water and coffee despite warnings against it outside the hearing room.

Independent Living Initiative
The first group of witnesses testified in support of restoring full funding for the Independent Living Initiative through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

They were Lisa Dickson, founder and communications chair of Ohio's statewide voice for foster care alumni; Doris Edelman, Legislative Liaison for the Ohio Independent Living Association; and Alexander McFarland, President of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board.

All three advocated restoring the funding to $2.5 million in each of FY10-11.

Dickson, a former foster child and youth advocate, said the program had lost its funding but that the Senate had restored $1.5 million of support. She said Ohio is the only state making cuts to such a program, which she said offers training and life services to prepare foster care children to face the world alone.

She said foster children are not a line item and rely on the state to act as a parent. Without proper intervention, Dickson said, those children are at higher risk for poverty, unemployment and incarceration. "Ohio taxpayers will pay for their needs one way or another," she said.

McFarland shared his experience as a child who spent five years in foster care. "Without these services, I would not have been the person that I am today."

Sen. Dale Miller (D-Cleveland) asked more about the funding mechanism. He was told it had been previously funded using TANF money but now is a line item in the children and family services portion of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' (ODJFS) budget.


*Two misquotes:

- Lisa Dickson didn't say that Ohio was the "only state making cuts to such a program." She spoke about the Fostering Connections Act, and how these cuts come at a time when the needs of transitioning foster youth are being recognized on a national level...

- Nor was Independent Living "previously funded using TANF money but now is a line item in the children and family services portion of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' (ODJFS) budget"

It was and still is an earmark of the TANF budget. Both Lisa and Doris mentioned in their testimonies that Independent Living funding in Ohio should not be an earmark, and that young people transitioning out of foster care each year should not have to fight to maintain the only state source of funding allocated to prepare them for adulthood.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sykes steps up as legislative champion for Ohio foster youth

On Tuesday, May 26, Grace Hilliard of Foster Care Alumni of America, Ohio chapter and Mark Mecum of OACCA met with House Finance Chairman Vernon Sykes to discuss the TANF-Independent Living earmark and House Bill 1.

Representative Sykes, an Akron Democrat, stated that he will be a champion for funding of the independent living initiative in conference committee.

This is extremely important because there is a good chance that the Senate will not funding IL in their version of the bill, which will leave the program’s funding status up to the Senate/House conference committee which will meet after the Senate passes their version of HB 1.

Also, Representative Sykes announced that he will form a Foster Care-Independent Living Study Committee to develop legislative and funding recommendations on funding for IL services for foster youth.

Rep. Sykes is a political science PhD, and he recognizes the importance of examining the state-county financing model of IL services. Restoring the Independent Living Allocation is important, but as long as it remains only an earmark, its survival will be in jeopardy in future years.

The Foster Care-Independent Living Study Committee is scheduled to launch sometime this summer.

Afternoon Presentation for Ohio Reach

Morning Powerpoint Presentation from Ohio Reach

Photos from Ohio Reach Event


1,300 young adults are "aging out" of the Ohio foster care system this year. They will face the adult world, in the midst of a recession, armed with only their courage, their dreams, and their endless potential.

If one person in their lives invests in them and offers guidance, without wanting anything in return, as they try to obtain the higher education that can pave the way for their future, that can make ALL the difference in terms of their future.

The goal of Ohio REACH is to establish foster care liaisons at every Ohio community college and university, in order to address recruitment and retention of emancipated foster youth in Ohio’s higher education system.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ohio's FosterClub Outstanding Young Leaders of 2009

For more information, please visit FosterClub's Outstanding Young Leaders of 2009.

Adrian McLemore was placed in foster care at age six as a result of his mother’s substance abuse. During his time in foster care, he lost his grandmother in a car accident while driving from Georgia to come to take custody of him and his siblings. Instead of being immobilized by grief, he focused his efforts on education and providing leadership for other foster youth.

At fifteen, he was elected the youngest president of a statewide organization. Adrian attributes his success to his own determination and the support given to him by his case workers. He indicates that they were instrumental to his development by ensuring that he was able to participate in various programs and activities.

Adrian is a member of the Ohio chapter of FCAA, the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, and serves as Vice-President of the VISON Board in Dayton, Ohio. He has advocated many times at both the State and Federal Level on bills that affect foster youth. While Adrian has positioned himself to be an advocate and a leader in his community, it is unfortunate the he aged out of the system without a permanent home.

Currently, Adrian is pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management at Wright State University. He hopes to further his education at a graduate level, either obtaining a Masters Degree or a Law Degree. He has future aspirations for public service.

Cedric Riley is a 20-year-old college student dedicated to community leadership and success for himself and others. At the age of nine, he and his four siblings were placed in the Cuyahoga County Foster Care System due to parental neglect, and his life has been changed ever since. Though he and his siblings were placed in different homes, Cedric was able to adapt and learn the importance of independence and relationship-building. After 8 years in the foster care system, Cedric was adopted into a loving home in Cincinnati, Ohio where he experienced much of his scholastic and professional success.

Having enjoyed the honor of several leadership and academic accolades throughout his time in Cincinnati, Cedric has decided to give back by speaking passionately to youth, expressing that “Success is a Choice.” He also engages with professionals who work with youth to enforce that their work makes a difference.

Currently Cedric is developing the pilot of his curriculum and campaign entitled “America’s Next Motivator!” to bring creative empowerment to life.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twenty-four office visits to Ohio Senators on April 28, 2009

Ready to Launch refers to a statewide coalition of advocacy and youth-led organizations that promote cross-system reform for services to transition-age youth.

Our first goal is advocacy for youth programs in the state budget bill.

We held Ready to Launch Advocacy Day in Columbus on April 28, which consisted of a youth advocacy training, a “meet and greet” luncheon, and several scheduled meetings with Ohio Senators and Representatives.

Below is a list of the 24 Ohio Senators whose offices Ready to Launch Coalition members visited during this event:

- Senator Steve Buehrer, Senate Building, Room #134
- Senator Capri S. Cafaro, Ohio Statehouse, Room #303
- Senator John Carey, Senate Building, Room #127
- Senator Kevin Coughlin, Senate Building, Room #222
- Senator Keith Faber, Senate Building, Room #138
- Senator Teresa Fedor, Ohio Statehouse, Room #051
- Senator Bob Gibbs, Senate Building, Room #125
- Senator Karen Gillmor, Senate Building, Room #035
- Senator David Goodman, Senate Building, Room #039
- Senator Timothy Grendell, Senate Building, Room #042
- Senator Bill Harris, Ohio Statehouse, Room #201
- Senator Jim Hughes, Senate Building, Room #038
- Senator Jon Husted, Senate Building, Room #034
- Senator Eric H. Kearney, Senate Building, Room #057
- Senator Ray Miller, Senate Building, Room #228
- Senator Thomas Patton, Senate Building Room #140
- Senator Tim Schaffer, Senate Building, Room #142
- Senator Tom Sawyer, Senate Building, Room #049
- Senator Joseph Schiavoni, Senate Building, Room #052
- Senator Kirk Schuring, Senate Building, Room #137
- Senator Jimmy Stewart, Senate Building, Room #040
- Senator Nina Turner, Senate Building, Room #226
- Senator Mark Wagoner, Senate Building, Room #129
- Senator Jason H. Wilson, Senate Building, Room #050

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ready to Launch Coalition Sign-On Letter

Many thanks to Mark Mecum of OACCA and Angela and Nick from YEP for drafting this letter on behalf of Ohio's statewide Ready to Launch Coalition advocating for the needs of transition-age youth:

Honorable Ted Strickland
Honorable Armond Budish
Honorable Bill Harris

Re: State Funding for Transitional Youth

Dear Governor Strickland, Speaker Budish, and President Harris:

The Ready to Launch initiative urges your support for continued funding for services provided to at-risk youth in Ohio who are transitioning into adulthood. We are comprised of service providers, advocates, and transition-age youth. In the FY 2010 and 2011 budget bill, several important programs that serve these transition-age youth are proposed to be eliminated or significantly reduced. The cost-cutting measures will have a severe effect on Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens: children and youth.

The Independent Living Initiative is the only state program that provides transitional living services to foster care youth. The budget bill completely eliminates its funding. It is funded by a TANF earmark, administered by ODJFS, and implemented by county children services departments. Funds are used to provide drivers’ education, life skills training, job readiness training, and food and housing assistance.

Housing is a key aspect of this program, as it provides shelter for homeless youth and those at-risk for becoming homeless. According to feedback from the Ohio Summit on Children, a top challenge faced by counties is lack of funding for transitional services for older youth in care. Eliminating this program will further exacerbate this challenge. We urge you to restore funding to FY 2009 levels or establish a new, non-earmark program to replace it.

The Mental Health Systems of Care is the primary state funding source for community mental health programs that serve children and youth. The program is administered by ODMH and implemented by county mental health boards. Funds are used to serve children, youth, and adults with serious mental health disorders by providing medication, assessment, counseling, crisis intervention, community psychiatric supportive treatment, and day treatment services. If GRF funding of this program is not increased to comparative levels from FY 2008-2009, many youth will go without crucial mental health services, which will be a serious impediment to success as young adults.

Lastly, the Ohio Housing Trust Fund is a funding source that provides housing and homeless services to vulnerable Ohioans. The fund, in past years, has exceeded its cap at $50 million. If the General Assembly lifts this cap in the budget bill, it will permit funds collected for housing services to go toward housing services.

We also support expansion of the Housing Trust Fund eligibility to Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs, which adds youth homeless shelters as eligible funded agencies. As the need to provide emergency housing to youth rises, we must ensure that effective programs receive necessary funding to meet the rising need.

We are privileged to work, serve, and advocate for Ohio youth. But without necessary funding, the youth will not receive the services that they need to succeed. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop a plan to ensure that the needs of Ohio’s transition-age youth are met.

TANF Independent Living Funding

Current and former foster care youth and the Ready to Launch Coalition have responded to the state legislature’s intent to eliminate the only state funding stream to counties for independent living services for foster youth.

We have testified multiple times before House Finance Committee and provided the legislators with information about the importance of the TANF-IL allocation of funding, and what would happen if that funding ceased.

Legislators who are especially sympathetic to our cause are Rep. Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati and Rep. Kathleen Chandler of Kent. The committee chairman and vice chair, Rep. Sykes and Bolon seem receptive as well...

OACCA is keeping us updated on the status of this important funding stream.

Top 10 Pressing Projects that the Ohio chapter is working on...

These are exciting times for Ohio... and times that make us appreciate our ally members and adult supporters more than ever!

1. On April 23rd: Grace, Amanda and Lisa presented a workshop for the American Adoption Congress/ANC national conference on the Importance of Maintaining Sibling Connections Post-adoption.

During this conference, we made a new contact, who will be supporting Grace as she takes her passion for advocacy with her to Massachusetts for grad school this fall:

As a first-term State Senator, Paula Benoit co-sponsored LD 1084, An Act to Allow Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates. The bill was passed and signed into law on June 25, 2007.

Senator Benoit, an adoptee, is currently committing her time to educating Legislators in other states on the legal imperative for all adult adoptees to have access to original identity.

2. April 28th: Ohio legislator visits requesting the restoration of TANF-IL funds and the expansion of Low Income Housing Tax Credit for homeless youth. This is part of Ohio's Statewide "Ready to Launch" initiative.

The Reach to Launch Planning Committee includes representatives from OACCA, YEP, the Ohio-YAB, Montgomery County Children Services, VISION and Ohio FCAA.

3. Legislative Advocacy in Several Arenas: Ohio foster care youth and alumni will be presenting further testimony for the Ohio Senate, regarding the loss of TANF-IL funds. We are still hoping that the final version released by the Ohio House will have put the TANF-IL allocation back in...

Mark Mecum's tireless efforts on behalf of Independent Living reform are greatly appreciated.

In addition, two of our members are preparing for upcoming trips to Washington DC:
- Amanda Dunlap will be visiting Congressional offices in an effort sponsored by NACAC to remind Ohio legislators about the "Fostering Connections to Success Act"

- Denee Foster will be a part of the Casey Congressional Visits from May 18-21, sharing a part of her personal experience and raising awareness for the Casey 20/20 Strategy

Denee has made it her business to know the details regarding financial aid for college, and she brought SO MUCH to our very first Village Network workshop presentation!

4. Ohio Reach statewide event on May 12th to establish foster care liaisons at Ohio's community colleges and universities:

- Adrian McLemore will be giving the morning Welcoming Address
- Lisa Dickson is presenting in the morning and moderating the youth/alumni panel
- Youth/alumni Panel members will include: Vanessa Jackson, Alex McFarland and Adrian McLemore
- Afternoon strategic planning will be facilitated by Doris Edelmann
- Lisa Dickson created the website for this ongoing initiative:

Chris Klefecker has done a wonderful job of steering the preparations for the Ohio Reach workshop / kick-off event.

5. Alumni Assistance and Support Program (ASAP) is an ongoing OSU pilot project of peer support groups for foster care alumni and homeless youth who are transitioning to adulthood, facilitated by Dr. Alvin Mares, Tim Conrad and Lisa Dickson.

Alvin designed the ASAP website:

Alvin Mares was a founding member of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, and since then, his dedication to making a positive difference only continues to grow...

6. National survey on behalf of OCWTP in order to learn from other models and establish an Ohio method of certifying foster care youth/alumni as child welfare trainers.

Lisa Dickson started out volunteering on this committee on behalf of Ohio FCAA, but is now working directly under contract to OCWTP on a short-term basis to complete the survey, including creating this website:

Charlotte Ostermann first created the youth ad hoc committee to certify foster care youth and alumni as trainers, and has tirelessly pushed forward to make this dream a reality.

7. Logistics re: NACAC youth track this fall: (TBA)

There is only one Bryan Brown in the whole world, and those of us in Ohio are happy to know him!

8. Preparing for the Cincinnati Membership drive in May: Amy Roberts, FCAA alumni member and employee of Cincinnati Works, will be hosting this membership drive on May 15, 2009 at Black Finn Restaurant and Saloon (19 E 7th Street Cincinnati OH 45202) from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Membership for alumni will be paid for by Cincinnati Works. There will be door prize drawings for anyone who brings a new member! Come join us for food, fellowship, and fun!!!

Cincinnati Works has designed a Next Step Program that is specifically designed to target all young adults ages 17 ½ -25 that have experienced some sort of foster care.

9. Preparing for the Colorado conference in June: Adrian McLemore, Kierra Williams, Doris Edemann and Lisa Dickson will be presenting:

- two concurrent workshops on Emotional Resiliency
- two concurrent workshops on Creating and Maintaining a Community of Foster Care Youth and Alumni

10. Following Up With Ohio Regions/Counties: We are preparing to follow up on last summer's training on how to create local youth/alumni support groups by returning to those counties in June and July, and providing additional training and support...
It's all about that "click" from victimization to empowerment... Harnessing our passion and energy to become: Agents of CHANGE!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cedric's testimony requesting the restoration of TANF-IL funds

To the Chair and Members of the Committee;

My name is Cedric Riley. I am a former foster youth, a current youth advocate and founder of the Science in Motion Group LLC.

The reason that I am here today is to testify to the importance of restoring the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) earmark for independent living services for foster youth transitioning into adulthood.

I myself experienced six foster care placements over the course of eight years before my life was enhanced by the open hearts and willingness of my adoptive family to invest in me during the launching period of my goals.

Today, I am part of the Ready to Launch budget coalition that prioritizes funding for transition-age youth.

Ohio's 1,300 young people who "age out" of foster care each year dream of the day when they can say with dignity that they can rely on the governing body that serves as their guardians, but have petitioned and rallied and starved for that day. They are emerging from a welfare system that is broken and serves broken plates and promises to our calls for help.

It is becoming quite clear that the Government of the great state of Ohio does not intend to deliver adequate citizenship to our deserving yet oppressed youth. However, we continue to find crevices and spaces where we can survive, for yet another chance to request the opportunity for normalcy.

Through further reduction in the TANF-IL funding that we need to survive, we have been reduced to no major concern of our governing body and have been placed in a systemic paradigm of homelessness.

In the midst of a recession, we continue to digress on the promise of support and nurture to a starving population.

The investment of funds to prisons and preventative treatment programs is in vain, and will never equate to the loss of human capital that continues to force America's future backward.

We are witnessing the crippling of hope for the most powerful and capable citizens, who only insist on shelter and parental guidance.

Please consider my testimony as evidence that our youth feel neglected, burned and broken under the same flag that brings a sense of pride to Kindergarten classrooms.

We attend school with your children, we ride your buses and we patronize your businesses, please consider us equal and deserving of a funded and substantiated standard of living.

Please be our understanding stewards and share the gift of support as discussed during the 2008 Ohio Summit on Children as charged by our Governor Ted Strickland and Chief Justice Moyer.

I ask these things on behalf of young people from all 88 of Ohio's counties who are struggling to create a path from a gloomy tunnel. Bring to us the light of adequacy and consideration for funding and a long-term commitment to support our successful life outcomes for the betterment of American civilization and enhancement of Ohio leadership.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Testimony from Adrian McLemore

Adrian and Chairwoman Edna Brown during the lunch break after his testimony.

I am a product if you will of the independent living services. I am a former foster youth who has spent a total of 11 years in the foster care system.

I have utilized every available resource in the program in Montgomery County. From text books for school to the budgeting tips I use at Kroger. And I can tell you today, my future fellow colleagues, that independent living services are a vital part and play a determining factor in the success of my fellow brothers and sisters aging out of foster care.

As you know, all TANF earmarks are excluded in the current version of House Bill 1. Independent Living Services are part of the ODJFS Budget. If you move forward with excluding these funds, more and more of my brothers and sisters will continue to fall behind in; an already uphill battle to become productive responsible citizens in our great state. You will see an increase in homeless youth on our streets; you will see a decrease of enrollment in colleges and universities. My future fellow colleagues; is this what we want for our young people?

While I understand the Governor and Legislature’s intent behind the elimination of all TANF earmarks, I urge you to re-examine this initiative. Restoring its funding would show your continued commitment from to the foster youth in Ohio, who looks to you as our legal guardians, in essence our parents.

Momma Brown, Daddy Burke, Auntie Sears, Sister Boyd and Cousin Driehaus, I hope you are proud of your son who stands before you today (thanks to TANF funds) in his senior year at Wright State, hoping one day to be Mayor of Dayton, Governor of Ohio, and President of the United States.

This is one dream from one foster youth and I hope you will not let down the dreams of my 1,300 fellow brothers and sisters aging out every year.

Please don't cut Ohio's TANF Independent Living Allocation

Witnesses Tell Personal Stories of What State Assistance Means to Them
Hannah Report, March 19, 2009

Thursday’s Human Services Subcommittee hearing had a whole different tone as legislators got to hear from a number of beneficiaries of state human services programs – many of whom thanked them for supporting a variety of state programs.

An upbeat group of witnesses were current and former foster youth themselves.

While they were lobbying for the restoration of $2.5 million/year in Independent Living funds to help foster youth who age out of the system, they themselves were perhaps the best selling point, with Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) commenting that they were a “thoroughly impressive group.”

Making a notable impression was Adrian McLemore, who addressed the subcommittee as “future colleagues” and who said he hopes one day to be mayor of Dayton, governor of Ohio and president of the U.S.

He also addressed the panel as “Momma Brown, Daddy Burke, Auntie Sears, Sister Boyd and Cousin Driehaus, making the point that it is the state that is family for foster youth.
Gabriel Koshinsky expanded on that idea: “Many of you growing up had the privilege of living in a loving home with caring parents and a strong community that supported you. These relationships provided a basis of empowerment and investment that gave you the reinforcement to believe in yourselves.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case for all children and young adults in this state. Over 17,000 children in the state of Ohio do not have a home and many are separated from their own siblings. They are alone in a world that is difficult to navigate.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lisa's testimony

My name is Lisa Dickson and I serve as co-facilitator of the OHIO YAB and Communications Chair of ACTION Ohio.

Speaking on behalf of former foster children throughout the state, many of whom, like myself, are tax-paying professionals, Ohio’s proposed biennual budget causes us great concern.

At a time when the needs of foster care youth transitioning to adulthood are being recognized on federal level through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, Ohio has chosen to cut the TANF-Independent Living Allocation by 100%. This important allocation provides $2.5 M/year to connect youth aging out of foster care with life skills training and work supports.

Approximately 1,000 Ohio teenagers emancipate from the foster care each year. Because they have no families to rely upon, these young people are at greater risk of poverty, homelessness, unwed pregnancy and incarceration.

Foster care youth transitioning to adulthood are not a 'line item.' They are children who rely on the state to be their “parent.” They are teenagers entering into adulthood during a recession. Ohio taxpayers will pay for their needs, whether now or later.

Research by the Children’s Advocacy Institute has shown that early investment leads to foster care youth being three times more likely to enroll in college, 65% less likely to be arrested, and a 33% reduction in unwed pregnancy.

According to Dr. Mark Courtney of the Chapin Hall Center for Children, “Every $1 invested in continued foster care supports and services results in a return of $2.40."

It makes better economic sense to intervene during their late-teens and early-20s, a time when young people have an open mind, high level of energy and are actively engaged in the process of directing their future lives.
Zeroing out the TANF-IL funding will led more foster care youth into situations of chronic homelessness, unwed pregnancy, unemployment and incarceration. Left unchecked, the cycle will continue: 1 in 4 homeless adults is a former foster child.