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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.