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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Connecting the Dots Conference featured in Foster Focus Magazine

Owned and edited by a former foster youth, Foster Focus is the nation's only monthly magazine dedicated to the foster care industry and community.

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America greatly appreciates Chris Chemielski's willingness to travel six hours away from his home, to support Ohio's 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference. We also appreciate him sharing about the conference in the November issue of Foster Focus Magazine.

To quote from Chemielski's article:     

"Before I delve into the details of the event, let me make note of the coordinators of the conference. Lisa Dickson is a former foster youth turned pit bull foster care advocate, and Doris Edelmann is a German-born transplant, with a passion for helping kids...

"This particular conference focused entirely on the Ohio foster youth population. Innovative activities included a Suits for Success room, where youth were able to choose (free) business attire...

"The Keynote Speaker was Archie Griffin, an Ohio native and college football's only two-time Heisman trophy winner..."

"Other highlights included a Resume Clinic, during which youth had one-on-one sessions...

To learn more about the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference, please visit:

To learn more about Chris Chemielski and Foster Focus Magazine, please visit:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Article by John Diggins of Lorain County Leadership

Beginning in 2008, the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America began hosting one or more annual FCAA Thanksgiving Reunions for foster care teens, young adults and older alumni of the foster care system:

As former foster youth, we want our brothers and sisters of the system to know that they always have a seat at our table, their voices, talents, insights and mutual encouragement are what lies at the heart of this celebration and that it is an honor for us to stay in touch with them, as they enter into young adulthood, find their places in this world, and move beyond the shadows of their past to build bright futures and families of their own...

It takes a village to host these annual events, and we are deeply grateful for our alumni members, allies and sponsoring organizations for making it possible, in 2012, for Four Thanksgiving Dinners to be held, in SW, NW, NE and Central Ohio. The highlight of each these celebrations is inviting each participant to share their recent accomplishments and/or what they are most thankful for...

My name is John Diggins and, as I shared during the third annual Northeast Thanksgiving Dinner in Cleveland Ohio, I am thankful that my life is for a purpose.

I was placed in foster care 11 days after I was born, and I remained in care right up until I turned 18 years old.  I’m not sure where I would be without the foster care system, despite all of its flaws and wormholes. I am thankful for the caseworkers who serve in their role because they honestly care about children.

I am glad that I was in the system, because it made me a survivor. My father wasn’t there for me, and from his example, I learned the kind of person that I want not to be. I am thankful for all I have been through, and would do it all over again.

My experiences in foster care have put me in a position to see the world and people in a different way. I’ve watched and learned a lot about the system; who you can trust, and how to move forward to pursue your goals without doubting yourself. Today, I am a 22-year-old African American male. I am not a statistic or a failure. I am smart, calm and quick on my feet. I am this way because of the system.

I am who I am because of where I’ve been…  Being black in an all-white family… The years of being introduced as the “foster” son…. Being told, “We love you – you aren’t a job to us,” but why would you even need to say that if I’m not?  My questions and observations led me to spend quality time in my room alone – and it was there that I learned to express myself through words.

I’m thankful to have found my way here to Ohio. I am originally from Philadelphia, and I was 19 years old when I came here. I didn’t tell anyone…  I just packed up my bags and my desktop computer, and left. Foster care had taught me a lot about saying goodbye – and now, I wanted to say hello, to a new beginning.

I wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me when I arrived in Ohio and left the bus station. But I found my place in Lorain County. The children services staff went from being complete strangers to people that I could trust. I could tell them where I’d been, and what I wanted to achieve – and they actually cared enough to try to help me.

Today, I hope my story will help my brothers and sisters of the foster care system. I want them to know that not everything is bad – just learn from it. Don’t let your anger turn into hate. Don’t let your pain turn into bitterness. Not everyone is bad; give people a chance. Just follow what your body tells you, and don’t allow your personal boundaries to be violated.

If I could give one piece of advice to help the next generation, it would be this: “Don’t rush to get out of the system.”   My goal is for teens in foster care to focus on their dreams, turn them into to-do lists and surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I don’t want them to hit the same brick walls that I did.