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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dedicating the Misty Stenslie Dedication Award to ACTION Ohio

ACTION Ohio  (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now)

Link to brochure about our work:

Foster care youth and alumni deserve a voice. In 2006, Ohio foster care youth and alumni begin working together to improve outcomes for current and former foster youth. Lisa Dickson and Doris Edelmann helped found both groups, and continue to serve as co-chairs of the alumni group and alumni supporters of the youth group, ever since both groups were established. The statewide alumni group has been serving as parent organization for the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) since 2009. This came about after youth and alumni stood together to advocate to restore TANF independent living allocation. 

"As someone who often felt like I didn't have a voice during my time in foster care, it means a great deal to me that today's young people are seen and heard. They have excellent insights to share  -- and their voices matter."  (quote from Lisa)

Foster care youth and alumni deserve a seat at the tableIn 2007, former foster youth came Home for the Holidays to Washington D.C., to remind the federal government, about the need to foster connections to success by extending foster care supports to age 21. On Thanksgiving Day 2007, foster care alumni celebrated Thanksgiving Dinner on the steps of the United States Capitol. Lisa was one of two Ohio alumni representatives who participated. From 2008 onward, Ohio has held statewide and regional early Thanksgiving dinners for foster care teens and alumni Lisa and Doris head up planning for the dinners.

"As a foster care survivor, it can feel lonely to be 'one of the ones who made it.'  When we come together as brothers and sisters of the foster care system, we can encourage and support one another. We can celebrate each other's success, and continue to work together to improve outcomes for the next generation."  (quote from Lisa)

Foster care youth and alumni deserve educational supports. Ohio foster care youth and alumni reported barriers and obstacles to OACCA for foster care youth in attaining higher education. This led to the establishment of Ohio Reach in 2009, as a statewide effort to increase the number of foster youth who enroll in and graduate from higher education. Lisa served on the Ohio Reach Board for five years, heading up communications and event planning (annual conferences). Her current efforts focus on helping plan and facilitate College for the Day visits for foster care teens on OSU campus, twice a year.

"At age 16, I was accepted into college, and this proved to be my lifeline into the future. I remain forever grateful to Randy Mills, former Admissions Counselor at the University of Kentucky, for literally walking me down the hall to Financial Aid and telling them: 'This girl has no family to help her - this girl needs grants.'  Our young people today deserve to have campus liaisons like Randy to support them." (quote from Lisa)

Foster care youth and alumni deserve employment supports. Suits for Success provides professional attire to current and former foster youth who are preparing to enter the workforce. This program was created in 2011 by the Ohio State Bar Foundation and Ohio foster care alumni. Lisa served as lead facilitator of the 2011 Career and Entrepreneurship Conference,  2012 and 2013 Connecting the Dots Conferences and the 2014 Fostering Pathways to Success Conference. Each of these events included Suits for Success, a Resume Clinic engaging speakers and hands-on workshops. The Ohio foster care alumni group (ACTION Ohio) continues to assist with annual statewide conferences for youth. In 2015, Lisa and Doris Edelmann were each awarded the Founder's Award for their work on annual foster youth conferences. 

“Time and time again, our young people tell us that it's not enough to know *what* the resources are -- they need coaching and guidance regarding *how* to access them effectively.”  (quote from Lisa)

Foster care youth and alumni deserve better than to "age out" into homelessness. Three Days on the Hill is an annual trip designed to provide foster care youth and alumni with opportunities to further their leadership development. This trip was established in 2013, and is facilitated by Lisa and Doris of Ohio's statewide foster care alumni group (ACTION Ohio). After participating in DC-based training and preparation, participants share their expertise and insights with federal legislators to educate for positive change. 
Representative Michael Turner created the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act” as a direct result of meeting with Ohio foster care youth during their annual Three Days on the Hill trips to Washington, D.C. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required, by a) allowing foster care youth who are at risk of “aging out” of foster care to apply for housing assistance when they reach 16 years old, and b) allowing them to jump to the front of the waitlist when they are about to “age out” of foster care.

"It sounds great to say that I started college at age 16.  But, by age 17, I was homeless due to trying to rescue my former roommate from a group home. This urge to try to rescue others is so strong that we Ohio foster care alums currently lead a workshop called: When Helping You Is Hurting Me...

"But what I don't get is this -- I aged out of foster care in 1989 and ended up homeless. Why are today's youth still aging out into homelessness?  We could and should and must do better. It's time to end the #FosterCaretoHomelessnessPipeline  We need to improve these outcomes NOW."  (quote from Lisa)

Misty Stenslie Dedication Award- Lisa Dickson

There is only one Misty Stenslie, now and always.
She is forevermore written in permanent ink on our hearts.
From Foster Focus Magazine's First Annual Foster Focus Awards:

The inspiration..... 
What can I write about the great Misty Stenslie that I haven’t already written? If you aren’t familiar with Misty, allow me to give you a brief overview. Misty is a pioneer in the world of former foster kids. Through her efforts, tireless advocacy and partnerships with organizations and other former foster youth, Foster Care Alumni of America was born. She passed on in 2016 but her legacy will live on through her work and this award. The winner has shown unrelenting dedication to their advocacy, the same way Misty did during her time. 
And the winner is.... The smile that Lisa Dickson possesses has many purposes. First, it’s involuntary, she can’t help but project enthusiasm and genuine affection. Secondly, that smile can ease a young person’s fears as they journey through foster care and adulthood. The Ohio native is a staple at any event that furthers the success of the Buckeye state’s foster youth. Among the many programs she has spearheaded or been a part of; a yearly trip for Ohio foster youth to Washington D.C. to advocate on their own behalf, an annual Thanksgiving dinner in different parts of the state and a summit for foster youth where they receive dress clothes they can wear to job interviews.
And here’s why…. Besides her tireless advocacy, Lisa prefers the background, the nuts and bolts of it all. How shy is Lisa to the glare of the spotlight? When I asked her if there was anything she’d like me to mention about her, she responded with three emails, typical of Lisa, with information about the programs she’s involved with and their importance to Ohio...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017 Junior League SPAC meeting and Representative Pelanda

Many thanks to the Junior League of Ohio's State Public Affairs Committee (SPAC) for inviting ACTION Ohio (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now) to their recent meeting.

It was an honor to spend time with SPAC and with Representative Dorothy Pelanda, who tirelessly champions normalcy and continued supports until age 21 for Ohio foster youth.

When it comes to making sure that effort to extend foster care supports to age 21 moves forward and is funded as needed, Representative Pelanda said that the most helpful thing we each can do is to submit handwritten notes to Governor Kasich, thanking him for his support of HB 50.

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

If you want to go the extra mile, the next step is to write a similar note to your district's legislators. Who's my legislator?  Here's how to find out.

Link to additional photos.

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.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Columbus State Scholar Network for Former Foster Youth

ACTION Ohio is grateful to the Columbus State Scholar Network for allowing us to bring a group of Franklin County foster youth for a day on campus on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.

The Scholars, as former foster youth themselves, designed and facilitated creative and relevant activities to engage and empower participating youth.

Link to additional photos.