September 17, 2008

Foster-Care Youths Speak at Forum / Event Draws Attention to Program That Helps Them Get an Education

The six young people talked of good times and bad in Virginia's foster-care system, but all had a piece of advice for others in foster care. "Keep your head up and keep trying," said Clinton Boyer, a student at Richmond Technical Center. "It's not what people do for you - it's what you do for yourself."

The six - some shy, some outgoing - were panelists yesterday at the first Great Expectations Education Forum sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.

The Virginia Community College System has started a program to enroll more foster-care children and has set up an endowment to help raise money to support their education.

Cate Magennis Wyatt, a foundation board member and secretary of commerce and trade in the administration of then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, said the foundation has raised $2 million toward a goal of $10 million.

About 250 people attended the forum at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. First lady Anne Holton, who has taken a particular interest in foster care, moderated a panel discussion by the six youngsters.

Virginia has about 8,000 foster-care children, Holton said.

"That's an awful lot of kids for the government to be a parent of," she said.

More than half are teenagers. Of those in foster care, 25 percent will be jailed in the first two years after leaving the system, Holton said. Only 58 percent will earn a high school degree by 19, and less than 3 percent will earn a college degree, she said.

The panelists talked of problems ranging from abusive parents to being ashamed to tell classmates they were in foster care. But all found a caseworker, a teacher, a foster parent or someone who befriended them and helped guide them through their troubles.

One, transferred from one home to another, said he has attended every high school in Richmond. Another said she could not find her younger brother, also in the foster-care system.

"Some care for you, others are just there to get a paycheck," said Derrick Cash, who is going to Southside Virginia Community College.

Carol Underhill, project director for Great Expectations, said seven community colleges, including the Richmond area's J. Sargeant Reynolds, are participating this year. About 170 students are in the program, she said.

The goals of the project are to help foster-care youths ages 13 to 17 to complete high school and make the transition into higher education, she said. An endowed fund of $10 million would generate about $500,000 a year to sustain the program, she said.

The foundation is seeking corporate and government funds, Underhill said.

The forum also heard from Andrew Bridge, a foster-care child who went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and write a best- seller, "Hope's Boy," about his experiences in the foster-care system in Los Angeles.

Bridge, who was taken from his mentally ill mother when he was 7, said he had an advantage because he felt good about doing well in school and knew he had been loved by his mother.

Contact Tyler Whitley at (804) 649-6780 or [email protected]

MEMO: BREAKING NEWS 9/13/08 2:20 PM on

Originally published by WHITLEY; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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