People think being in foster care is cut and dry, but that’s not really true.” A young college student from Youth Villages explained that she did not become involved with the child welfare system until her senior year of high school when she was unexpectedly left without parents. “People watch these movies and think that being in foster care means one thing, and only one thing, but it can mean a lot of different things to different people.”
Every story of the thousands of youth who annually “age out” of the foster care system is unique, with each youth overcoming obstacles from their past. However, many of these young people face the same problems while transitioning into adulthood. Homelessness, unemployment, difficulty accessing postsecondary education, and financial instability plague youth who frequently find themselves handling situations they weren’t prepared for. AYPF’s recently released issue brief, Creating Access for Opportunities for Youth in Transition from Foster Care, highlights best practices, policies, and makes recommendations to support these youth during this challenging time through three critical areas of need – sustainable social capital, permanency supports, and access to postsecondary opportunities.
Following an overview presentation on the issue brief by authors Erin Russ and Garet Fryar, panelists will share their experience with the foster care system and describe how their program has supported youth in their goals of attaining higher education. Mary Lee, National Transitional Living Coordinator for Youth Villages; Sheemeca Berkley, Great Expectations Advisor for Northern Virginia Community College; and a youth from each program will share their knowledge and expertise about the intricacies and difficulties in navigating and coordinating support systems.
Sheemeca Berkley is the Great Expectations Advisor at Northern Virginia Community College. Great Expectations is a program within the Virginia Community College system that helps Virginia’s foster youth complete high school, gain access to a community college education and transition successfully from the foster care system to living independently with the goal of obtaining a credential that will lead to a self-sustaining career. Key components of the program include: individualized tutoring, career exploration and coaching, life skills training, personalized counseling, help applying for college admission and financial aid, and assistance with applying and maintaining employment. Sheemeca holds a Bachelor’s in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master’s in Social Work from George Mason University. For several years, she has worked in the social work field in different capacities such as intensive home-based counseling, adolescent residential homes, and juvenile court. She is passionate about working with adolescents and young adults in the foster care system.
Garet Fryar joined the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) as the Policy Research Assistant in March 2014. Her projects focus on investigating policies, practices, and research to promote success for all youth ages 14 to 26 in postsecondary education and the workforce. Garet’s most recent projects include researching support for youth transitioning out of foster care, competency based education, expanded learning opportunities, and pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce for disconnected youth. Her areas of expertise include supports for youth involved with the foster care system and youth who are homeless.
Prior to joining AYPF, Garet interned at the Children’s Defense Fund’s national office. In this role, she focused primarily on child poverty, gun violence involving children, and the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Garet has also worked in direct service with children and youth through positions at The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem, NC and at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center in Fort Valley, VA. She continues to work with children through her volunteer and advocacy work with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project in Southeast Washington, DC.
Garet holds a double Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. She is a native of Columbia, SC and can be found on twitter at @GaretFryar.
Marianna Langenbeck is a 20 year old senior at Northern Virginia Community College. She is seeking an Associate’s degree in General Studies, which she will complete in Spring 2015. After pursuing her Associates degree, she will continue her education in the field of cosmetology at School of Paul Mitchell. She plans to become an Aesthetician where she will be working in the field of skin care. Marianna currently is a member of the Great Expectations Advisory Board, where she serves an advocate for the Great Expectations program as well as a youth in foster care by giving a student perspective. She also participates in various Great Expectations fundraiser events by serving as the spokesperson for the program.
Mary Lee is a graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. She is the National Transitional Living Coordinator at Youth Villages which is a non-profit organization that helps at-risk children and families. Her position is focused on enhancing, growing, and supporting YV’s initiatives with transition-age youth and the Youth Villages Transitional Living program across the organization. She received a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Leadership from Austin Peay State University.
Mary came into foster care around the age of 12 and was in the system for almost five years before being adopted by her case manager one week before her 18th birthday. Since the age of 15, Mary has been actively involved in improving the foster care system. She has served on Youth Advisory Councils on the local, state and national level, and was previously the president of the National Foster Youth Advisory Council. Mary also has experience working with Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Dave Thomas Foundation, National Council on Adoption, Northern Council on Adoptable Children, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and many other organizations. Mary was also the Youth Transition Funders Group Fellow on Disconnected Youth and Social Policy and is still an active member of YTFG and its Foster Care Work Group.
Michelle Morgan is a 21-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Memphis. She is pursuing a Teaching All Learners major, which will certify her to teach grades K-6 or special education K-12. After obtaining her bachelor’s, it is Michelle’s dream to teach the 5th grade. She has always thought about being a teacher, but it wasn’t until her third year in college when she decided to pursue a career as a teacher. Michelle has volunteered numerous times for different organizations. She was a volunteer tutor at the University of Memphis for three semesters, and she also volunteered at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital for a while. She has a passion for helping others, especially children. Michelle hopes to make a difference in many young lives.
Erin Russ joined the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) as a Program Associate in 2013. Her projects focus on policies and practices that enable a continuum of success for students from K-12 to postsecondary and the workforce. Her areas of expertise include school discipline, as well as supports for youth involved in systems such as juvenile justice and foster care. She has authored and co-authored several briefs and publications, including the AYPF publications “Creating Access to Opportunities for Youth in Transition from Foster Care”, and “From Discipline to Dialogue: Changing the Conversation about Classroom Discipline”.
Prior to joining AYPF, Erin served as Education Initiatives Fellow with The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C. In this role she partnered with the Prince George’s County, Maryland community to focus on issues related to education including dropout prevention, parent engagement, early childhood services, and college and career readiness. Erin also previously served as an intern in the Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. She began her career in education as a middle and high school Government and Economics teacher, and spent five years in the classroom in North Carolina and Virginia.
Erin holds a Master of Public Policy with concentrations in Education and Social Policy from George Mason University in Virginia, and received her Bachelor’s degree in History with a minor in Psychology from Anderson University in South Carolina. She can be found on Twitter at @WatchErinTweet.
Sheemeca Berkley, MSW
Great Expectations Advisor
Bisdorf Building, Room 427
3001 N. Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311
Policy Research Assistant
1836 Jefferson Place, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
5000 Dawes Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22311
Mary Lee, Esq.
National Transitional Living Coordinator
3320 Brother Blvd.
Memphis, TN 38133
3720 Alumni Avenue
Memphis, TN 38152
1836 Jefferson Place, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036