By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
The statistics are grim. Many of the 1,000 or more young adults who age out of foster care annually in Ohio without being adopted end up behind bars, pregnant, living in
poverty and homeless.
A higher percentage suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than do Vietnam War veterans.
But some young adults in
Mahoning and Trumbull counties who have grown too old for the foster-care system are
managing to survive and even thrive. They’ve done so with persistence, effort, positive attitudes and the help of caring foster
parents, counselors and
Meet Cameo Komsie, 18; Jawan Johnson, 19; Latrelle Stanford, 19; and Jasmine Rose Hardy, 23.
Komsie is a senior at Campbell Memorial High School working at a McDonald’s restaurant. She plans to study graphic-design management and wants to start her own business someday.
Johnson plans to attend Eastern Gateway Community College for two years and finish his degree at Youngstown State University.
Stanford is a full-time freshman at YSU studying gerontology.
Hardy is scheduled to graduate this fall from YSU with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She plans a career in law enforcement.
She lived alternately with her mother and father before entering custody of Trumbull County Children Services. She lived in two group homes and then went into foster care for two years.
Now out of foster care for several months, she is determined to be a good parent and “always be there for people and not throw them under the bus.”
“My mom did her best. She’s my mom, and we keep in contact, but we definitely do not see eye to eye,” she said.
Komsie, who does not have a
relationship with her siblings, lives in an apartment funded through a government program and is making plans to go to graphic-design school when she graduates from high school.
“I have been planning. I like to plan ahead,” she said.
He went from home to home, sometimes staying with his mother or brother, until the Mahoning County Children Services took custody after which he lived in group homes.
He said he doesn’t have a relationship with his parents.
“We’re on totally different tracks. I do not talk to any members of my family,” he said.
Johnson said he had trust issues when he first came to CSB.
“I thought, if you can’t trust family, how can I trust these people? But they taught me life skills and how to trust. When I emancipated, I went with friends of the family,” he said.
“Going through everything opened my eyes. When people say they have been mistreated, I can relate. I instantly feel it. It makes me want to help and motivate people like myself,” he said.
Mahoning County CSB took custody of her at 5, and she was in foster care from 7 to 14. She lived in a group home for two years, and then went back in foster care when she was a junior in high school.
“I was very young ... and kind of confused when I went into foster care, but it went really smoothly. I stayed with the same foster mom for seven years. I give her a lot of credit,” Stanford said.
She said she liked the group-home experience because it taught her to be more independent.
“I had to do chores and had a good support system. And even though I’ve aged out, CSB continues to be available if I need it,” she said.
She stayed in a group home for a day before going into the only foster home she had. She she still goes to her foster mother for help and to talk.
“Foster care helped shape me into the person I am. It helped me to see how great God is and helped me to help other youth,” she said.
Hardy, who said she is working to build relationships with her siblings, said several things got her to where she is in college. But, she said, the most important of those things are her Bible-study group and the Scripture in Philippians 4:13, which says: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
“When I want to give up, I remember it is not for me but for Christ that I am here to be a voice and light for youth in and out of care,” Hardy said.
Available to help aged-out foster-care young adults are counselors, case managers and advisers from Mahoning and Trumbull County Children Services agencies; other agencies; and several local, state and federal programs specifically to help them make the transition a little easier from foster care to being on their own.
Jeff Phillips, independent-living coordinator for Mahoning County CSB, said he and Cynthia Berend, a CSB caseworker, prepare the foster-care graduates to live on their own by linking them to services such as housing, job training and education.
The private sector also gets involved. For instance, Al Casanta of Home Buyer Funding in Boardman, renovated 26 apartment units on Bryson Street on Youngstown’s North Side. All but three are occupied by college students, including foster-care graduates.
“I like working with people and being around kids, and I’m impressed by Jeff [Phillips] and Jawan [Johnson],” who was his security guard, Casanta said. “It’s been a great experience for myself and my partners. We’re very happy with it.”
SUCCESS STORIES: Life after foster care
Siblings: Four, age 8 to 15.
Foster care: Custody of the Trumbull County Children Services Board at 13; entered foster care at 16.
High school: Student, Campbell Memorial High School. Plans to attend college.
Career goal: Graphic design management/wants to start her own company.
Job: McDonald’s Restaurant, in management training program.
Advice to youth in the foster-care system and those aging out: Be careful and look out for yourself and watch your own back.
Quotes: “They [biological mother and foster mother] gave me somewhere to stay, but I was independent. It’s better now that I am out. I think I’ve had a very rocky road, but I think I’m getting there. It’s taken me awhile, but I’m finally getting there.”
Siblings: Four, age 20 to 30.
Foster care: Entered at 11.
High school: Youngstown Chaney, graduated 2011.
College: Plans to attend Eastern Gateway for two years and then finish at Youngstown State University.
Career goal: Find a decent-paying job.
Advice to youth in foster care and those aging out: Be open-minded to things and take positive chances.
Quotes: “Foster care taught me how to trust and [provided] life skills. I got a lot of support when I emancipated and went with a friend of the family.”
Siblings: Nine, 17 to 24.
Foster care: Custody of Mahoning County Children Services at 5; foster care at 7.
High school: Campbell Memorial High School, graduated 2012.
College: Youngstown State University, full-time freshman student.
Career goal: Gerontology.
Job: Cashier at Pizza Hut.
Community activities: Victory Christian Center, Liberty Campus.
Advice to kids in foster care and young adults who have aged out: No matter what you have gone through or are going through, I’m proof you can get through anything and not let your past determine your future.
Quotes: “I believe I am a success story. Most people who age out of foster case don’t know what they are going to do. Without CSB, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I thank everybody who has been a part of my life who have helped me out with a lot of things. “
Siblings: Six, 18-28.
Foster care: Entered September 2001 the day before her 13th birthday.
High school: Campbell Memorial High School, studied criminal justice at Mahoning Career and Technical Center.
College: Youngstown State University, entered 2008, scheduled to graduate this fall with bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Career goal: Law enforcement.
Extracurricular school activities: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, basketball, volleyball, soccer, track and Skills USA.
Advice to youth in foster care or aging out: No matter what you are going though, have faith.
Quotes: “I thought about aging out. I did. I did. I talked to my foster mom the whole time. I still go to her as well as CSB. Aging out was smooth for me. I moved right into a dorm at YSU. I was a little scared at first, but not anymore. My roommates in college helped me a lot. They prayed for me and just helped when my parents were not there to help.”
Sources: All four former foster-care youths