By Susan Emfinger, CASA Director of Outreach and Engagement (and Former Foster Youth)
When I think back to everything it took for my foster mother to encourage me to apply to, then attend, college (the many reminders, the nightly “pep talks,” the many, “Did-you-do-this-you-know-the-deadline-is-that”), I am amazed at the difference that one caring adult can make in the life of a foster youth. How inspiring, then, to see what a CASA Board Member, CASA Staff, and CASA Volunteers working together with CASA youth can do to prepare foster youth for college success!
On a drizzly, cold Saturday in January, CASA Board Member Kenneth Westary, who is also the Vice President of Institutional Advancement for CCBC, and several CASA staff members joined 4 CCBC Staff, 9 CASA Volunteers and 9 CASA foster youth ages 16+ to discuss different pathways to college – and how to get there from here. During the session, CASA youth and CASA volunteers alike discovered how many educational opportunities there are at CCBC – as well as how free tuition and fees for foster youth could be supplemented by Educational Training Vouchers (ETV’s) offered by the state.
Most people would have let it go at that, happy that youth sat through the informational session. For Ken Westary, however, it wasn’t enough that youth “heard” the information – they needed to ENGAGE with it. Ken made every, single person in the room ask a question about what they had heard. Even a youth in the back row asked an informed question, revealing that he had not only heard the information, he was trying to figure out an action plan for his future! Such direct interaction with CASA youth has a special meaning for everyone who attended the session. As Ken said, “Every CASA volunteer and CCBC staff person who participated that Saturday helped inspire those in attendance to think about their futures. I was just happy to participate and support the session’s goals.”
You may be wondering: did the CCBC session make a difference? My answer is this: a couple of weeks later, a youth who attended the session proudly announced to me, without any prompting, that he was “signed up” to attend CCBC. Now, the fact is that this young man didn’t have to tell me anything. But the fact that he wanted to tell me means everything – it means that he is envisioning his future! One thing is sure: CASA Staff, this young man’s Advocate and Ken Westary are ALL cheering him on.
That’s the CASA difference in the lives of the youth we serve. Thank you, Ken Westary, CASA Staff and Volunteers, and everyone for your support!!