Monday, Aug 19, 2019

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OHIO Reach Scholars

(L-R): Michael Outrich, Kim Reynolds and Monique Callahan speak to the 20 attendees at the Reaching for Success Youth Conference

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Ties for Dress for Success

Lisa Dickson (left) and Doris Edelmann (right) sort through the ties at the Suits for Success area

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

OHIO Reach Scholars Michael Outrich

Jamole Callahan (left) and Doris Edelmann (right) hold ties up to Michael Outrich at the Reaching for Success Youth Conference

Photographer: George E. Mauzy Jr.

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OHIO Reach Scholars Program highlighted during conference for Southeastern Ohio foster care youth

Ohio University’s OHIO Reach Scholars Program played a major part in the inaugural Reaching for Success Conference for Southeastern Ohio foster care youth hosted by Foster ACTION Ohio on Saturday, May 14, in the Schoonover Center for Communication on the Athens Campus.

The event welcomed 20 foster care youth from southern Ohio ages 14 and up to campus to learn more about pursuing a college degree after high school.

According to its website, Foster ACTION (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now ) Ohio is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth by bringing together the voices of youth, alumni and allies to create lasting change and generate hope for the children based on access to resources, ally support and alumni expertise.

Lisa Dickson, a former foster care youth who serves as the communications chair for Foster ACTION Ohio, said the goal of Saturday’s event was to give Southeast Ohio youth their own conference because they deserve it after being overlooked for a long time.

“Other counties and regions around the state have had these foster care youth conferences, but because the youth in Southeast Ohio are more spread apart and there are less per county, they haven’t had one,” Dickson said. “So the result is that they often feel very alone. The vision for today is to make the youth feel more connected to each other, more connected to their community and know that they can succeed in higher education.”

During the six-hour program, the students heard testimonials from current and former OHIO Reach Scholars and attended workshops to learn more about interviewing for a job, applying for financial aid, time management and budgeting.

Michael Outrich, a 2016 Ohio University graduate and former OHIO Reach Scholar, spoke to the attendees about some of the things that they will experience in college that may be unique to them as a foster care child.

Outrich was one of three upperclassmen who served in a mentoring role for the inaugural OHIO Reach Scholars freshmen cohort. The Cleveland area native will pursue his master’s degree at Ohio State University in the fall, but will continue to serve as a volunteer consultant to the program.

“This event focused on college prep and some of the independent living skills they may need upon emancipation,” Outrich said. “We’re starting to inform them a little earlier instead of after they turn 18. I told them about my experiences and the logistics of the OHIO Reach Scholars Program, and I’m excited to see the program extend downward to the younger generations. The earlier the better.”

The OHIO Reach Scholars Program was created largely as a result of the research work of Jacob Okumu, Ohio University coordinator for student outreach and developmental servicesdoctoral research work.

Okumu said he was happy to learn that all 11 of the students in the first-year OHIO Reach Scholars Program did well academically this year and plan to return to campus in the fall.

One of the OHIO Reach first-year scholars who came to the event to share her testimony and answer questions was rising sophomore Monique Callahan, a sophomore speech pathology major from Cleveland.

“I talked about my first-year experiences and told them that I enjoyed being in the program so much that I didn’t want to leave Athens for the summer,” Callahan said. “I really enjoyed meeting new people who were in foster care like me.”

Foster care alumnus Jamole Callahan heads up training and development for Foster ACTION Ohio in Columbus and also is on the state’s OHIO Reach board. He said only three other Ohio colleges have Reach programs: Cuyahoga Community College, Columbus State Community College and Central State University.

“I’m here to help facilitate the conference and inspire the youth,” Jamole Callahan said. “We (Foster ACTION Ohio) said we have to do something for the youth in this area. Our goal is for them to pursue a higher education degree, and we want to be there to support them as they transition to college.”

Jamole Callahan also helps coordinate the Suits for Success initiative which allowed the foster care youth to choose from donated clothing so that they have professional clothes to wear to work, school and job interviews. The clothing is primarily donated by Ohio State Bar Association members.

“If the students find something they like, we bag it up and they take it,” Jamole Callahan said. “That also includes shoes, bags and accessories in addition to the clothing.”

Doris Edelmann, the legislative liaison for Foster ACTION Ohio, said national statistics suggest that only 2.5 percent of foster care youth graduate from college, however, she said the state of Ohio’s numbers are above the national average.

“Other schools are graduating multiple students, and we know that Ohio University graduated at least two this year,” Edelmann said.

Kim Reynolds, a rising senior from Cincinnati who serves as an OHIO Reach peer mentor for OMSAR, said she was lucky to have such an important position on campus that allowed her to work with six first-year OHIO Reach Scholars the past academic year.

“Since it was a new program, we (peer mentors) had the freedom and liberty to define it,” Reynolds said. “Fortunately it came out very joyful, familial and communal and we all became very close. Everyone was happy to be a part of it, especially the scholars who were amongst people who share the same story and background.” 

One of the conference’s attendees was rising high school senior Schiann from Athens County. She said the event allowed her to get more of a foundation that will prepare her to attend Ohio University after she graduates high school in 2017.

“I plan on attending Ohio University to major in business,” she said. “Hearing from the current OHIO Reach Scholars was inspiring because they gave us a lot of information and told us about their trip to Jamaica last year with the OMSAR staff. I hope to go there with them when I’m a student here.”

The state’s Ohio Reach Program aims to improve post-secondary outcomes for foster care youth and alumni through leadership, empowerment, advocacy, research and networking (L.E.A.R.N.). Part of how it accomplishes this goal is through Ohio Reach campus liaisons like the OHIO Reach Scholars Program at Ohio University. 

For more information about the statewide Ohio Reach initiative, visit http://www.pcsao.org/programs/ohio-reach.