Ten years, one decade, 3,650 days of service is a great reason for celebration. Recently, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS), The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) and the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program held a celebration at The Professional Center in New Brunswick, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the NJFC Scholars Program. Over that period, hundreds of young men and women in foster, adoptive and kinship care were able to attend colleges, universities and trade schools with the assistance of this special program.
State Officials Turn Out To Celebrate New Jersey Foster Care Scholars
In attendance were Allison Blake, PhD, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF); Mary Jane Awrachow, CEO of FAFS; Tara Rizzolo, FAFS Director of Scholarship Programs; Kara Wood, Director of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency; Fran Gervasi, FAFS Director of Education and Training; graduates, current scholars and various guests. The event theme was “Red Carpet – Starring the Scholars.”
Officially, the program was signed into existence in 2003; however, its first sizable student population occurred during the fall 2004 semester. Since then, over 175 NJFC Scholars have confirmed the completion of their degree or certificate at accredited colleges, universities and trade/career schools.
The day for the scholars included a luncheon, musical entertainment, a fun photo booth, some impromptu dancing, door prizes and actually “walking the red carpet” with fans and paparazzi.
New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Don’t Dream of Success; They Work For It
Six scholars shared reflections of their experiences with the NJFC Scholars Program. One of the scholars spoke about her effort, not to “just graduate High School” but also to pursue a university education. She needed to work two jobs to make ends meet. Her determination led to graduating near the top of her class and to studies toward a post-graduate degree. Another scholar quoted Estée Lauder as a source of her motivation: “I never dreamed of my success; I worked for it.”
DCF Commissioner Blake commented on the occasion, “The stories of the students and graduates show that each of them should be very proud of their success.” She also commented that, “Foster and Adoptive Family Services has developed a long and strong partnership with DCF.”
Dr. Blake took the time to present a special letter of commendation from Governor Christie honoring Foster and Adoptive Family Services on its 40th anniversary year of service.
New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Show Great Resiliency and Courage
The keynote address at the luncheon was given by Dianna Walters, Policy Associate of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. She shared her personal story of being a child in foster care, moving many times around the country, having the opportunity to attend college and eventually earning her Master’s degree. Ms. Walters said that national statistics show 28% of the current population earn a college degree, while only 3% of children in foster care achieve that level of education. In her role with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, she discussed how trauma could be overcome, especially early in life. She shared how research is now showing that the brain is extremely resilient through ages into the mid to late twenties. Her closing remarks were, “Develop your brain, build relationships and strive to find your passion.”
In commenting about the celebration and the NJFC Scholars Program, FAFS CEO Mary Jane Awrachow said, “With great resiliency and courage, these young people overcame many hurdles to graduate from High School. Then they worked to be accepted into places of higher learning. Many times children in foster, adoptive or kinship care face frequent movement among school districts. The NJFC Scholars Program is a fine example of state government collaborating with a nonprofit agency to maximize the effectiveness of an outreach program with the ultimate goal of helping our students achieve their dreams.”
Find out more about FAFS’ foster care scholarships. To learn how you can help, call 1.800.222.0047 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.