NJFC Scholar Spotlight: Shakree L. Quinn

The most recent Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the number of youth in congregate care or group homes is down to 21,649, which marks a decrease of more than 10,000 children since their 2008 report. While the use of congregate care has been trending downward for more than a decade, the recently passed Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) will result in these figures dropping even more.

group home

As previously mentioned in our newsletter, “Understanding the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA),” congregate care is slowly being phased out as funding is being redirected towards the “Foster Care New Deal.”

A recent study by the Casey Family Programs focuses on reasons why states are moving away from using group homes. They found that youth who spent time in congregate care were less likely to graduate high school or be as successful as those who were in foster homes. Their research also indicated that these youth were more likely to commit a crime and receive lower grades in school.

While these studies show that group homes typically don’t result in the best outcomes for youth, that is not always the case. For Shakree L. Quinn, it was his time in a group home that inspired him to go from a self-proclaimed “knucklehead” to an aspiring dentist.

“I wouldn’t be doing half of what I’m doing now be or half of who I am now if it wasn’t for Ms. Kathy or Strong Futures (a housing program for male youth ages 16 to 21 who are aging out of foster care or homeless),” said Quinn.

After his mother passed away when he was 5, Quinn never stayed in one place for more than a year and a half. He bounced around homes of family members for the next ten years until he was placed in his first group home at the age of 15.

He ran away, fearing the worst. But when he returned, he discovered his preconceived notions were wrong. Eventually, he would return to the home and realize his preconceptions were wrong. He found that the people he initially thought were going to hurt him were actually very helpful and would play a role in him getting his life on track. Here, Quinn had a realization. “If you don’t start to go the right way, your children might end up there as well,” Quinn said.

After leaving his first group home, Quinn lived with his sister in Woodbridge. During this period, Quinn’s life was forever changed. He had a daughter and with her, a new source of motivation. However, having a child presented an issue for Quinn. While living in care, his daughter would not be allowed to live with him. Fortunately, with the help of his girlfriend and relatives, he never had to worry where his daughter would sleep at night.

After a few false starts, he went to another group home called Strong Futures. At first, he went back to his “knucklehead” ways. He wasn’t attending school on a consistent basis, which resulted in him only having enough credits to be considered a sophomore when he should have been a senior. During this time, he was also having issues with another resident in the group home that almost ended in a fight.

Fortunately, Ms. Kathy, a program manager at Strong Futures, gave him a second chance. With her help and inspiration from a book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson, he finally understood his true potential. Once Quinn had this realization, he was a changed man. Originally, he had planned on going to school for nursing and cosmetology. However, while reading Woodson’s book, Quinn decided that he wanted more from his career. He now wanted to be a dentist that specialized in oral maxillofacial surgery who could give back to his community.

He knew he had a lot of work to do reach his goal. How was someone who was so far behind in high school going to get into a dental surgeon program?

“I was looking at my life and looking at the people around me and how far they got and looking at my current situation and saying to myself, ‘you know, well how can you make this better?’ I saw college as an opportunity. At the time I didn’t know how I was going to pay for college. I didn’t care. I’m the type of person, I set my mind to something, I don’t look at my current situation to try to stop me from hitting my goal. I just say, ‘you know what, you really want to do it, you’re going to go out there and get it.’”

The Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) exam helped Quinn catch up in just six months and receive his high school diploma. After completing the TASC exam, one of his teachers offered him the opportunity to apply for a paid internship. The timing could not have been better for Quinn as he had just been laid off from Popeye’s a few days prior. Two weeks later, he applied to Jersey City University and another two weeks later he began his internship at a local dental clinic.

Shortly thereafter, Quinn was notified that he had been accepted into Jersey City University and was going to become a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, which gave him access to financial assistance that would allow him to pursue his dream.

He is now halfway through his second year and remains driven to give back to his community. Currently, he works at a local dental clinic and is well connected with doctors and dentists in his area.

Quinn knows his success wasn’t simply given to him and that he had to put in the work to get to where he is today. “I just started working harder and harder for it. I wasn’t always this motivated… I didn’t always have my head on straight, but certain life experiences bring growth out of you. Even the worst life experience could allow you to grow.”

With all of the hardships that Quinn has faced throughout his life, from losing his mother at a young age to living in congregate care, it would be easy for him to place the blame on others. Quinn doesn’t. “It’s really just about yourself and how far are you going to go. You can’t blame anyone for your success or your failures in life. It just doesn’t work that way,” Quinn said.

From a self-described 15-year-old knucklehead to the first dentist in his family, Quinn sees his journey as a path of personal accomplishment. “I’m doing it more than just for myself. I’m doing it to inspire the youth and future generations, to raise the standard for my family.”

For more information on Strong Futures, click here.

For more information on FAFS’ NJFC Scholars Program, click here.

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