The Community Partnership for Protecting Children initiative for Benton and Iowa Counties is recognizing students who have beaten the odds to succeed by graduating from high school while living in foster care, living on their own or who are homeless, and who may not otherwise be able to celebrate their accomplishments. It is anticipated that the group will help fifteen graduates this year.

The goal is to help the students receive the things typically associated with high school graduation such as senior pictures, invitations, cakes and refreshments for their celebration, as well as items needed as they transition out of high school and head off to college or their first apartment. Businesses, churches, organizations and members of the community can help celebrate an outstanding achievement by these students by giving a gift, providing a service or by making a monetary donation.

Heidi Schminke, helped launch this program in 2013 and describes her experience, “I am so proud of these kids, who have so many more struggles than any of us can imagine, but don’t give up. They worked hard and deserve to be recognized for their hard work and dedication. Every single student who has participated in the graduation celebrations have been so grateful and appreciative of everything they get.”

Nationally, only 54% of foster youth will graduate from high school and less than 2% will go on to college. Most not only suffered the loss of their biological family but most have had multiple foster homes, changes in case workers, friends and schools. On average, foster kids will move six times between Kindergarten and 12th grade.

Statewide, approximately 420 youth “age out” of foster care each year and according to Iowa Aftercare statistics, 56% of youth exiting Iowa foster care report $0 monthly income. Youth aging out of foster care often lack natural supports that other youth receive from family.

One foster youth that participated in a similar program commented that when she left foster care, she didn’t realize all the things she needed to get. She was provided with what she needed while in foster care, but when she had to leave at age 18, it dawned on her that she couldn’t take the foster parent’s pillow, alarm clock or blankets with her. Another young man realized he didn’t have a suitcase to move his clothing in.

For more information about this initiative, please contact Erin Monaghan at 319.241.1817 or Barb Rego at 319.472.3034. Monetary donations can be made to Wesley United Methodist Church at 516 2nd Ave., Vinton IA, 52349 and directed to the Graduation Celebration program.

–Submitted by Erin Monaghan