For many young people, May is a time of hope and new beginnings. It is about celebration and achievement. In the scholastic sense, it is a culmination of years of hard work. May is graduation month.
And for most high school students, though they have indeed accomplished an incredible thing, they have done so with support from their families and a stable home.
Many children in Oklahoma have earned a high school diploma or GED while in foster care. In a lot of ways, these kids have accomplished this without the day to day guarantees of housing stability and the family guidance that many students take for granted.
With recent budget cuts in the DHS system, a large celebration for graduates in foster care may have seemed out of the question. Not for Lisa Feist, an Edmond resident who has taken on the task of planning a graduation party worthy of the level of achievement for 159 foster care youth graduating in Oklahoma and Canadian County this year.
“I couldn’t think of those kids going to the shelter and eating cake in a conference room. I thought they deserved so much more,” says Feist, who learned about foster care while helping a friend put together an orphan care proposal.
“Through that, I really found this tragedy. When I think of what the word ‘orphan’ means, I think of a family-less child,” says Feist. A foster child who has reached age 18 exits the foster care system and many have to fend for themselves, simply because they’ve reached an age-limit for their services.
Feist has been working with the Spero Project, an Oklahoma City-based organization that seeks to network humanitarian ventures in the metro and also make an impact on a global scale. Her work specializes in the Legacy section of Spero which targets Oklahoma foster care and adoption. Feist came on board when DHS contacted The Spero Project for help with this year’s graduates. She feels the need for community involvement and support of our foster care kids is crucial, based on the statistics alone.
According to the Foster Care Alumni of America, only 54 percent of children in foster care graduate high school and only two percent continue their education to earn a Bachelor’s degree. This is why Feist has envisioned not only a graduation party, but also some form of continued support for the graduates.
“In Oklahoma, we’re really blessed with some awesome opportunities for the youth. I don’t know if some of them don’t know about it, or they’re tired of being in the system or they don’t feel cared for.” says Feist. “They don’t have someone coming alongside them helping them make those choices that would benefit them in the long run.” She hopes to connect the kids to opportunities for them to get housing and college tuition assistance and even medical coverage, which can be available to kids formerly in foster care.
Right now, Feist is focusing on planning the graduation party. She has decided to call the event Flux in reference to a guidebook written by former foster kids within the Foster Care Alumni organization.
Already, the party has had a great response from the community. A local church donated the location and they’ve had an anonymous donor agree to provide food. All of the attendees will receive a copy of the book “Flux” and they will have door prizes to give away.
Feist says they still need sponsors for various items; graduation t-shirts, netbooks, luggage and door prizes are at the top of the list. They are also in need of transport volunteers certifiable through DHS, which offers free training.
Additionally, Feist encourages everyone to “think about what your gifts are” and get involved. One prime example is a local group of talented photographers who have agreed to donate their time to do senior portraits.
Feist believes everyone has a part they can play in helping out and this party is only the beginning. It’s about developing resources available to the kids and expanding ways for the community to get involved. It’s a new chapter in the lives of many deserving children.
To the kids Feist says, “We really just want to tell them that ‘we believe in you, and we know you’re going to continue this progress in your life’.”