First Statewide Foster Youth Conference Gives Students Hope and Help to Attend College

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September 1, 2011

Eugene, OR – The Oregon Student Access Commission (OSAC) and the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) are hosting the first statewide 2011 ASPIRE Former Foster Youth Conference on August 1 through 4 at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, OR.

More than 100 current and former foster youth ages 14 to 20 and professional advocates and educators will participate in sessions focusing on educational options beyond high school and paths for success.

A group of former foster youth known as the FosterClub Allstars, OSAC and DHS staff, and college representatives will facilitate workshops and activities that bring youth from across the state to learn about postsecondary options, college resources, paying for college, managing money, transitioning out of foster care, and much more.

Of special note is this year's keynote speaker Nicole Dobbins, a former foster youth, and now Executive Director of Voice for Adoption, based in Washington D.C. Dobbins, who grew up in Portland and graduated from Oregon State University, is the past director of Events for FosterClub, the national network for young people in foster care, where she was responsible for engaging young leaders from foster care in training of more than 2,500 foster youth annually across the country.

"The path to where I am today was not easy, but assistance helped make the difference," said Dobbins. "It made what sometimes seemed impossible, possible, and I'm grateful for that. I'm happy to help bring attention to scholarships for foster youth; they offer a beacon of light and often hope to what others can easily take for granted. Today, my hope is that the college graduation rate for foster youth will improve immensely and more success stories will be shared so that those behind us may be inspired."

Dobbins will kick-off the conference with an inspirational message at 2:45 pm on Monday, August 1st in the Summit Room of Werner Center. Dobbins has advocated on behalf of foster youth by testifying in front of the United States Congress, served as a spokesperson for the National Foster Care Month campaign, and was recognized in 2008 as one of 10 Outstanding Leaders by the Kids are Waiting campaign, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. As an alumnus of Oregon's foster care system, Dobbins leverages her first-hand experience and passion to effectively advocate on behalf of young people she considers her "brothers and sisters in foster care."

Also at the conference, one youth will be named a DREAM Scholarship recipient. A total of ten youth will receive the scholarship award of $500 or $1,000. This scholarship goes to youth who were in the Oregon child welfare system in foster care and dismissed from care at age 16 or older or a youth who was adopted between the ages of 14 ½ and 16, and did not receive Chafee Foster Care Independence Program funds before age 21.

The DREAM Scholarship (formerly the Former Foster Children Scholarship) initially received funding from the state of Oregon in 2001-03. However, funding today is in jeopardy. In 2001, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2441 to provided tuition assistance to Oregon foster youth and appropriated General Funds of $100,000 for the 2001-03 biennium. Since that time, the majority of scholarship funding came from private donations and a small amount from the Department of Human Services Children and Families Scholarship program.

Since 2001, the DREAM Scholarship program has awarded more than 100 former foster youth. The balance of the scholarship fund has dwindled and future scholarships beyond this coming academic year may be unlikely, according to Joyce Berman, Donor Development Specialist at OSAC.

"To continue the DREAM Scholarship, OSAC is encouraging private donations to keep the hope of a college education alive for many former foster youth," said Berman. To contribute, donors can visit OSAC's website or may contact the OSAC office at 541-687-7400.