Monday, May 9, 2011

For youth, the end of the year is a chance to look back, reflect and celebrate

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An ILP youth award recipient proudly shows off her
certificate and $25 gift card, presented by
Children's Services staff in recognition of achievement
over the past year.
Josh Wilson, cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens, received resounding applause as he stood to speak before the room full of youth and teen parents gathered together at Phillip’s Seafood Restaurant in Washington, DC. The occasion was our Independent Living Program’s (ILP) annual youth awards ceremony, held as an opportunity to honor youth for their achievements during the year. At ILP, staff work closely with youth to help them age out of the foster care system and into independent living.
After all, growing up without a loving family can be very, very challenging, and the final transition to adulthood is often daunting for youth who don’t benefit from the guidance of parents or other relatives.

This is why Josh Wilson, NFL star and former Maryland Terrapin had come to dinner. To add his congratulations, too, and offer words of encouragement as our youth move upward and onward.

Like many of the youth we serve, Josh faced his share of hardships growing up. “My father died of a heart attack when I was young,” he said, explaining that he never had a strong male role model as a child. Even so, he cultivated a love of football and eventually when on to study at the University of Maryland. There, a coach dismissed him as “too short for the pros.” But at 5’9” and 192 pounds, Josh is certainly not a small man.

“I’m proud of where I am,” Josh said. “And all of you aren’t far from great success. Just be yourself.”Indeed, Josh remained true to himself—and in 2007, at the age of 21, he was drafted into the pros as a player for the Seattle Seahawks. While not all of our kids are destined for the NFL, many are ready to make their mark on our community.

“ILP gives us so much guidance,” said Allyson, 20, a youth enrolled in ILP since she exited the foster care system two years ago. “I have a naval engineering internship now. I want to be an engineer,” Allyson explained. She also serves as president of a local youth board.

“We discuss budgeting, school, internships—everything, really.” But more importantly, Allyson says, “I feel like I can really talk to the ILP staff. I can admit to them when I need help or make a mistake.”

Many of our youth face challenges at home as they learn to live independently. But many of them, like Allyson—and like Josh—also achieve great successes.

Later that evening, Allyson hoisted up the plaque presented to her by ILP staff for “Outstanding Performance.” Allyson kept a clean apartment, held a job and saved money, all on her own – crucial living skills many of us take for granted that we learned at home.

“They really motivate me,” Allyson added, referring to our staff. “They help us all better our lives.”

Like Josh said, Catholic Charities’ social workers teach our youth to believe in themselves. Once they gain self-confidence, cultivate positive self-esteem and work hard, they can achieve anything.

Congratulations, youth! We’re very proud of each and every one of you!