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Youth opportunities initiative launched in Kalamazoo

Feb. 16, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Michigan Department of Human Services and Western Michigan University representatives today announced a new partnership aimed at increasing opportunities for older youth in foster care served by both organizations.

DHS will make Kalamazoo the newest site for the department's Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative. The initiative, which already serves about 500 youth ages 14 to 20 in 30 Michigan locations, is designed to:

  • Connect older youth in foster care to available services
  • Help youth develop financial and life skills
  • Empower foster youth to become self-advocates

The program will also expand to Barry/Eaton, Chippewa/Luce, Gogebic/Ontonagon, Ingham, Marquette, Oakland and St. Clair counties.

MYOI is a partnership between the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative and DHS. The ultimate goal is to improve outcomes for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood by focusing on education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, and community engagement. MYOI tools include youth boards, community partner boards, and training and financial literacy assistance.

The Kalamazoo initiative will include a dedicated foster care worker specifically charged with interacting with the nearly 75 students who are part of WMU's Seita Scholars Program. That program provides tuition, a campus support network and a variety of services for young people who have aged out of foster care. Begun in 2008 and aimed at expanding access to higher education for young people who have aged out of foster care, the program is named for WMU alumnus Dr. John Seita, who spent much of his youth in foster care and went on to become a leading national advocate for foster care youth and those who have aged out of the system.

"We have a unique opportunity to marry two programs that have been so influential for young people in--and transitioning from--foster care," Kate Hanley, DHS director of adoption and permanency services, said at a WMU event today. "There is no better site for a Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative program than this positive environment of respect and advocacy."

The WMU program, which was originally conceived to serve about 15 to 20 students, began with seed money from the University in fall 2008 and, during its first year, attracted more than 50 students who qualified for admission. Designed as a model for other colleges and universities to emulate, the WMU program has become the nation's largest and most inclusive higher education outreach to former foster care youth.

Now in its second year of operation, the Seita program has tapped the cooperation of state officials in DHS and has attracted national media attention and the financial support of private citizens and state, local organizations and national organizations, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"There is a wonderful sense of synergy that is illustrated by this new partnership and the addition of the MYOI to the resources serving our Seita Scholars," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "The Michigan Department of Human Services has worked with us to make the Seita program a success since its inception. The department's decision to make our program the centerpiece for an MYOI site will enhance that success even further and introduce even more community involvement."

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400