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Local mentoring program helps youths in foster care prepare for college

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Posted at 4:44 PM, Nov 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-21 18:44:22-05

KENT, Ohio — Stepping foot on a college campus.

It's something few young adults who age out of foster care get to experience.

Kent State University is now working to change that.

"My life was unstable when I was born. I tested positive for drugs," said Natasha Sam-Yellowe.

That was the beginning of a long road of bouncing from home-to-home for Sam-Yellowe.

"It's a hard work for a child to go through all these dramatic changes," said Sam-Yellowe.

The 23-year old spent a good chunk of her life feeling lost.

"I didn't have a support system, I didn't have anyone there for me to show me how to do things," said Sam-Yellowe.

At age 16 however, there was a dramatic shift.

"That's when I realized that people really cared about me, people wanted to see me grow," said Sam-Yellowe.

Connecting with a mentor during those vulnerable teen years completely changed Natasha’s course.

"She just supported me and comforted me, just gave me that love I never had,” said Sam-Yellowe. “As a result, I graduated from Tr-C. Now, I'm at Cleveland State and I'm going to graduate with my bachelor’s in social work."

Natasha is a very rare success story.

"Nationally only about 3% of young people who age out of foster care go on to college," said Danielle Green-Welch, Kent State Academy director.

For many of them, their future is filled with challenges.

"Homelessness, unemployment and underemployment, incarceration," said Green-Welch.

Kent State is now partnering with non-profit charity First Star to reach nearly three dozen high school students currently navigating the foster care system.

"They'll have mentors, they'll have people who are wrapping around them to demonstrate meaningful, positive interactions and folks they know that they can call on," said Green-Welch.

The teens accepted into the academy were removed from their homes because of parental opioid abuse, a population in Ohio that continues to soar.

"This crisis really is impacting entire families. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts and so it's really leaving no choice but for young people to end up in the care of the counties," said Green-Welch.

98% of students who complete the academy go on to college and graduate.

"I never thought I would be in college," said Sam-Yellowe. "I'm really happy that I didn't become another statistic."

Natasha will soon be able to help improve lives. She chose to get a degree in social work to give others what she so desperately longed for growing up.

"More love, more care. I know it's absolutely a need," said Sam-Yellowe. "Younger me didn't experience that love that I wish I would've experienced."

The academy is slated to start this Spring.

Students from nine counties in Northeast Ohio will be chosen to participate.

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