Mariah Maxwell is First HEMI Graduate

Earlier this week the Enquirer published a wonderful column about Mariah Maxwell, the first HEMI graduate to earn a degree.

We could not be more proud of Mariah! Like many of our foster students, she has faced more obstacles than the average youth and managed to overcome them.

Now, she will be graduating college with two degrees earned in three years and plans to attend the graduate school of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati.

Unfortunately, Mariah’s story is still uncommon. Nationally, only 3 percent of children in foster care go on to graduate college. For many foster children, when they age out of foster care at 18, they have little to no support. Most are forced to be self-sufficient at an extremely young age, often without access to housing, employment or basic life skills.

In 2009, Commissioner Greg Hartmann assembled a partnership between Hamilton County, Job and Family Services, the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State and Great Oaks to address this need and HEMI was formed.

Mentors commit to at least two hours of personal interaction each week and once a month, attend a HEMI activity. The most effective mentors are able to engage in a relationship based on trust and understanding.

When we started, it was with the idea that a conversation about higher education could make a significant difference in foster children’s lives.

Now, HEMI has grown to incorporate multiple partnerships that provide clothing, resume advice and in some cases, even housing or mental health opportunities to our former foster kids.

But the most important part about HEMI remains the mentors.

One line in particular of the Enquirer’s story struck me: “My going into foster care opened up a lot of doors. Without it, I wouldn’t have met (my mentor) Kate Livingston or my foster mother, Sheeila Foster – they pushed me, and encouraged me to finish school,” Mariah said.

That is what HEMI is all about, turning what can be seen as an obstacle – foster care – into an opportunity.

For Mariah, HEMI made a difference.

Unfortunately, there are many more foster students in Hamilton County that face similar hardships. This summer HEMI will be recruiting mentors ready to make a commitment to guiding these students. Individuals interested in long-term mentoring should contact HEMIat hemimentors@uc.edu or visit www.hemimentors.org for more information.