A True Honor

I am extremely humbled and grateful for the recognition I received at last night’s Higher Education Mentoring Initiative’s holiday party. I can think of no greater honor that than to have my name attached to a scholarship that will help a young person achieve their dreams. Education is the foundation cornerstone to health, happiness and economic prosperity – three things, we can all agree, we wish for all of our teenagers, whether they are in foster care or not.

I think back to a few years ago when I read about a partnership in California between local colleges and the agency that serves foster children and how I thought to myself, “I wonder if we could do that here?” Now we know. The answer is, “Absolutely!” With hard work, dreams do become reality and this program is proof.

So many people worked to make HEMI what it is today – I give credit to Commissioner Hartmann, Rayma Waters, Greg Vehr, Annie Schellinger, Chris Bochenek and Tim Maloney from the Haile Foundation, Ron McSwain and many more – they turned my idea into reality. And the mentors and mentees – they are the real heroes behind HEMI’s success.

Just so it isn’t lost in all the hoopla, the program did have its first college graduate this year! Thank you Mariah Maxwell for persevering! You can see Mariah in the video, which was a total surprise to me, as was the $25,000 donation by the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation. As I said, I am truly humbled and grateful.




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.

Mentoring Program Wins National Award

My most recent post mentioned the need for volunteers in our Higher Education Mentoring Program (HEMI). Well, I have more news on that front: the program was chosen as a 2012 Achievement Award winner by the National Association of Counties!

This is a great acknowledgement of our success. There were 11 programs throughout Ohio recognized as innovative and increasing service to county residents. We are very proud that HEMI was among those chosen.

The National Association of Counties has recognized innovative programs since 1970 and our agency usually has at least one winner.  Awards are given in 21 different categories including children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, environmental protection, information technology, health, and many more.

You can read more about HEMI in the below post. We need mentors if you are interested in joining our award-winning program! 



Update Newsletter Features Story on Document Imaging

The latest version of our Update newsletter contains stories on our improvements in processing public assistance applications, the state’s new child support portal, the need for mentors in our Higher Education Mentoring Initiative and our new document imaging service that should improve speed and accuracy when it comes to processing applications.

The document imaging system will upload important verification documents from consumers right into our computer system, attaching them to specific cases so they are forever available. This does away with paper case files that often sat on workers desks or in filing cabinets and were difficult to access. Now, anyone in the agency will be able to see a consumer’s verification documents with the click of a mouse.

This will make it easier to process applications and should eliminate the chance of lost documents.

To read more about the new system or any of the other stories I mentioned, click here to see our newsletter. If you would like to become a regular reader of HCJFS news, please subscribe!

Mentors Needed for Foster Children

Our Higher Education Mentoring Initiative is in need of mentors. If you are someone interested in helping a youth in need, this is a perfect program for you. You will spend time helping a foster child graduate high school and go on to some type of post-high school success. You will also likely make a life-long friend.

We started this program because of a need. We saw our foster children struggling to graduate high school and move on to successful higher learning opportunities. Nationally, only 3 percent of foster children earn college degrees. Our numbers were similar. They were aging out with nowhere to go. They have much higher rates of homelessness, incarceration and other social problems than non-foster children.

Rarely, if ever, is a conversation even had with these children that higher education is an option. Furthermore, if higher education is discussed with them, it often seems daunting or unattainable due to the unawareness of financial resources and assistance available to them.

 The purpose of this community partnership is to provide foster youth with a long-term mentoring relationship that begins in high school and is focused on the awareness of, and preparation for, post-secondary education and training.

The program goal is to reduce the number of foster youth who drop out of high school; increase the number who apply to and pursue higher education; and set foster youth on a path to successful careers and sustainable income.

With the great partnership we have with the University of Cincinnati’s Partnership for Achieving School Success (PASS), Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development and the Hamilton County Board of Commission, this has turned into a wonderful program. Since its start, 100 percent of the students have graduated high school! We served 37 students last year and most are pursuing higher education at schools such as UC, Cincinnati State, Great Oaks, the College of Mt. Saint Joseph and The Ohio State University

There is some commitment to being a mentor. You’ll commit to a six-hour training course and spending two hours a week with your mentee through high school graduation and on through their pursuit of post-secondary education.

To be considered for the mentor program, participants must fill out an application, undergo a background check and complete an interview process. This includes providing a copy of a valid drivers’ license and proof of insurance.

To obtain an application and for more information, contact Annie Schellinger, UC HEMI Program Coordinator, at 513-556-4368, or e-mail annie.schellinger@uc.edu 

The true success of this program is with the relationships. We have had some tremendous mentor/mentee relationships. In fact, the relationship often blossoms into a true friendship. That makes this program better than we could have ever expected, because these children end up with life-long mentors!

MayDay for Foster Children

Our rescheduled MayDay for Foster Children event on Fountain Square is scheduled for Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Several people will speak at noon. Please join us. If you have any interest in being a foster parent, mentoring or helping to guide a child through the court process, this is a great informational event for you to attend. Here are more details:


More Mentors Needed

Our Higher Education Mentoring Initiative was a great success this year, with 12 students going on to higher education. Just as importantly, I believe they made life-long friends in their montors.

HEMI mentors are paired with foster children in high school and assist, encourage and support their academic achievement, helping them to graduate and transition into higher education. It is really something many of our children need — hardly anyone ever talks to them about the possibilities available to them if they achieve college graduation.

Being a mentor is your chance to change a life and change this community. To register, contact Annie Dick at annie.dick@uc.edu or 556-4368.

18 Attend First Mentoring Orientation

I was extremely encouraged to see 18 caring individuals attend the first Higher Education Mentioning Initiative (HEMI) training this past Saturday. There was quite a mix of people, including many teachers and social workers.

One woman, who is now a stay-at-home mom, said she wanted to become a mentor because when she went through college, she did not have anyone to encourage and support her. She knew what our foster children were going through.

As you’ve read in this blog and elsewhere, HEMI is a much-needed program because it will improve the lives of our foster youth and improve this community. Thanks to those who boldly stepped forward to get the program started. Let’s hope this is the first of many training groups over the next many years.