Local Youth To Become Teachers At National Conference

ELIZABETH – A team of four at-risk youth members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) have been selected by the National Independent Living Association (NILA) to do a presentation about “Living in the System” to attendees at the 2009 NILA Conference in Nashville, Tenn., from Sept. 1-4.

The four will speak to adult professionals who work with youth in independent/transitional living, foster care and social services fields about growing up in the child welfare system – being taken away from family, repeatedly developing new relationships and the impact on personal perception.  The presentation also will teach youth aged 13 and older currently living in foster care or independent living programs how to not allow living in the system to define them as people, and about setting and accomplishing goals.

Famitta Durham, Dashawn Freeman, Marion Simmons and Jessica Williams all are members of CAU’s Transitional Opportunities Program (TOP), living within the agency’s semi-independent or independent supported housing programs after spending varying years in foster care.  All also serve as officers in CAU’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and Member Action Committee (MAC).

This will be the fifth consecutive year that youth from CAU will be doing a presentation at the annual NILA conference.  Each year at-risk youth from child welfare support systems throughout the nation submit proposals to make presentations at the NILA conference that will prove informative for attendees.

“These four young people are representative of the success that is possible when at-risk youth enter a program designed to allow them to identify and tap their potential,” said Howard Wingard, coordinator of supported housing at CAU.  “But that success only comes when a young person commits to working hard within the system and earning the right to move forward.  Each of these four youth has done that and collectively they have a very important message to share with those attending this year’s conference.”

A key component of CAU’s TOP development efforts involves giving youth the opportunity to become self-advocates and advocates for other at-risk youth.

“It was tough before I came to Community Access Unlimited,” said Simmons, who serves as vice president of YAB and MAC.  “I wasn’t heading in the right direction.  I needed to turn my life around, become something positive and encourage others to change their ways.  Life is like a ball you’re trying to hit for a home run.  If you’re not driven, who’s going to do it for you?”

Added Williams, YAB and MAC president, “There’s not a lot of opportunity to get your voice heard. This is one way, not just within this program, but it teaches you to prepare for the rocks people throw at you.  This is a strong way to learn how to handle the real world.”

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