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Dozens stand up for needs of foster children

When Susan Gove and Ivory Bennett meet up, they do simple things: eat dinner, get a pedicure, maybe see a show. Gove, 58, a consulting executive, mentors Bennett, 19, a former foster child.

They see each other about once a month. Gove introduces Bennett to successful women who can help the University of Pittsburgh sophomore figure out a career track.

The two women met through an Allegheny County program designed to connect former foster children with professionals. Gove, who sits on the county's Children Youth and Families Advisory Board, is trying to recruit 50 adults to become mentors in the Embark! program.

"People are always afraid to commit because they believe it's going to be too much of their time and effort, or that they won't know what to say to them," said Gove of Mt. Lebanon. "But they're just kids, they're in college and willing to talk about anything, just like most kids that you know. ... They just want someone who is honest and dependable."

Gove joined a crowd of about 65 people Tuesday who gathered Downtown to spotlight the needs of foster children throughout the region. The event was organized by county officials and the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Allegheny County.

A total of 1,703 children are in the county's child welfare system last month. CASA has 210 volunteers to serve 350 children. An additional 46 children are on a waiting list for advocates, said the group's outreach coordinator, Daren Ellerbee.

"This segment of population in foster care can so easily slip through the cracks without our web of social service agencies that provide all that support for them," said the group's executive director, Melissa Protzek. "We can always do more because there are so many kids in foster care."

About half of foster children don't graduate from high school, and half struggle to find work and support themselves once they turn 18 and leave institutional care, according to research by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

"No matter what age you are, you need a permanent connection," said Stacy Johnson, 24, of Penn Hills, a former foster child who works for the county, coordinating Embark! "That's what this program is all about, so that no matter what age you are, you know you're not forgotten."

Additional Information:

BECOME A MENTOR

For more information on how to become a mentor, contact Stacy Johnson at 412-350-6699 or by e-mail Stacy.Johnson@AlleghenyCounty.us or JoAnn Hannah at 412-350-7153 or by e-mail JoAnn.Hannah@AlleghenyCounty.us .

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