Westmoreland group honors grads in foster care program
The Westmoreland County Independent Living program held a graduation celebration on Thursday at Giannelli's II in Unity to honor 16 students in foster care who graduated from high school or obtained GED diplomas this year.
The students' families, staff of the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau, Commissioner R. Tyler Courtney, court master Annaliese Masser and Judge Meagan Bilik DeFazio attended the dinner celebrating the students.
Each received a laptop and software programs as a graduation present from the program.
The Independent Living program is a federally and state-funded program founded to ease the transition from foster care. Any young adult who has been in foster care between the ages of 16 and 21 is eligible. At 18, they can opt out of foster care.
“We're proud to have such a high number who stay” after turning 18, said Rebecca Lewandowski, the Independent Living supervisor at the Children's Bureau.
The program offers participants a chance to learn basic life skills in a group that meets at the courthouse in Greensburg. Professionals teach them about issues such as engaging in safe sex, cooking fresh meals, driving and purchasing car insurance.
Teresea Lytle, who graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School near Johnstown, credited the program with helping her to finish high school.
“Starting my freshman year, I didn't want to do anything,” Lytle said. “I almost failed, but at the end of the year, I worked hard. I was able to pass, but barely. IL pushed and motivated me to graduate.”
Lytle will attend Penn Highlands Community College to study special education.
Twins Lisa and Jason Pina, who both graduated from Southmoreland High School this year while each worked 40 hours a week at Taco Bell, said the program did more than help them to graduate.
“It helped us gain tools to use when we graduate, like time management,” Jason Pina said of how the program helped him manage high school and a full-time job. He plans to study industrial design at the Art Institute in Pittsburgh and hopes eventually to own a tattoo shop.
“It taught me how to budget,” Lisa Pina added. “I was able to buy a car.” She plans to study business at Westmoreland County Community College.
This year's dinner was especially exciting for Lewandowski because every student in the program expected to graduate this year did so.
That 100 percent is a rare statistic, she explained.
“Statistically, children in foster care don't have the same graduation rates as other children,” said Shara Saveikis, executive director of the Children's Bureau.
She cited childhood trauma, mental illness and being around or engaging in drug and alcohol abuse as major deterrents.
“Grad rates are lower for kids in foster care than the national average,” Lewandowski said. “We wanted to give them an incentive to graduate.”
Her team applied for grant money to give the students a reward for graduation. Now, they promise students laptops once they graduate.
“Tonight has given me the chance to learn so much,” Commissioner Courtney said. “We expect future graduates to be contributors to society, and we need to give them skills. IL does that.”
Alicia McElhaney is an intern for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-6220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Hempfield man dies in single-vehicle accident
- Land costs for New Stanton turnpike interchange project reach $4.2M
- Police seek public help with East Huntingdon store thefts
- Murrysville woman apologizes for scholarship fund theft
- Hempfield bicyclist who brought rock, knives into court office charged
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting
- 2 Democrats battle for Hempfield nomination for supervisor
- Unity man collects bits of Westmoreland County history
- 4 Democrats seek 3 nods for Latrobe council
- Greensburg YMCA begins long-awaited porch renovation job