October 29, 2013
By her senior year of high school, Wendy Ramirez had moved about 15 times. As a foster child, she spent her teenage years living in group homes.
Now, at 22, she's a licensed practical nurse after graduating from the Great Expectations program at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Program director Helen Dempsey-Henofer says that is an accomplishment many people in Ramirez's position never achieve.
"The statistics for young people that have been in foster care are pretty grim," said Dempsey-Henofer. "Two to six percent of young people with a foster care background actually acquire a college credential."
She says young adults like Ramirez face a tough future once they are aged out of foster care, citing instability as a key player.
"Young people that have that background in foster care are more likely to be incarcerated or homeless than they are to be college graduates," said Dempsey-Henofer.
Great Expectations aims to help keep current and former foster kids and young adults off the streets and out of jail cells by guiding them through the college experience and helping with the transition into independent living.
The program is part of a statewide effort working with foster youth between the ages of 13 and 24.
There are currently 34 PVCC students involved in the program. Since it began in 2009, more than 200 students have participated.
Ramirez says, for teens who have had a similar past to her own, the support is out there and it is worth taking.
"Go out and get an education. Make something of yourself. You don't have to be like other people that have gone through the things that we have gone through. You can be whatever you want to be," said Ramirez.
Dempsey-Henofer says it can have a positive influence on more than just the student.
"Having people that believe in themselves that have the power to change our communities -- I think that's the big, long-term impact," she said.
Ramirez says she is proud of her success and encourages others to follow in her footsteps.
"There is an opportunity out there for them. This is not the end, and there is so much more that they can do with their life. You can turn it around," said Ramirez.
The group is continuing its outreach effort. More information about the Great Expectations program (and opportunities for adult students) will be available at Westhaven on November 2 as part of a partnership with City of Promise. Student volunteers will be on hand to help people complete the application and FAFSA on November 5 and 7.
Additional events are being scheduled for the Friendship Court community.
To learn more about the support and services offered through Great Expectations, click HERE.