WATERLOO — Around the time they’re graduating from high school, children in foster care are also aging out of the state’s system.
As the 18-year-olds’ placements with families end, not all of them are able to celebrate the milestone of graduation with a party.
But, for the 14th year, a group of local volunteers is preparing to honor seniors graduating from various schools in Black Hawk County and the surrounding area who are aging out of foster care.
The event is being held 4:30-6 p.m. June 2 at Hawkeye Community College’s Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, 120 Jefferson St. That’s a change from the past two years, when gifts for participating graduates were dropped off at homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the students can be congratulated in-person by community members, who are welcomed to bring cards or gifts if they’d like.
“We’re going to have seven,” Ellen Vanderloo, one of the volunteer organizers, said of the participants, including four boys and three girls. Students are graduating from Cedar Falls, West, Union and Gladbrook-Reinbeck high schools as well as Bremwood’s Lied Education Center, among other schools.
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Committee representatives come from programs such as Court-Appointed Special Advocates, House of Hope’s Pillars, Four Oaks Aftercare, Cedar Valley Angels, Allen Women’s Health Center, the Iowa Department of Human Services and Hawkeye Community College. They plan the gathering and collect donations for gifts.
Practical items are needed that can help the young people to live independently along with monetary donations. In the past, the committee has presented graduates with a microwave, a set of pots and pans, a pillow and pillow case, a laundry basket, mixing bowls, hangars, place settings, a can opener, a silverware set, a surge protector, measuring cups and spoons, and other items.
“Last year, it was $235 plus tax,” said Vanderloo, that was spent on each student – an amount that’s expected to be higher this year.
Monterrion Smith participated in the foster care graduation celebration last spring. The member of West High School’s class of 2021 appreciated the “very thoughtful” celebration.
“That helped me during that time in so many different ways. It was so much money and gift cards,” he said, along with the practical gifts for his home.
Smith first went into foster care in 2010, when he was in second grade, and lived with the same family the whole time. Now, 19, he has been working since graduation as a certified nursing assistant for an agency that places him at various facilities for aging people. He was enrolled for an initial semester at Hawkeye Community College before taking a break, but plans to return.
“I want to get my nursing degree,” he said.
At the celebration, Vanderloo said a brief program is planned and refreshments will be served. Someone from Hawkeye is expected to speak, and “we’re hoping to have one of our juvenile court judges speak, as well.”
Individuals or organizations are invited to make donations toward the gifts for students. Checks payable to Success Link can be sent to Ellen Vanderloo, 3608 Inverness Road, Waterloo, IA 50701. If additional information is needed, call Vanderloo at (319) 290-0005.
While donations are appreciated, she hopes that people attend the event after two years of not being in-person.
“We really want people to come, that’s the most important thing,” said Vanderloo.
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