Panel advocates for vulnerable youth

By Chelbi Mims
November 30, 2011

Maureen Brown, senior special education major, Stephanie Salinis, campus minister, Barb, former foster care child, and Michelle Filling, assistant professor of English (pictured left to right), sat on the panel for the orphans and vulnerable children event during Cabrini Day.

There are 35 million orphans and vulnerable children living in the world. During Spirit Week, awareness was raised about the circumstances these children and young adults face.  Michelle Filling, assistant professor of English, Maureen Brown, senior special education major, and Stephanie Salinis, Campus Minister, sat on a panel on Tuesday Nov. 15 to discuss their personal experiences with orphans and vulnerable children.

Filling began the panel discussion with a game. She handed out sheets of paper and pencils to the audience and had them write down their first car, best friend in high school, sibling, mentor in high school, favorite activity or past-time, college you attended and street that you grew up on. Filling then called upon Barb, a previous foster care child, to come to the stage as a special guest. Barb acted as a case worker and explained to the audience why nothing written on the list would be accessible for a child in the foster care system.

“Children in foster care cannot get their drivers licenses or permit until they are 18 because a foster care child cannot be on their foster parents insurance because they dont want to be liable for any accidents,” Barb said.

Barb then explained that since many foster care children move around so much, they are not able to stay in contact with friends, siblings or develop relationships with teachers.

“A Philadelphia study indicated that 75.2 percent of youth dropped out of high school, foster youth are two times more likely to repeat a grade and 70 percent of foster youth are interested in attending college but only two percent will ever graduate,” Filling said.

Salinis then told her story of her work with Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago, Illinois. Salinis worked with 11 to 14-year-old boys in crisis in her post-graduate year of service.

Mercy Home for Boys and Girls is an agency, opened in 1887 as an orphanage for young boys, developed into a residential facility for boys and girls in the Chicago area.

She told the many stories of the boys she worked with. “The first boy I worked with was Alex, he sometimes worked with the little kids, his goals are to become mature and he loves basketball and football,” Salinis said. “He gets his allowance and runs to the store but there is another side to his story; when he was five, his mom’s boyfriend sexually abused Alex. Thats a piece of his life he will deal with forever and why he landed at Mercy Home.”

Salinis then spoke of four boys she was an advocate for and how their lives led to Mercy Home. One of the boys was found digging in a dumpster looking for food and clothing and brought to Mercy Home. Salinis worked with him not to always care about money, enjoy life, his childhood and understand that Mercy Home will supply him with his needs.

Salinis ended her presentation by explaining that there are two sides to all troubled youth,;they have a lot of pain and are some of the most vulnerable people she has ever seen.

Brown talked to the audience about her trip to Ecuador. She showed a powerpoint presentation which depicted her time in Ecuador and showed the faces of the children with no shoes running after food.

She went to Ecuador with a group of classmates from Cabrini and  lived in solidarity with the people. They lived as the people in Ecuador do, off of two pieces of bread and a banana a day. They worked with kids in an after school program helping them with their homework.

“Some parents would focus strongly on academics and if they did not have their homework done when they got home, they were beaten so we helped them with homework everyday,” Brown said. “Their education system is very poor so we spent a lot of time working with them.”

The students in the after school program were given a glass of water, a banana and vitamin everyday because they were not sure if they were eating at home.

“These kids take my breath away,” Brown said. “They live in such poverty but are so content with what they have and are amazing and always put a smile on my face and their parents are so gracious to us for coming to help us.”



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Chelbi Mims

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