Temple Times Online Edition
    FEBRUARY 3, 2005
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Temple helps foster care students realize dreams

Kimberly Washington (left) helps Shelly Durbin prepare an essay for a job application with a community service agency at the Achieving Independence Center.

Miguel Melendez has faced long odds from birth.

Before his first birthday, he was in foster care. For the past 18 years, living in Philadelphia, he’s bounced from school to school, his home situation often in flux. His probability for success hovered around zero.

Now a junior at the city’s Daniel Boone High School, Melendez, 18, is living on his own and is on track to be the first in his family to claim a high school diploma.

Kimberly Washington is another long shot. The Temple senior and Philadelphia native entered foster care at age 3. She nearly flunked out of her first semester of college, but now — with graduation from The Fox School of Business nearing in May — is polishing her law school applications.

Melendez and Washington are just two of the hundreds of local foster care kids who have vanquished their near-impossible odds through the support of the Achieving Independence Center, a city-run agency in which Temple is a vital partner.

“I probably wouldn’t be at Temple right now if I hadn’t gotten help at the center,” said Washington, now a math tutor at the AIC. “I wasn’t prepared for college when I came here and wouldn’t have finished on my own.”

The University’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development, part of the School of Social Administration, provides foster care youth who visit the AIC with academic support meant to steer them toward a high school diploma and postsecondary schooling. The center also manages the AIC’s male mentoring program, according to educational services coordinator Harold Brooks.

“The majority of foster care youth have academic weaknesses because their lives are unsettled and they’ve been shuttled from one school to the next,” Brooks said. “The tutoring and mentoring programs are ways to shore up their skills and help them finish high school, and also take the next step.”

After high school, Melendez’s next step will probably be the military. Though he likes to write poetry, he’s had his eye on becoming a Marine since he joined an ROTC program several years ago.

A beneficiary of both the tutoring and mentoring programs run by Temple, he credits those experiences with preparing him for adulthood.

“The adults in the center care about us and want to help us succeed,” said Melendez, who also took classes in supervised independent living. “I took everything they’ve shown me and applied it a step further and am now living on my own. I’ve been out on my own for two months now.”

Melendez’s mentor, Sam Sero, a Temple sophomore from Pittsburgh, is amazed by Melendez’s perseverance.

“Meeting with him one-on-one and hearing about what life is like for him is eye-opening and inspirational,” said Sero, a film and media arts major. “He’s ready for whatever life throws at him. I’m surprised by how optimistic and positive Miguel is with all the past trauma that’s occurred in his life.”

When Melendez graduates, he’ll join Washington, the Temple senior, on a roster of approximately 80 students whom Temple has helped earn high school diplomas since the AIC opened three years ago. Brooks estimated that more than half of those students are now enrolled in college, and four others have joined Washington at Temple.

“The fact that I was once getting help at the center and am now tutoring other students who are in the position I was in is very powerful,” Washington said. “I think they see me as a role model.

“I hope to use my story to give them hope that someone in that situation can do something for herself and succeed.”

- By Ted Boscia