Students in several of our sections of English 111 are embarking on a learning unit that emphasizes local advocacy. As they all get started, it is with delight that I share some of the very important advocacy work being done by UAA alumni because their stories reveal their motivation, their path, and their strategies for making a difference in our community.
Kim Russell, a 2008 UAA Justice graduate, advocates for youth in the juvenile justice system. During middle and senior high school, she was a teen member of Anchorage Youth Court. Today, she works at McLaughlin Youth Center as a Social Services Associate II. She also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters and is on the board for the "Making a Difference" program, a partnership between Volunteers of America, Anchorage Youth Court and DJJ's Diversion Officers.
As a member of the Probation Intake Unit, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Kimschedules the juvenile court calendars, processes and ensures that juvenile warrants are cleared, and handles victim impact statements. She is committed to the concept of restorative justice and believes that being proactive, rather than reactive, is the best way to help kids deal with the issues confronting them.
Amanda Metivier (MSW 2012) advocates for youth in foster care. She coordinates the Facing Foster Care in Alaska program, whose mission is "to improve the foster care system through sharing our experiences, supporting and educating youth and social services and implementing positive change in society as a whole."
She is also taking on a new position--CWA Youth Education Coordinator--that will enhance support and outreach services to current and former foster youth between the ages of 16 and 23, and will work through the Office of Children's Services (OCS), in partnership with the Child Welfare Academy (CWA) of the University of Alaska Anchorage. As a former foster youth herself, she knows that "too many foster youth enter college without the support of a loving family or a connection to a caring adult"; "this is an opportunity to support those youth in achieving their goals."
Nearly 40 percent of youth who age out of Alaska's foster care system experience homelessness, while roughly 30 percent end up incarcerated. "Our current and former foster youth are exceptional people who have many skills, talents and aspirations," said OCS Director Christy Lawton. "Unlike their peers who've never been in care, however, they often don't have the benefit of strong supports or resources to enable them to maximize their potential and obtain their goals. We must do everything we can to increase their ability to be successful and to shine. Metivier will work with the existing Chafee Educational and Training Voucher Program, breaking ground for youth transitioning from foster care to college and increasing efforts to promote normal life experiences. The CWA provides postsecondary education support, case management and assistance to youth as they navigate the college system. Lawmakers increased funding to the OCS Independent Living Program, so foster youth could attain post-secondary education, and this CWA program seeks to ensure that those youth succeed.