New program to help youth affected by opioid crisis in foster care towards a brighter future


Headshot of Keri Richmond

Keri Richmond, alumna from Kent State  and current lobbyist of a Washington D.C. firm, grew up in the Ohio foster care system.

For Richmond, home was not a place she found comfort and relaxation in, or a place of support and encouragement, like many of her peers had. 

“It was very much a tense environment and I think that impacted me in a lot of ways that my other peers wouldn’t relate to, necessarily,” Richmond said. “They weren’t living in fear of what was going to happen next.”

For a lot of youth affected by foster care, they don’t have a steady support system or stable home life. By the time they turn 18 and age out of foster care, many of them may not have thought about or had the opportunity to go to postsecondary school.

In fact, “only 71 percent [of youth affected by foster care] will receive a high school diploma by age 19 and 47 percent of youth leaving foster care are unemployed,” a statistic from Promise2Kids said. “Only 55 percent of former foster youth will attend college and of that, only eight percent will graduate.” 

Kent State and First Star, a non-profit charity dedicated to “changing the odds for foster youth,” will partner in a new program called First Star Kent State Academy next semester. The program will work with youth affected by the foster care system to provide the support needed for them to be successful in high school. It will also prepare them for life after aging out of care, whether or not that includes postsecondary school.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t know if I was going to college,” Richmond said. “It was really my best friend’s parents who pushed me and told me, ‘No, you have too much potential and we’re going to help you figure this out.’”

One of the most impactful components for youth affected by foster care include the stable adult mentors they can look to for guidance, said Danielle Green-Welch, academy director for the First Star Kent State Academy.

“I hope that this program will begin to help them structure a network of fictive kin, which are individuals that may not be biological relatives but the young person recognizes them as a close support,” Green-Welch said.

The program will bring 30 rising ninth-grade youth affected by the opioid crisis in the foster care system to Kent State to provide them with a taste of what college life is like, said Manfred van Dulman, interim assistant provost.

“They will be spending one Saturday a month on campus and then several weeks in the summer, staying overnight to be involved in academic programming, work on all kinds of skills that you would need to be successful in college, but also really help them be successful in high school,” van Dulman said. “The program is planning to be a four-year program, so even though they’re ninth-graders at the start, we envision they would stay in through 12th grade.”

Still early in its first stages, First Star Kent State Academy plans to informally reach out to the child welfare agencies in December to ask them to begin considering the youth who may qualify for this program, Green-Welch said.

“We plan to start actively recruiting and taking applications in January and February,” Green-Welch said. “I anticipate [in] March [we] will be letting the young folks know who’s been selected and getting them prepared and April, I think, will be the first Saturday academy.”

These Saturday academies will continue every month until the end of the semester, followed by the four-week summer portion of the program, planned to take place the last two weeks in June and the first two weeks in July, Green-Welch said.

First Star Kent State Academy will take time in August and September to reflect on what worked and what needs work before the next session, anticipated to begin in October, Green-Welch said.

“I’m a passionate advocate for the power of mentorship,” Richmond said. “While a child who was in foster care may not have a stable home life [or] a consistent family that they’re looking to, if they have a mentor in their life who’s consistent and telling them, you are loved, you are worthy, you’re capable of doing amazing things and that you’re not your past, but that you can do whatever you want to, that is such powerful momentum to move them forward.”

In addition to the launch of this program, First Star Kent State Academy hopes to create a physical resource center “as an identified space that students on campus who’ve been affected by foster care can go, get information and connect with each other,” Green-Welch said.

They also plan to fundraise to make sure students can not only financially afford to pay college tuition, but also afford other additional expenses such as room and board, and books, van Dulmen said.

“I think this program is critical,” Richmond said. “It makes me proud to see my alma mater step up and take an important lead that other colleges can take note in the ways that they can support their community and crises like the opioid crisis.”

Contact Becca Sagaris at [email protected].