Like many high school graduates, Alexavier is excited about heading off to college this year. On August 14, he’ll move into his dorm room at Cleveland State University and get ready to immerse himself in the college experience.

But Alexavier’s path to higher education has been different than most incoming freshmen. This won’t be the first time he’s had to leave home…although not by choice.

Alexavier and his two siblings have spent the last few years in foster care.

Raised by a loving grandmother, their early life was stable compared to many children who come into foster care. Their grandfather took over when she died in 2013, but he remarried – with devastating results for the kids. After allegations of abuse by all three against the step-grandmother, the kids were placed in foster care. An attempt at reunification with their biological mother, who had worked to turn her life around and had two more children, didn’t work out well, with five children proving to be too much for her. Between their moves in foster care and multiple moves during that time, the kids desperately needed stability.

Back in foster care, the three were lucky to land with great foster parents Karen Polk-Akram and Rasool "Rock" Akram, who provided all the care, stability and support they needed.

Coco Bannenberg-Berdin, LSW, is their case manager therapist.

Despite the disruption, which including missing lots of school, Coco related, Alexavier remained highly motivated to finish his education. It wasn’t easy, but he got back on track and caught up on his studies. In June, both he and his brother crossed the finish line on time and graduated from high school.

With his diploma in hand, it was time to think about next steps. Coco recalled learning about a special scholarship available only to kids aging out of foster care and set about helping Alexavier apply.

The Sullivan-Deckard Scholarship Opportunity Program was created in 2015 and funded by Frank & Barb Sullivan and Jennifer & Daryl Deckard. The program provides an opportunity for highly motivated youth who are aging out of foster care to pursue an undergraduate degree. It includes:

• Financial aid for tuition, books, fees, and instructional resources

• Year-round housing with an approved meal plan

• Academic coaching and institutional support services

• On-campus employment with Career advising and mentoring

• Campus and community engagement with a wide range of volunteers pledged to provide additional student support

• Peer assistance, mentoring and support

• Structured development planning for academic breaks and transitioning periods through university life and after graduation.

Alexavier’s first interview was with a group of other scholarship students who were now in their second and third years. A series of other interviews followed with Alexavier excited but afraid to get his hopes up.

Alexavier won the scholarship, and he’s ready to start down the road ahead. He’ll turn 18 in July and will be emancipated from foster care within the next few months. He and his siblings continue to have a relationship with their bio mom, who came with their other half-siblings and his grandfather to see Alexavier and his brother graduate and to celebrate with them. And between the financial support and other resources provided through the scholarship fund, the skillful case management from Coco, and the support of his foster parents, who have told him he’ll always have a home with them, the future looks bright.

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