PITTSBURGH—Teenagers who are in foster-care homes across Pennsylvania will convene Aug. 11-15 at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus for the 2014 Older Youth Retreat, an annual event that features educational sessions, group talks, and social activities as participants bond with teens in similar situations.
The theme for this year's retreat is "We are Infinite!," and the schedule was designed by the teens themselves. Approximately 120 young people, ages 16-21, will experience life on a college campus during the retreat as they set goals, examine their educational and career options, and make connections while living in campus residence halls and meeting in academic and other campus buildings. In past years, some teen participants said the event helped to motivate them to pursue college and reach their full potential.
Keynote speaker Richard Santana, once a gang member who went on to earn a master's degree from Harvard University, will deliver a talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at the campus Living-Learning Center. His message is one of making choices—between hope or hopelessness and between giving up on our most challenged youth or truly becoming their advocates. Other campus activities will range from painting classes and jewelry making to sports and a dance.
According to one of the event organizers, Helen Cahalane, principal investigator of Pitt's Child Welfare Education and Research Programs, this past year has actually seen fewer children placed in foster care across the state.
"Pennsylvania's child-welfare system continues to make progress under a family-focused, strengths-based model of care that emphasizes early intervention and a proactive, rather than reactive, response to the factors leading to child abuse and neglect," she explained. "We must continue our commitment to promote child protection and family stability."