DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Good things come in pairs for PUSH, Persevere UNTil Success Happens, a University of North Texas organization that gives support to UNT students formerly in the foster care or child welfare system, and also provides support to foster children in the Denton community. A featured speaker engagement at a national conference and an award by a community organization are among a string of recent honors bestowed on PUSH for its role helping foster care youth succeed.
"Success is our motto. Our name communicates that opportunities are always in reach," said Jackie Davis, PUSH president and a UNT social work major. "Endorsement by local, national and international organizations is feedback that we're making a difference."
PUSH members have been invited to share the work they do June 7-10 (Saturday-Tuesday) at the National CASA Annual Conference in Grapevine. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a well-known child advocacy agency that works on behalf of abused and neglected children and oversees foster care placements for the children's wellbeing. CASA's annual conference draws thousands of participants from across the country -- all defenders of child rights.
Davis will deliver the welcoming address, participate in two panel presentations with fellow UNT students and with UNT alumni and give a speech that tells his own story of success at a special VIP dinner for board members and invited guests. As a former foster child growing up under the care of CASA, Davis said he well knows the important role the agency plays in the life of a child. For him it was a life or death situation, and CASA's intervention helped restore dignity and courage, he said.
"I try to be courageous in my life and offer that conviction to others. If the story of my journey can help CASA volunteers protect and serve children, then that is my biggest award," said Davis.
Who better to mentor than those who have lived the foster care experience? According to the national child advocacy group Children's Rights, many foster youth would be unemployed, become homeless, incarcerated or victimized without reliable adults in their lives. And with only 50 percent of foster kids projected to graduate from high school, and 3 percent from college, PUSH helps youth overcome the odds by learning to navigate life's day-to-day challenges, said Davis.
Like Davis, many PUSH members were raised in foster homes, and the knowledge they bring from personal experience is key to helping young people successfully transition into adulthood. The CASA of Denton County chapter recognized PUSH at their Annual Recognition Dinner this spring with an Outstanding Contributor award for going the extra mile with CASA community kids -- from providing academic and moral support to organizing activities and appointments to assisting CASA with fund raising and other events.
"The PUSH students are a true inspiration, amazing advocates for children in foster care and support foster care alumni as they pursue their educational goals," said Sherri Gideon, executive director of CASA of Denton County. "They have fought through challenges that no child should have to face. But with persistence, hard work and support, they have put themselves on the road to success and helped achieve success for our CASA kids in having safe, permanent, and loving homes."
About UNT's College of Public Affairs and Community Service
The College of Public Affairs and Community Service blends academic programs, applied research and collaborative external partnerships to provide innovative education and strengthen metropolitan communities. The college offers programs that were established as the first of their kind -- including emergency administration and an academic certificate in volunteer and community resource management. Two programs, rehabilitation counseling, and city management and urban policy, are ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the Top 20 nationally (13th and 8th respectively) and both are first in Texas. The college also offers the first accredited master's program in applied behavior analysis in the world and the first online anthropology master's program in the nation. Other academic programs include alternative dispute resolution, applied gerontology, criminal justice, disability and addiction rehabilitation, public administration, social work, and speech and hearing sciences.
Julie West, University Relations, Communications and Marketing