Each year, we recognize and honor the important contributions child welfare system alumni in Maine with the Foster Care Alumni Award. We will strive to award to a male and female alumni each year.
Recipient must be a former youth in care, 22 years old or older, who has demonstrated that he or she has:
1. Made a strong commitment to helping youth currently in care.
2. Advocated on behalf of youth in care.
3. Practiced effective leadership within change efforts (such as youth leadership meetings, work groups, committee work, projects, etc.).
4. Acted as a positive role model for youth in care.
Alumni Award Recipients
2015: Jessica Harris & Sierra Reed
Jessica Harris is a tireless advocate for youth in foster care. Unwavering in her passion to help improve the foster care system, Jessica has promoted change by inspiring and educating both youth and adults about issues of importance for youth in care. She has been a supportive peer by encouraging other youth to further their education and career success.
Jessica has been an active member of several groups working towards change including: the Youth Leadership Advisory Team, the New England Youth Coalition, and most recently the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council. Jessica is currently using her experience from the policy council on a Maine initiative to pilot the use of housing vouchers and case management support to help youth from foster care who are experiencing homelessness.
Jessica helped design the Alumni Transition Grant Program to support youth in college who age out of the V-9 Agreement.Jessica provided testimony at the state house in favor of the law, helped write the rules for the program, serves as a co-facilitator for their Advisory Committee, and is helping develop an exit-survey. In May, Jessica completed her Bachelors of Social Work at the University of Maine, and is currently working in the field.
Sierra Reed has served as an alumni co-facilitator with Youth Justice League for the past two years. This offshoot of YLAT is hosted through Preble Street Teen Center. Despite some challenges, Sierra was able to laugh with the group, and always upheld the values of YLAT – finding meaningful ways to engage the needs and interests of all the young people in the group, and also creating a space for people to be themselves.
A strong advocate on panels to train foster parents and providers about the unique challenges faced by youth who identify as LGBTQ, Sierra has shown tremendous courage and insight through her willingness to share her own journey of exploration and identity. Sierra is also involved with the Southern Maine Youth Transition Network (SMYTN) where she has been a voice for youth in foster care, both with local organizations in Southern Maine and at National Conferences from Aspen, Colorado to New Orleans, Louisiana. Sierra brings a unique, confident, and real perspective to anything she is a part of, and this is truly a gift to anyone who has had the privilege to work with her. Most importantly, Sierra leads with absolute heart, and it is her deep compassion that makes her such a remarkable leader.
2015: Cheri Crossman & Carleigh Lynn Boston
Cheri Crossman is committed to making a positive contribution through her life and her work. In 2015, Cheri graduated with her masters of Social Work from USM with nearly a 4.0 GPA! During her college career, Cheri worked on a project to support youth in care to be successful in college, helped organize the teen conference, served as an alumni co-facilitator for southern Maine YLAT, worked at Preble Street Resource Center, volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and participated in the New Leaders Council of Maine.
Cheri now works for Tri-County Mental Health Services in Oxford. She continues to be a voice for youth in care through letters to the editor about current foster care issues. Cheri presented testimony in support of LD 1683, legislation to provide continued educational resources for alumni of foster care in post-secondary programs. Her testimony stated “If Maine youth in care were given extended supports, then they would have the chance to succeed. There would be more youth graduating from college, having permanent homes, and gaining the skills and knowledge to be prosperous independent adults who give back to their communities.”
Carleigh Lynn Boston is a leader, a mentor, and a committed advocate for positive change in Maine’s child welfare system. Carleigh has been a member of YLAT since she was 14 years old and is now an alumni co-facilitator in southern Maine. Carleigh played a key role in passing LD 1683, legislation to provide continued educational resources for alumni of foster care thin post-secondary programs. Staying involved in YLAT is important to Carleigh because she believes in not only speaking up for yourself but also speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. “I’ve witnessed firsthand the powerful and inspiring changes that youth voice can make in child welfare system.”
Carleigh is a social work major at USM and works part-time. She participates in the Jim Casey Fellows program and speaks at conferences and panels across the nation, most recently on Capitol Hill in support of the Strengthening Families Act. Carleigh was recently adopted in 2014 and looks forward to spending time with her family and friends, catching up on her favorite shows and loves trying to cook new recipes!
Past Alumni Award Recipients
2014: Josh Magaw & Jill Esty
2013: Denise Altvater & BJ Kitchin
2012: Michael Augustine & Kesha Shelton