MEDIA, PA — CASA Youth Advocates, Inc., today announced the launch of its Higher Ed Fund, a new resource for providing financial assistance to youth in Delaware and Chester counties’ child welfare systems who are pursuing postsecondary education.
The fund was established with an initial $10,000 donation from the AmerisourceBergen Foundation at the direction of foundation director and CASA volunteer Jaime Pludo of Bryn Mawr. Directors of the AmerisourceBergen Foundation have the opportunity to choose a non-profit to receive a donation at his or her discretion in lieu of receiving compensation for service on the board of the foundation.
Nationwide, outcomes for older youth who spend time in foster care are dire across a number of metrics, from rates of incarceration to homelessness to drug addiction. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 25% of youth who were in foster care experience homelessness within four years of exiting the system, while more than 50% experience moderate to severe mental health issues. Meanwhile, only about half of youth who have spent time in foster care graduate from high school, and fewer than 3% of former foster care youth nationwide earn a bachelor’s degree.
“Youth in the child welfare system who are applying to or enrolled in postsecondary education have already overcome unimaginable odds. But the path ahead of them is still strewn with pitfalls,” said Leigh Anne McKelvey, executive director of CASA Youth Advocates, a nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children in Delaware and Chester counties’ child welfare systems.
“The Higher Ed Fund is uniquely structured to give these young people the best possible chance of success,” McKelvey explained. “It’s one of the only resources of its kind in the region. We’re incredibly grateful to Jaime and the AmerisourceBergen Foundation for driving this initiative forward.”
“The AmerisourceBergen Foundation is committed to making a positive, long-lasting impact by working with regional partners to help enrich the lives of our global communities,” said Susan Lorenz-Fisher, program officer at the AmerisourceBergen Foundation. “We are proud to work with CASA Youth Advocates and provide local youth with the opportunities, tools and resources to pursue their education and achieve success.”
Any CASA volunteer can apply to the Higher Ed Fund on behalf of their Delaware or Chester county CASA youth preparing for or enrolled in any form of postsecondary education. The funds can be used for anything the youth needs to overcome the barriers they face in pursuit of their educational goals, including SAT prep courses, campus visits, books, transportation, therapy expenses for mental health issues, or even food.
“In our work, we’ve seen youth failing out of college because they’re working multiple jobs, filling every waking moment of the day just to make ends meet. We’ve seen youth on full-tuition scholarships who don’t have money to buy books. We’ve seen youth struggling with addiction or mental health issues because they couldn’t afford transportation from campus to their therapy sessions,” McKelvey explained. “When the CASA teen for whom Jaime advocates encountered some of these kinds of barriers, Jaime saw an opportunity to have a bigger impact.”
Since 2017, Pludo has advocated for a teen in Chester County’s child welfare system as a CASA volunteer. Pludo’s experience of helping her CASA teen through the college enrollment process and the teen’s first year on campus opened her eyes to the many ways youth exiting the child welfare system can fall through the cracks.
“From my own experience as a parent, I know that an 18-year-old still has a lot of growth and needs ahead of them. But the needs are even greater for youth who are transitioning from the child welfare system to lives as independent adults,” said Pludo. “It’s really essential that they have someone to advocate for them and the support they need to achieve their goals.”
Pludo currently works in human resources consulting, and she previously opened and operated four of the first urgent care centers in the region. When she joined the AmerisourceBergen Foundation board in the spring of 2019, she was afforded the opportunity to direct an annual $10,000 grant to an organization of her choice that aligned with the foundation’s mission. That’s when she decided to establish the Higher Ed Fund for CASA.
“My involvement with both CASA and the AmerisourceBergen Foundation gives me a unique perspective. As a CASA volunteer, I see the day-to-day struggles of my CASA youth. Through the foundation, I get a 30,000-foot view of some of the societal issues behind her challenges,” explained Pludo. “While I advocate for my 18-year-old CASA youth the same way I would advocate for one of my own teenage daughters, the Higher Ed Fund will be available to help even more youth in the system overcome the obstacles they encounter.”
The AmerisourceBergen Foundation is an independent nonprofit charitable giving organization established by the AmerisourceBergen Corporation to support health-related causes that enrich the global community. The Foundation aims to improve the health and well-being of its patient populations – both human and animal – by investing in its communities. Through strategic partnerships and community collaboration, the Foundation works to expand access to quality healthcare and provide resources to ensure prescription drug safety.
CASA Youth Advocates, Inc., works to ensure that each child in Delaware and Chester counties’ child welfare systems lives well, achieves academic excellence, and experiences the joys of childhood by providing them with trained volunteer advocates who speak for their best interests with support and guidance from CASA’s professional staff of social workers and attorneys. CASA has been serving Delaware County’s children since 1992 and expanded its services to Chester County’s children in 2015.
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