by Kelly G Cooper
According to the U.S. department of Education there are approximately 400,000 youth in the foster care system. Each year over a quarter of a million children are removed from abusive and neglected homes and placed with foster families. As a result, it should come as no surprise that these children have heightened risk for behavioral and educational obstacles and difficulties adjusting to new relationships and environments.
It is a traumatic transition that most of us could not begin to imagine experiencing and often results in grief, aggression, depression and withdrawal. Having adult support and mentorship is crucial for any of these children to succeed in life.
National research shows that children in foster care are at high-risk of dropping out of school and are highly unlikely to attend college, let alone graduate. All of this begs the question – what can we do as individuals to help break the cycle of poverty and empower those disadvantaged youths? A few years ago, Naples resident and Guardian ad-Litem Ron McGinty was at a luncheon and asked himself the same question. In turn, he was inspired to find an option for these marginalized kids. After much thought and research, Ron spoke with Erik Weihenmayer. In addition to being the first blind man to climb Mount Everest and reach the seven summits, Erik is also a noted author, motivational speaker and co-founder of No Barriers USA. Through Erik, Ron was introduced to the No Barriers Youth program. This program is specifically target students in inner cities and fosters an environment that encourages the participants to accept challenges and helps to build self-esteem all while offering them an opportunity to explore the globe. This program has been tried and proven effective in numerous large urban cities, including Chicago, NYC, Seattle and Oakland, with 100% of the students post-experience stating they intend to make a positive impact on the world. All of this positive feedback led Ron to establish a local program here in Naples specifically for children in the foster care system in all of SW Florida.
The No Barriers Youth/Learning AFAR Southwest Florida kicked off at the beginning of the 2015- 2016 school year. No Barriers provides experiential travel scholarships where participants will enter a six-month youth development program that will meet bimonthly at the David Lawrence Center.
Students will study culture, leadership, and current global challenges while preparing for a ten-day voyage rafting the San Juan River and living on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Participants will
learn to live off nature, work as a team and develop individual leadership skills and trust in others.
Upon return their work does not end. The ‘graduates’ are required to write a 500-word essay, volunteer and are committed to stay active in the community. All participants receive a ‘Reaching For The Stars’ medallion as a reminder to propel forward and to continue to strive for personal success and accomplishment- reminding the kids, if you do not try and reach the stars you will never get there.
There is tremendous support for this program, notably Antwone Fisher, former foster child, director and author. However there can never be enough!
For more information please visit www.nobarriersusa.org or contact Ron McGinty at RON@MCGINTY.CC or 239.405.0555.
“If you can change one person’s life you can change the world!” – Ron McGinty