Mid-Columbia Graduations

14 foster Tri-City foster youth recognized for earning degrees, charged with continuing to follow dreams

Tri-City foster youth recognized

Fourteen foster youth were recognized for earning degrees during a banquet in Richland.
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Fourteen foster youth were recognized for earning degrees during a banquet in Richland.

Cody Schmidt wasn’t letting anyone off easy.

He spoke about the challenges overcome by each of the 14 foster youths.

And how despite the hurdles, “you didn’t give in to the negative,” said Schmidt, a coordinator with the Tri-City office of the Foster Teen Program of Yakima-based Catholic Child & Family Service, during a small graduation celebration Thursday at a Richland hotel.

The former and current foster students had earned high school diplomas, GEDs or college degrees, setting them up for careers or to continue their education.

They were recognized for their accomplishments at the ceremony, the most in at least a decade, Schmidt said. They were applauded by program staff but also by friends and loved ones who had often seen them through the struggles foster care.

You didn’t give in to the negative.

Cody Schmidt, Tri-City office coordinator of the Foster Teen Program of Yakima-based Catholic Child & Family Services

But the banquet wasn’t meant to be an ending, speakers and others said. It’s the start of a new chapter in the youths’ lives and setting an example for those coming up behind.

“I’m hoping tonight will be a good opportunity to show those kids in similar circumstances they can make it,” said Jamal Rambo, 22, before the banquet.

Children placed in foster care are substantially less likely to graduate from high school much less college. The challenges of overcoming the issues that put them in foster care, which can range from neglect to domestic and sexual abuse, are compounded by a system that often forces them to move frequently between families, Schmidt said That leads to frequent changes in school attendance and difficulty in developing a support network.

It’s a surprise and shock to me to be where I am.

Jamal Rambo

Rambo, born and raised in the Tri-Cities, said he entered foster care when he was 15 and he was placed with families in Yakima and Idaho. Despite his unsettled adolescence, he graduated with honors from high school and returned to the Tri-Cities to attend Columbia Basin College. He will attend Washington State University Tri-Cities in the fall.

“It’s a surprise and shock to me to be where I am,” he said.

Guest speaker Patricia Briggs, a Pasco native and New York Times best-selling author, told the graduates they should keep some advice in mind as they move on to the rest of their lives: be a good person, have moral courage and surround yourself with strong people.

She encouraged them to remember that dreams are important but the journey to reach them is key.

She spoke about how she and her family were living in her cramped office trailer after a home improvement project unexpectedly left their home without a roof for a number of months.

To cheer themselves up, Briggs said she and her husband bought a carousel horse and then an old carousel with the plan to fix it up.

“People would ask, ‘What are you going to do with a carousel?’” Briggs said. “That’s the wrong question. People put too much emphasis on ‘dream’ and not the ‘follow.’ It’s not the end of the journey.”

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