U of M grad on a mission to empower youth in foster care

Cherish Our Youth organization to host third annual Rising Above the Odds Against Me Summit

Cherish Thomas is paying it forward to girls who are experiencing the ups and downs she once faced as a teen in the foster care system.

The 23-year-old founder of Cherish Our Youth, a non-profit organization that provides resources and educational programs to youth in foster care, will host the third annual Rising Above the Odds Against Me: Girls ONLY Summit on Saturday, May 21, from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. More than 200 participants ages 14-20 are expected to attend the day-long conference.

Thomas will share her experiences and discuss how youth can achieve their goals through mind, body and spirit development. Additional guest speakers and workshop presenters include Gail Perry-Mason, financial advisor and author of Girl Make Your Money Grow; Charisse Gibert, co-pastor of Detroit World Outreach; Gail Parker a psychologist who has made eight appearances on the Oprah Show; Tanisha N. Bolden, author of This is Why I Rock: A Self-Empowerment Journal for Youth; Tiffany Smith, founder of Queen City; Lashun Franklin, counselor and minister at Detroit World Outreach; and Karen Wicker, executive, teen leader and life coach.

This year’s summit theme “Diamond in the Rough to Princess Cut,” is a true testament to Thomas’s life.

Thomas entered the foster care system as a toddler and experienced more than 20 placements that included group homes, detention centers, foster homes, the streets and three failed adoptions. Over her lifetime, Thomas attended 14 schools, including five different high schools before graduating. But she didn’t let external circumstances stop her from achieving her dreams.

Thomas is graduate of the University of Michigan’s Sociology and African-American Studies programs. She has been recognized as a Julia Eder and Blavin Scholar. As the first graduate from the Blavin Scholar program, Thomas has worked as a part of the Blavin Scholar Design Team in developing programs to support aged-out foster care youth who begin their studies at U of M. Currently, Thomas is a student in the School of Social Work graduate program as a Child Welfare Scholar. She will receive an M.S.W. in August 2011.

“Many young girls struggle with finding their way,” Thomas said.  “As young girls we sometimes face obstacles that seem to block us from success and we allow our circumstances and situations to keep us from shinning our brightest.

“This conference is about helping girls realize their own talents, contributions and significance so they are empowered to live to their fullest potential.”

Supporting conference partners include Save Our Children Coalition, a project of U of M-Dearborn’s School of Education and Helping Individuals Succeed Agency.

For more information about the Above the Odds Against Me: Girls ONLY Summit or Cherish Our Youth, email cherishouryouth@gmail.com.

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