Amanda Salas recently graduated from high school and was accepted into Bethany Lutheran College in Minnesota. Kellie Perleberg also earned a high school diploma and has been accepted into the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.
They both were lauded for their achievements at the governor’s mansion in Madison. Why? Because, unlike thousands of other state teens, these two young women overcame incredible obstacles to get to where they’re at. Both are former foster children with tough stories. Both are served by Integrated Family Services.
Veronica Fox, Kellie’s ongoing case manager, tells her story. Kellie was in 21 placements before going to a treatment foster home in Platteville five years ago. She had huge challenges, but, “She just did miraculously in this home,” Veronica said.
The foster parents persevered with Kellie, and through their work and that of a court appointed special advocate, she stayed in high school and maintained a 3.5 grade point average. The foster parents instilled a work ethic in Kellie and she got a job waitressing, a driver’s license and a car, which they co-signed for after Kellie saved a sufficient amount of money.
While working, attending school, and being involved in youth groups at her church, Kellie also attended classes to learn to be a certified nursing assistant and passed the exam.
“With a great support system, from her foster parents, friends, teachers, she blossomed into a very personable girl, and everything she started clicked,” Veronica said.
Amanda was detained twice growing up, Erika explained. Because of the serious and perilous situations she faced in homes where she was placed, plus having no family members who would take her, Amanda spent time in group homes and residential treatment centers. She suffered and ultimately overcame serious depression and did great in school, where she played on the softball team.
She plans to major in law at Bethany and wants to become a public defender for foster children. She also has made the school’s softball team.
“She’s resilient, she’s independent and she’s a joy,” Erika said. “She’s so delightful.”
In the Madison event, the Annual Foster Youth Graduation Celebration, the girls were congratulated by Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, and First Lady Tonette Walker. They told the young women, who were part of about 25 participants, how proud they were of them and encouraged them to continue moving forward.
The best part of the day for Erika was when Amanda took the microphone and said, “I’d like to thank my worker, who’s been with me the whole time and who’s been the closest thing to family I’ve ever known.”
Kellie contacted Veronica after the event and asked for the addresses of all 21 of the foster placements she had been in, so she could send them thank-you notes.
“This program is really great,” Veronica said. “There’s so much negativity voiced about kids in the foster care system. There are kids in the system that are resilient and persevere and step up to the challenge to prove people wrong. It’s wonderful that they get recognized.”