Shalita O'Neale is a former foster youth from Baltimore, Maryland, where she spent 19 years collectively in kinship and foster care. She graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a BA in criminology in 2004 and is currently working toward her Masters of Social work. Shalita is the President of Foster Care Alumni of America, Maryland Chapter... She is also the Founder and Executive Director of The Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center (MFYRC) a non-profit organized and run by former foster youth that connects transitioning foster youth to resources available to them in the community.
Shalita has a passion for giving back to the foster youth community and has spoken at numerous seminars, conferences and workshops on the foster care experience. She feels that it is the responsibility of able former foster youth, the government to whom foster children belong and the society in which they are expected to live, to make sure that they receive life skills, resources and support that will enable them to become successful and contributing members of society.
Melissa Smith is a foster care alumna from Pasadena, California. After spending seven years in care and moving through eight different kinship and foster homes, Melissa emancipated at 17 and finished the last two years of high school on her own. After graduating, she was accepted and attended the University of Puget Sound and received her B.A. in Sociology and Music with a Minor in African American Studies.
Before going back to school, Melissa spent three years working in marketing and finance. The impetus for returning to school was Melissa’s desire to be a voice for foster youth in the system. In 2006, Melissa began graduate work in psychology at The American University. After getting her Master’s degree, Melissa now attends Catholic University of America for their Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program.
Melissa’s goal is to become a clinical child psychologist who specializes in the needs of foster youth and families through research and therapy. In 2008, Melissa’s completed a study examining the importance of social support for former foster children in college. In addition to research and therapy training, Melissa also advocates for foster youth and alumni as Vice President of the Foster Care Alumni of America – Maryland Chapter.
Jackie Janesh aged out of foster care in Portland, Oregon on her 18th birthday. Between the ages of 7 and 18 she lived in 8 placements, attended 9 schools and moved 13 times. While working full time and raising two children as a single parent, Jackie obtained her BS in psychology in 1992 from Portland State University. She has worked with various at-risk groups including victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, adolescent addicts, Schizophrenics, and adjudicated youth.
Currently, Jackie serves as a virtual mentor for the Orphan Foundation of America, an organization that enables young people who have aged out of care to pursue a college education. She is also the Director of Training and Support Services for the Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center.
Judith is a professional ‘lifer’ in the child welfare system, having spent most of her social work career in the public agency in foster care. After spending 12 years developing and supervising Baltimore County’s Independent Living program for older foster care youth, Judith went on to become the Assistant Director for Children’s Services, the agency’s foster care and adoptions program. Judith is also the founder of Camp Connect, Maryland’s camp dedicated to reunifying brothers and sisters separated in foster care, now planning for its eighth session.
Judith is also active with her professional association, the National Association of Social Workers, serving as the chairperson of the legislative committee and representing NASW on the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Children. She was vey honored to be recognized by her peers in 2004 as the National Social Worker of the Year, as well as being featured on the Foster Care Month site. .
Along with her professional experience, Judith has also been a foster parent. She is married and has two children, one a 14 year old high school student, and the other a newly minted social worker living in New York City.
Francha Davis is the Executive Director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program of Montgomery County. CASA's community volunteers advocate for the best interests of children in foster care. Francha is a life-long resident of Montgomery County, and has been with the CASA Program since 1990.