Interview with Judith Halbreich, Advocate for Foster Children and Creator of Home of Champions

Life isn’t easy for the 400,000 American kids in foster care. Entrenched amidst instability, they face major obstacles to success including a lack of financial and emotional support. Although many of these kids are ambitious and have dreams of attending college, they often age out of the system right when they need to begin preparing and applying. It’s no wonder why less than 10% of foster kids attend college, and of that number, less than 26% will graduate.

Youth activist and social worker Judith Halbreich is changing these statistics with the launch of “Home of Champions” (HOC) an innovative non-profit that gives foster youth in college a home base, facilitating their success in academia and beyond.

  1. Hi, Judith! I am also a social worker, and I deeply admire your work, including your new non-profit Home of Champions! Can you tell me what led you to creating a non-profit?

As a social worker I have seen the incredible challenges foster youth face on their journey to getting a college degree. Many of those who enter university after graduating from foster care do not finish because of a basic lack of support. I created Home of Champions to eliminate this factor and give foster youth in college or a vocational school a home base facilitating their success in academia and beyond.

With appropriate nurturing, youth who have transitioned out of foster care, and other socially disconnected youth can and will achieve. There are positive attributes of growing up as a foster kid and struggling with being in the fringes of society. They should be productively amplified. Even though many children who experienced an unstable and unsafe environment are traumatized and weakened, I have experienced that some become stronger. For them there is a unique opportunity to cultivate further development of resilience, ingenuity and survival skills. A minority of disconnected youth demonstrates the capabilities of becoming stronger in the face of adversity to lead others into action. These are the youth who, under a positive support system can become leaders.

We strongly believe that with appropriate screening, resourceful innovation and nurturing, those with the potential will materialize to be leaders of revival.

I was inspired to launch Home of Champions after receiving a surprising message from a young woman named Sarah, a former foster child previously on my caseload. Sarah called to thank me for caring and believing that she had the capacity to go to college. She was always ambitious and driven but she had the deck stacked against her. Despite these incredible challenges, she DID go to college and is now the director of a drug rehab in the Bronx. Her success story was the impetus for HOC, and what inspired me to revive a personal mission that had been lying dormant.

2. What do people need to know about the challenges that foster youth face in their journey to getting a college degree today?

These kids face serious obstacles…most people don’t realize just how hard it is. Foster kids grow up entrenched amidst instability, moving from one paid foster family to another an average of three times a year. Each time, they transfer to a new school, continuously detaching from friends. This tumultuous existence is amplified at age 18 (21 in some states) when financial public support abruptly ends and social services dissipate. So essentially, they age out of the system right when they need to apply. Nationwide, 42% of foster youth don’t complete high school, 25% become homeless, and 25% are incarcerated within 2 years of aging out. Less than 10% of foster youth attend college, and of that number, less than 26% will graduate. The situation in NYC and NY State reflects the national problem, but is proportionally even worse. 18–24% of college-aged foster youth are enrolled in college in NY State, but only 3% graduate. The statistical proportionality hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and the numbers are proof; these youth do not currently have the support they need.

3. What exactly does Home of Champions do?

The program is designed to identify future leaders among foster care youth, and provide the support necessary for them to achieve their full potential as strong role-models and productive members of society. HOC holds leadership summits which teach participants sustainable life skills and gives them the confidence to be innovators and to achieve their goals. It also has available valuable resources like mentorship and a consortium of businesses to make finding a job after graduation easier.

4. What is the connection to Boxing

We like to say we are helping kids *fight* for a better future because there is truly a legacy of champions built into the organization. Home of Champions is located in New Paltz, NY at the former home of boxing legend Floyd Patterson. It still holds the original boxing ring where he and fellow world heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and Ingemar Johansson trained!

We intend to continue the heritage and legacy of this historical symbolic entity by working to emphasize the positive attributes of disconnected youth, challenging them to match Patterson, Ali, and Johansson’s tenacious spirit and willpower, and empowering them to become the best versions of themselves.

5. What specific challenges do disadvantaged youth face during this time of COVID?

During COVID, disadvantaged youth are severely affected by lack of support and connection. They need our help now more than ever. We created a specific curriculum at HOC in response to COVID to future-proof our learners and prepare them for the new normal of life — emotionally, physically, and financially. We are addressing these issues in our online 2021 Summit. Our aim is to focus on adaptability , resiliency and being future ready as champions and leaders.

6. What are some free resources for foster youth, foster families, and caregivers?

There are a bunch of resources on our homepage: www.homeofchampionsny.org and you can also download the Home of Champions Brochure HERE

7. How can people help this cause?

If anyone is interested in helping this cause please visit: https://homeofchampionsny.org/support

ABOUT JUDITH HALBREICH

Home of Champions (HOC) Founder, Judith Halbreich, LCSW has had a successful executive career in social services, mental health, and clinical research, serving on many Boards of Directors . Ms. Halbreich created one of the first NYC foster care programs for infants suffering from AIDS, in addition to creating an award-winning independent living program for youth aging-out of the foster care system. Her passion is to bring to fruition the HOC leadership program, which will inspire youth to become champions of their best selves.

ABOUT HOME OF CHAMPIONS

Home of Champions (HOC) is a newly recognized 501c3 non-profit organization with a mission to provide a “home base” for youth ages 16–24 who are emerging from the foster care system. It is a challenging and supportive program where youth will have access to opportunities, resources, and mentoring; gain the knowledge to live an active, consistent and sustained lifestyle; and develop the attitude necessary to become the responsible leaders, change makers, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT:

https://homeofchampionsny.org

TO DONATE VISIT:

https://homeofchampionsny.org/support

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Ashley Nestler, MSW

Ashley Nestler, MSW

Mental Health Specialist, Author, Empowerment Coach, and Bibliotherapist. Creator of The Ignite and Rise Academy and Releasing the Phoenix