Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

It’s not every day you get to take your picture with the Governor.

“Oh my gosh,” said Erma excitedly. “It was so much fun and an amazing experience. Bruce Rauner was so friendly; I even got a really good selfie with him!”

Nineteen-year-old Erma is one of five Cunningham youth from our Transitional Living Program (TLP) who recently traveled to the State Capitol for the 3rd Annual Illinois Legislative Shadow Day, funded by Foster Care Alumni of Illinois.

Cunningham’s TLP is for young adults, ages 17 ½ to 21, who are in the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) care. At Cunningham, they receive therapy services, independent living skills training, financial assistance and employment and educational assistance to help them move toward independence.

At Shadow Day, Illinois youth like Erma, who are currently or formerly in DCFS care, had the opportunity to share their experiences with legislators and get an up close view of government at work. The young adults attended a comprehensive training to learn effective ways to become more involved with legislature, advocate for their needs, and share their story.

After participating in the two-day event, Erma shared that she “really felt like she made a difference.” Not only is Erma helping to make a difference in the lives of youth in DCFS care, she is also making great strides in her own life and for her future.

Before coming to Cunningham two years ago, Erma had been placed at several different residential treatment facilities and suffered from mental and emotional health issues due to past traumas in her life. Despite her difficult journey, she has maintained a positive outlook on life and continues to work hard to reach her goals.

“Erma is one of the neatest, sweetest, most caring and giving young ladies ever,” said Patty, who works closely with Erma through TLP. “In spite of the trauma she has been through with her family, her own life, as well as her emotional and mental health issues, she is resilient, very spiritual and awesome.“

In May, Erma earned her high school diploma through a program with the Urbana Adult Education Center designed to be independently focused where most of the work is completed out of the classroom. Erma experienced a few setbacks and at times struggled to stay motivated and committed to completing the program but Cunningham staff remained consistent in encouraging her and offering a helping hand.

The completion of the program was a huge accomplishment for Erma and now she is motivated more than ever. She is enrolled at Parkland College with the dream of becoming an automotive technician and will begin classes this fall. She is also taking steps towards finding a part-time job at a local mechanic shop to gain real world experience.

Even with the adversity she has faced, she has a “whatever it takes” attitude and with a strong work ethic, she strives to be the best she can be. When she took a pre-assessment test before registering for classes, she received a respectable score, but eagerly said, “I want to take it a few more times to see if I can get a higher score.”

She works hard for others too. Erma volunteered at a recent Cunningham event and after spending a good chunk of her day helping out, she offered to stay even longer when her volunteer replacement wasn't able to come.

“She is such a hard worker and a joy to be around,” said Taylor, Cunningham’s Event and Volunteer Specialist.

Erma continues to strive for independence and once she reaches all of her goals, it just might be picture perfect.