A program that provides current and former foster care and adoptive youth with up to $5,000 per year to attend colleges, universities, and vocational and technical programs has made a difference for Genie Adler. Adler made her way through Winona State University on the social work educational program with support from the Educational and Training Voucher program administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Education and Training Voucher program funds may be used for tuition, fees, books, housing, transportation, and other school-related costs and living expenses. The department works in cooperation with Ramsey and Hennepin counties, and Lutheran Social Service-Willmar to administer the program for up to 200 students in Minnesota.
Adler, who was in and out of foster homes since she was 6 months old, worked hard to gain admission to college and to earn a music scholarship, playing her viola for the Winona State orchestra. In addition to her scholarship and her work at a local grocery store, Adler said the program helped "tremendously" to help her pay for housing off-campus, with any extra going to insurance or other bills.
"I know that I wouldn’t have been able to go [to college] if it wouldn’t have been for the funds, because I would have had to be working,” she said. "I am so grateful, and I want to make sure that [the ETV staff] know that.”
With receiving her Education and Training Voucher program award letter each year, Adler often received a personal note in the mail.
“I usually get a little card with ‘congratulations on my GPA’ or whatever, and that’s fun,” she said. “I don’t have a family that says ‘good job,’ so it’s nice that the people who write out the awards take the time to do this.”
In addition to studying social work, Adler enjoys playing in the orchestra, caring for her three pets (two cats and a bearded dragon), and spending time with her younger sister and brother, also children in foster care.
“I want to be somebody that they can automatically say, ‘My sister is a positive influence in my life,’” she said.
Adler is passionate about supporting foster children, especially those who feel stigmatized for being in out-of-home care. And she notes that supporting foster children as they phase out of care is crucial.
“There just isn’t enough support for foster kids once they leave the homes — not just financial," she said. "Sometimes there just isn’t anybody you can talk to. Just support, that’s a big deal.”
As a former foster care youth, Adler's perspective differs from other students’ on many of the social work “case studies” that her professors have posed in class.
“They’re going by what the books say, and I’m going by what the books say and also my personal experiences,” she said.
It’s these personal experiences that motivated her to pursue a job as a child protection social worker after completing her internship with Wabasha County Social Services and graduating. Eventually, Adler said, she would like to pursue a master’s degree in “some kind of therapy,” possibly family therapy.
But in the meantime, her music, family and life experiences are all fueling her drive to help other youth in the foster care system.
“The stigma against foster care really bothers me. It’s not [the foster children’s] fault, that’s the most important thing,” she said. She also remembers her favorite social worker over the years — Dan — whom she met when she was 4 years old.
“It’s just those things that social workers don’t have to do, like you don’t have to teach a 5-year-old how to whistle,” she said about Dan. “That’s the kind of social worker I want to be.”