Raising the bar

We Care Foster Care event to spotlight 2024 programs

A tightknit group, the Ramsey family includes (l-r) Jackson, Jasper, Alexis, Atticus, and Circuit Judge Kelly Ramsey. Alexis’s husband, Jackson Garland, is a social studies and multimedia teacher at Northville High School. A native of California, Garland met Ramsey while they were both teaching in China.

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

With a history of strong support from the Detroit area legal community, the We Care Foster Care organization will showcase its programs at a fund-raising luncheon on Thursday, May 2 on the historic island of Belle Isle.

The luncheon’s location on an island is symbolic of those children who spend their youth in various foster care programs, oftentimes isolated from the mainstream world around them, yearning for a loving and nurturing environment in which they can thrive in an educational, emotional, and social sense.

So said Alexis Ramsey, executive director of We Care Foster Care, who has headed the nonprofit agency since the fall of 2020 after spending the bulk of her career in various educational and teaching roles overseas (see related story).

“The luncheon event ties in with Foster Care Awareness Month and will serve as an opportunity for the community to learn more about the impact of our various We Care programs,” said Ramsey, a University of Michigan product who earned her master’s degree from Wayne State University. “We are fortunate to have former Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and former NBA player Greg Kelser of Fox Sports as our Honorary Hosts, while Justice Richard Bernstein of the Michigan Supreme Court will serve as our guest speaker at the luncheon.”

Justice Bernstein, a former member of the Wayne State Board of Governors, was elected to the state’s highest court in 2014 after spending the first 15 years of his legal career in private practice as a personal injury attorney. While in private practice, Bernstein devoted much of his pro bono efforts on protecting the rights of those with disabilities. A summa cum laude graduate of U-M, Bernstein earned his law degree from Northwestern University, reportedly becoming the first blind person to graduate from the elite law school.

We Care Foster Care formerly was known as “For the Seventh Generation,” a program to benefit foster care wards of the juvenile court in Wayne County. The program was established in 2005 by the Detroit Bar Association Foundation in cooperation with the Wayne County Circuit Court and the Michigan Department of Human Services.

“We changed the name of the program to more accurately reflect our mission and to broaden our levels of support in the community,” Ramsey explained, noting that the organization developed a five-year strategic plan to “create and facilitate new and improved models of care for our society’s most vulnerable children” in the metro Detroit community.

“We have spent the last two years performing an investigative deep dive into foster care, foster youth, and how the system works and doesn’t work in today’s environment,” Ramsey wrote in the We Care Programming Final Report for the 2022/23 Academic Year. “By spending time with kids in the foster care system, we have learned firsthand the challenges they face and the limitations of what is and is not available to them. In response, we have built both program and client partnerships to develop and implement innovative programs that provide the care these children need to thrive.”

Ramsey indicated that Michigan has approximately 13,000 children and young adults in foster care, more than 3,000 of which are in Wayne County.

“Disproportionate numbers suffer from a grim parade of mental health issues and poor educational outcomes,” Ramsey said, noting that in 2021 the four-year graduation rate for Michigan foster youth was merely 39 percent, the lowest of any student demographic group.

The numbers tell an even grimmer tale for those departing foster care programs, according to Ramsey.

“Unfortunately, the statistics regarding homelessness, incarceration, and young parenthood among aging-out foster youth are equally troubling,” she said. “A staggering 33 percent of young people who age out in Michigan report experiencing homelessness between the ages of 19 and 21. Additionally, 25 percent find themselves incarcerated during the same period, while 27 percent become parents, all within a critical phase of their lives when they should be building a foundation for a brighter future.

“The life challenges these children are forced to endure are obscene: abuse, neglect, human trafficking, and mental illness,” Ramsey added. “They are angry. They are tired. And they are too frustrated and too scared to learn. Many suffer from anxiety, depression, self-harm, and drug dependency.”

To address the array of challenges, We Care Foster Care has created a “Quilt of Care that includes our EduCare and Life Care programs along with our We Care You Care Partners,” Ramsey related.

The EduCare programs include a “Mathematics Plain + Simple” component designed to enhance problem-solving capabilities in pre-algebra and algebra courses. In the artistic realm, a “Drawing on Our Strengths” program “helps kids visualize and explore social skills in a fun and memorable way” through drawing. Other components of EduCare are “Improve with Improv,” a program geared toward helping kids overcome social anxiety and awkwardness, and “Play It Forward,” a project providing hands-on experience learning to play musical instruments.

Client partners of We Care Foster Care include Vista Maria, a girls’ residential facility in Dearborn Heights; Clara B. Ford, a charter school located on the campus of Vista Maria; and Christ Child House, a residential treatment center for boys ages 6-16.

“We are grateful for our client partners and all that they do,” Ramsey declared. “Support is needed from We Care and other organizations because the work is intense and vast, and change is not possible without meaningful partnerships. We Care and our program partners are working successfully provide the additional support needed to responsibly serve these children.”

Sponsorship opportunities for the May 4 luncheon in Detroit range from $1,200 to $10,000, while individual tickets can be purchased for $200. To register for the event, visit wecarefostercare.org.

Executive director brings special insight to job

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

She has taught in such faraway places as Africa, China, and Vietnam, but it was her teaching experiences at Mumford High School and Detroit Murray Wright that may have best prepared Alexis Ramsey for the challenges she now faces as the Executive Director at We Care Foster Care.
“Growing up in the suburbs and going to college at U-M, I learned some important life lessons when I began my student teaching at Mumford and then my first real teaching job at Murray Wright in Detroit,” said Ramsey, who has headed the We Care Foster Care program since the fall of 2020.
For starters, she had a gun pulled on her, a harrowing experience that was magnified when she was nearly caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting incident.
Fear suddenly became part of her daily life, as did the desire to help those afflicted by it, especially the students in her high school classrooms.
“So many of my students came from difficult family backgrounds, where abuse and neglect were part of their daily lives,” Ramsey related. “The trauma that some of them regularly experienced is hard to put into words, but somehow, they survived and came willing to learn. School was a place of refuge for them.”
Now, in her leadership role with We Care Foster Care, Ramsey is utilizing many of her educational skills to help build better lives for children who have been otherwise abandoned, forgotten, or discarded by society.
“We are here in an effort to level the playing field for foster care children, giving them a chance to learn, to grow, to prosper, and to be loved,” said Ramsey. “We want to give them a chance to succeed, and to provide an opportunity to live a happy and healthy life.”
Ramsey, the daughter of Wayne County Circuit Judge Kelly Ramsey, brings a unique perspective to her job after spending much of her career overseas in various educational roles. Her readiness for those assignments was bolstered by her master’s program in math education at Wayne State, where she assisted Professor Steve Kahn in the development of the nationally acclaimed Math Corps program.
“My work with him changed my life,” Ramsey declared. “He is a visionary and an innovator in the world of math education, and he was the subject of an award-winning documentary on PBS called ‘It All Adds Up.’ He has been a mentor and a great influence over the course of my career.”
Following a four-year teaching stint at Murray Wright High School, Ramsey began her odyssey overseas in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, teaching three years there before dividing the next 18 years of her career on educational assignments in China and Vietnam.
“I was involved in writing the national curriculum for music education while there, in addition to teaching math to students in the elementary grades, high school, and college,” said Ramsey. “It was very interesting and fulfilling work.”
It was during her time in Malawi, however, that Ramsey saw the passion that the children had for learning despite their difficult living circumstances.
“They had little in terms of money and material things, but they had family, their community, and the love and joy that came with them,” Ramsey said. “They also were eager to learn and had a sense of happiness that was very evident.”
Ramsey’s enthusiasm for education was inherited from her mother, who was first elected to the Wayne County Circuit bench in 2016 after spending 23 years as a referee for the Family Division of the court. Judge Ramsey, an alumna of Wayne State University Law School, has served on the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect and was a co-founder of the For the Seventh Generation, the forerunner of We Care Foster Care.
“I was around the Seventh Generation program for years with my mom’s involvement and it ramped up during the COVID year when she asked if I could help with the website,” Ramsey explained. “My skill set as an educator aligns with what we are trying to do to improve the lives of children in foster care, and to give them the opportunities to better themselves in all aspects of life. It’s a huge undertaking, but we are committed to success with the help and support of the greater Detroit community.”

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