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Meet the 2016 Public Policy Challenge Finalists: Impact Philly

February 13, 2016

The Idea

At Covenant House, Philadelphia’s primary emergency shelter for homeless youth, 40% of those served have had a history in the foster care system. There are many factors that influence these numbers, one of which is the devastating fact that these youth have no alternative paths, as half of students in the foster care system fail to complete high school. Dropping out of high school has dire social costs as these youths experience higher criminality, unemployment rates, and poverty. However, they do not drop out because of a lack of effort. The odds are considerably stacked against them, as most foster care youth shift from home to home, missing school and falling behind. All of these factors contribute to the high homelessness among this population as their options for self-sufficiency are severely limited. While educational attainment is paramount to this population’s future success, the support to get there is thin.

The Impact Philly fellowship program for high school students in the foster care system aims to fill this gap of support and help divert foster kids off the path to homelessness by increasing their alarmingly low high school graduation rates. Each fellow will be partnered with a formerly homeless mentor with experience in the foster care system, who has attained job stability or a high school diploma/GED. Together, the mentor and fellowship staff support the fellow through different phases of the Fellowship.

During their freshman year, fellows will sign a graduation pledge and set goals around their personal ambitions and unique interests. In their sophomore year, fellows will participate in community service and professional development sessions, aligning their personal goals with possible career paths. In their junior year, fellows will explore a career field and learn on-the-job skills through an internship. As a senior, along with post-graduation counseling, fellows who graduate and pursue higher education will be awarded the Impact Philly Scholarship.

While the success of “gifted” high school programs for top-performing students has provided a model of programmatic success, it has left the neediest students without attention. Impact Philly, armed with a vast network of collaborators, is well-positioned to increase the number of foster care youth graduating from high school. The Fellowship’s focus on mentoring and creating a supportive network to develop academically and socially engaged youth can reduce the rates of youth homelessness. We impact these teens so that they, in turn, will Impact Philly. 

The Team

Janice Bonsu, a New Jersey native raised in Ohio, is pursuing her Master of Public Health at the Perelman School of Medicine. Prior to Penn, Janice earned her B.S. in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University where she volunteered with a local high school mentoring program for at-risk teens and served as the Executive Student Government President. Here at Penn, Janice works at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, where she conducts research on community-based health delivery models to produce actionable guidance for funders seeking to aid in global health and development issues.

Originally from New Jersey, Gaya Kodiyalam is pursuing her Master of Social Work at the School of Social Policy and Practice and her Master of Public Health at the Perelman School of Medicine. Gaya interns at the Office of Supportive Housing, where she works with women experiencing homelessness and domestic violence through services such as resource referrals, crisis counseling, advocacy, and emergency shelter placements. Gaya also co-facilitates a therapeutic group session focused on goal setting, empowerment, and healthy relationships for pre-teenagers and teenagers at a Women Against Abuse safe haven. Before Penn, Gaya earned her B.A. in psychology from Columbia University. During her time in NYC, she interned at a United Nations non-profit, helping plan the Commission on the Status of Women conference, which focused on gender equality education and female empowerment.

Stan Lyubarskiy, from New York, is pursuing his Master of Public Administration at the Fels Institute of Government. Outside of school, he is a research associate at Public Financial Management, assisting numerous municipal clients on different projects. Before coming to Penn, Stan worked for nearly two years at Initiative Media in NYC as a media strategist. Prior to that, he served for a year as a mentor and tutor at a failing high school in Brooklyn as part of an AmeriCorps program called City Year.

Completing the group is Lydia Paver, a first year MPA student at the Fels Institute of Government who hails from England. Lydia’s experiences span the fields of law, policy, government and political campaigns. She currently works as a Campaign and Finance intern for the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, consultant for Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative, where she is conducting a Capital Scan of the Philadelphia region, and the Intern Support Fellow for the Fels Institute. Before coming to Penn, Lydia received a first class honors degree from the University of Manchester and studied abroad at the University of Maryland. She’s happy to be back in the states.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu