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PHOTOS: 2 DHS Divisions honor youth achievement in pair of ceremonies


LITTLE ROCK – Two recent ceremonies organized by different Divisions within the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) celebrated the accomplishments of young Arkansans reaching important milestones in their lives.

At an Educational Achievement Ceremony on Thursday at Victory Baptist Church in Sherwood, the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) recognized nearly 100 youth in foster care who graduated from high school or earned their GED. Then on Friday, the Civilian Student Training Program (CSTP) within the Division of Youth Services (DYS) graduated 30 teens from that program at a ceremony at Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock.

“We are so proud of all the young people we have been able to recognize in recent days, and we thank them for their dedication and devotion to building bright futures,” said DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam. “Whether earning academic success while also navigating the hurdles of being in foster care, or learning important life lessons about responsibility, initiative, and direction, all of these youths have shown true commitment to bettering their lives.” 

The DCFS Educational Achievement Ceremony was organized around the theme, “The Harder the Battle, The Sweeter the Victory.” Before walking across the stage to collect their diplomas, graduates heard words of encouragement from DCFS Director Tiffany Wright and a keynote address from Jessica Holmes, who spoke of earning two Master’s degrees and finding professional success as a school principal after a childhood that included entering foster care. “You are resilience personified,” Holmes told the graduates. “You can go on to do great things.”

“Graduating high school isn’t easy for anyone, and it’s even more difficult for youth who face additional challenges that come along with being in foster care,” Wright said. “This ceremony is an important way to honor these young people, and to encourage and support them as they grow into this new phase of their lives. We are so excited to celebrate their achievement.” 

CSTP, meanwhile, is an eight to nine-week residential program open to justice involved youth. During each cycle, participants learn behavior management, criminal behavior deterrence, citizenship, physical fitness, academic and life skills, and community service.

During the graduation ceremony, each teen walked on stage and shared their career aspirations – ranging from plumber to boxer to Navy SEAL to engineer – and individual graduates were recognized for highest academic achievement, most improved fitness achievement, leadership awards, and more. Graduates also heard from several student speakers, including Preston McKinney, who thanked his probation officer and judge for assigning him to the program and said it taught him a number of important life skills lessons.

“We’ve come a long way through this 9-week journey,” he said. “I hope you learned as much as I have from this program and will take a part of CSTP with you wherever you go.”

DCFS Education Achievement Ceremony

CSTP Graduation

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