By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Department of Human Services today celebrated one of its most successful “backpack challenges” ever, awarding 2,500 backpacks to older children in foster care.
And those headed to college got an even bigger surprise: a new laptop computer.
At 18, Dante (last name withheld) has a bright future. “I’m headed to Community College of Philadelphia,” he notes.
Today, at Ritter Hall on the campus of Temple University, he was one of 30 older kids in foster care who got a free laptop thanks to the DHS Backpack Challenge.
He is also the first in his family to go to college.
“I came from a background of me and my parents getting arrested,” he admits, “so this will really open up my future for me.”
DHS commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose says laptops and backpacks are invaluable tools for kids in foster care.
“Many of them are disconnected from family,” she says, “and this gives them an assurance that they won’t have to start the school year without having their basic needs met.”
Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams, who lived in two foster homes before he was adopted, spoke to the roomful of young people about their bright futures.
“The one thing no one can take from them is their education,” he said afterward. “They need to take this opportunity with the laptops and the resources they are going to have, and graduate. That’s the greatest crime-prevention tool that I have.”
Williams says high school dropouts are eight times more likely to end up in prison and 20 times more likely to become homicide victims.
“If I can do it, they can do much better than I did,” he says.
Sixty-three children in DHS’s “Achieving Independence Center” graduated from high school this year, and half of them will go on to college this fall.
The free backpacks and laptops all come from private donors including Five Below, American Signature Furniture, and the International Longshoremen’s Association.