A University of Wisconsin-Stout Fostering Success peer mentor and an adviser were recently recognized by Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Children and Families for their work in helping foster youth succeed.
Cameron Hunter, a senior majoring in human development and family studies and Fostering Success peer mentor, was awarded the Champion of Change Award from Evers and Department of Children and Families Secretary-designee Emilie Amundson. They honored his advocacy and commitment to improving the lives of youth in the foster care and child welfare program in Wisconsin.
Gail Mentzel, Fostering Success adviser, was presented with the Department of Children and Families PATHS Outstanding Teacher Award by Evers and Amundson for her work in helping pave pathways to success for foster youth in Wisconsin. The awards were given out at the governor’s Executive Residence in Madison.
Fostering Success provides guidance and resources for youth who have been in foster care, homeless or orphaned and who have an interest in pursuing higher education. The program educates students coming to UW-Stout about grants and scholarships as well as provides supplemental advising about courses and resources, providing a safety net and sense of belonging to empower youth.
Through the program, UW-Stout reaches out to the next generation of foster youth in high school. Overnight and day camps offer a glimpse of college life and programming geared toward college readiness.
Angela Ruppe, UW-Stout director of Fostering Success and Student Support Services, was pleased to see Mentzel and Hunter honored for their hard work, advocacy and commitment to UW-Stout students and Fostering Success as well as foster youth across the state.
“The awards are well-deserved,” Ruppe said. ”I was Stout Proud to see both a staff member and a student from the Fostering Success program, the first of its kind in the UW system, be recognized.”
Hunter, who was born in Razgrad, Bulgaria, said he was shocked to receive the Champion of Change Award. He volunteered at Fostering Success starting as a first-year student.
“It’s a valuable campus resource for students who may not have family support while earning a college education,” said Hunter, a behavioral treatment worker at the Wisconsin Early Autism Project and a crisis worker at Eau Claire Academy.
Ruppe has seen Hunter grow as a student, leader and advocate for foster youth. “He has served as the Fostering Success intern and a peer mentor for our summer overnight,” Ruppe said.
“Additionally, he has worked with the Youth Advisory Council to promote advocacy across the state. It has been amazing to see all that he has accomplished while being a full-time student and working full time. He still finds the time to be involved in advocacy and give back to the Fostering Success program in so many ways,” Ruppe said.
Mentzel said she was surprised by the award. “Honestly, it’s an honor to work with the smart, talented, creative and innovative young people in the Fostering Success program,” Mentzel said. “They inspire me.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to support their success and provide education and advocacy to improve access, retention and graduation of youth with experience in foster care, other out-of-home care and students who are homeless or orphans/wards of the court. This has truly been the most important work in my career.”
One caring adult can change the trajectory of an at-risk student and impact future generations, Ruppe noted, adding that Mentzel is that person in her work. “Gail Mentzel is very deserving of this award,” Ruppe said. “Gail is the only adviser in the Fostering Success program and works intensively with all former foster youth in the program.”