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Metro foster teens visit White House, leaving inspired to achieve dreams of higher education

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was the trip of a lifetime for two foster teens from the metro.

They spent the week meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama along with other at-risk teens. It could prove to be a life-changing experience.

Where society has presented obstacles, Cornerstones of Care has given opportunities to foster youth in the metro. Two of that mentoring program's participants, Tyra Collins and Leanna Sego, are just back from a trip to our nation's capital, where they were among 130 young people to meet with the nation’s first lady.

Both 18-year olds are involved in the YES program, which pairs foster teenagers with adult mentors. Mrs. Obama included them in her Beating the Odds Summit, in which, former foster kids shared stories of grown-up success.

“They all talked about who they were and what they'd gone through and what they'd overcome. It was amazing,” Leanna Sego said.

The first lady has been active in encouraging young people to overcome life's pitfalls. Tuesday’s summit in the White House’s east wing is a good example of her concentrated efforts.

“Normally, people don't tell us their story, but she told us hers. We can relate to that in a way,” Tyra Collins said.

Collins and Sego say they plan to further their education, but statistics show foster teens often struggle in finding ways to pay for school. In Missouri, children exceed the maximum age for the foster care system at 21 years old. In Kansas, they age-out at 18.

“I'm doing it, not just for myself, but to prove that I am worth something, and I can do what I want to do,” Sego told FOX 4 News.

“It's a huge need,” Brandy Bamberger, who works for Cornerstones for Care as coordinator for the YES Program, said.

Bamberger, a native Kansan, confronts that problem every day. She helps provide guidance and education, meant to help these at-risk teenagers find ways to excel.

Bamberger presents discouraging statistics concerning young people aging-out of the foster system who aspire to further their education:

  • Each year, 250 teens from the metro exceed the maximum age state-based foster support
  • 25 of those students seek to continue their education
  • Fewer than eight of them succeed in finding financial support

“It's not about what's wrong with them. It's about what's happened to them and helping them overcome that to have success and sustainability in their lives,” Bamberger said.

In this case, a meeting with Mrs. Obama could prove to be what makes a difference for at least two of them. While Sego and Collins met with the first lady, they say they felt inspired and satisfied, knowing their dreams of higher education aren't of reach.

The YES program works closely with the Alex Smith Foundation. That non-profit group, which bears the name of the Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback, paid all travel expenses for the teens to visit Washington D.C.

Bamburger says Cornerstones of Care is in search of more adult mentors for its YES Program.

You can get in contact with that non-profit group, based in Midtown Kansas City, by clicking here.