Strong, Strong…Nebraska Strong: LEAP fellows and Nebraska Children Staff Share LEAP Strategies for Success 

“We are collectively strong, strong, strong enough to get the work done,” said Joe DiCostanzo.    

Joe is Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Vice President of Education and Careers, along with LEAP alumni and Connected Youth Initiative participants, Tyeisha Thompson and Nikolai Maly prove there’s power in numbers and expertise.  

The Nebraska-based leaders joined a diverse group from across the nation for a two-day LEAP convening on November 3-4, hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and organized by LEAP Young Fellows and partners.  

Our Connected Youth Initiative’s coaches and partners implement LEAP (Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential), a series of strategies for young people who have experienced foster care and other challenges to reach their educational and economic goals.  

"Strong, strong, strong," are the words that Joe DiCostanzo used to describe Nebraska's dedication and LEAP alignment.
“Strong, strong, strong,” are the words that Joe DiCostanzo used to describe Nebraska’s dedication and LEAP alignment.

CYI’s LEAP strategy is a part of the coaching component and offers Education and Training Vouchers (ETV) as part of its Postsecondary Education and Career Pathways focus. This convening aligns with Nebraska Children’s goals for young people and staff, especially those who have experienced foster care to become megaphones for positive change. And together, that makes us Nebraska strong, so everyone thrives, as per our organization’s vision.  

Therefore, we’re glad that leaders from our older youth program, Connected Youth Initiative, provided their expertise. During this two-day convening, they shared other cutting-edge practices to integrate and maximize American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other funds for unconnected young people.  

Now a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, Tyeisha Thompson said she shared in a youth table talk with three other leaders her experiences as a LEAP participant and fellow.  

Tyeshia said that quite simply, she enjoys sharing her insights.  

“I love using my experience to connect foster youth with the vital resources and support for success. It has been so life-changing to be a part of the LEAP fellowship. I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people all over the country,” she said.  

Tyeshia said that her participation, especially in one of the roundtable sessions, encouraged young people who experienced foster care to use their voices, too.  

“Two other LEAP fellows and [I] talked about important topics that we felt needed to be emphasized for youth, such as public speaking, advocacy, and empowering their stories,” said Tyeshia. 

Joe went on to participate in a panel where he discussed LEAP’s impact and its post-secondary educational strategies for older youth who experienced foster care. He then imparted his vision for LEAP’s lasting impact on the field.  

Finally, he shared how an innovative group of leaders, the Fostering Achievement Nebraska Network (FANN), has positively transformed Nebraska youths’ post-secondary education success.  

Nikolai Maly, another Nebraska representative, shared his vision of how LEAP impacts young people’s educational goals. A CYI participant and LEAP alumnus, Nikolai discussed his LEAP vision and experience as well.  

Nikolai said that he continues to feel motivation to encourage other young leaders to feel supported.  

“What most inspires me as a LEAP alumnus is that even though I’ve graduated from the CYI LEAP program and college, it’s still the beginning for me to help other people,” said Nikolai.  

Nikolai said that his journey as a LEAP Fellow continues to gain traction.  

Nikolai Maly (right) talks with Felipe Longoria, Deputy Executive Director at Central Plains Center for Services.
Nikolai Maly (right) talks with Felipe Longoria, Deputy Executive Director at Central Plains Center for Services.

“I am sharing experiences that may help others to make easier choices in college and life,” he said.  

Felipe Longoria, Deputy Director at Central Plains Center for Services, participated in a panel discussion where he detailed his journey as a CYI coach. CYI coaches are part of the supports and services that CYI and partners offer young people between 14-26 who experienced foster care, child welfare, juvenile justice or probation, homelessness, and human trafficking. Thanks to our LEAP alignment, Felipe and other coaches support these young adults’ post-secondary goals.  

Finally, two other CYI partners from Central Plains Center for Services – Jessi Hedlund and Alisa Pritchett shared coach and service providers’ experiences working with young people who experienced foster care.  

Nebraska Children is heartened to see our leaders collaborating on behalf of positive change. Although sometimes, you must learn to walk before you fly, at other times, you can LEAP into success so all Nebraska’s young people can thrive.  

And together, we can stand with young leaders and continue, as a state, to become strong, strong, and Nebraska strong.  

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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