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DeAnna DeForest ’08

Cleveland, Ohio

B.A. Psychology; Leadership Studies Certificate — Marietta College; M.A. Practical Theology with a concentration in Christian Formation — Ashland Theological Seminary

About

Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Youth Minister Chosen Generation (Founder), College Now (College & Career Access Advisor)

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As an intern with the Washington County Children Services, DeAnna DeForest ’08 worked with vulnerable children living in the Marietta area. Though she excelled at helping kids with behavioral struggles, DeAnna knew she could have a bigger impact on youth by getting to the roots of their issues, rather than trying to manage behavior.

DeAnna built a wealth of experiences and education at Marietta — from being a McDonough Leadership Scholar to helping build the Charles Sumner Harrison Organization, which has grown into a program that now offers full-tuition scholarships to students who demonstrate civic engagement and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. By the time she graduated from Marietta, she was confident in her ability to, as McDonough’s tenet teaches, give back the gift.

She returned to her hometown in Cleveland and worked with children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Working with four K-8 schools, DeAnna saw that many of the kids labeled as ADHD, ADD or other concentration issues by their teachers were struggling with not having their basic needs met.

“When a child doesn’t have the basic needs to grow — things like food, clothing, shelter, a safe family — they cannot perform to the best of their ability in the classroom,” she says. “But nobody wanted to touch that. It’s easier to push them off to the side with the ADD, ADHD label. That was a lot for me to deal with coming straight out of Marietta. When I was working with Washington County Children’s Services, none of the kids looked like me. Then I came back to Cleveland and all the kids looked like me. All of them are either on IEPs or have some kind of label that came from people making an assumption about them without really knowing them. I knew that there was something more that could be done.”

Teetering back and forth between using her Psychology or her Education experience to reach the children in her community, DeAnna took a different approach: Mentoring. Deeply involved in her faith, DeAnna expanded her skillset by earning an advanced degree in theology so she could better serve local youth. She began hosting a camp to give them a safe and encouraging place to study and practice Christianity.

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“When COVID hit, the YMCAs closed, campuses were closed, everything was closed, but the kids were still here and still needing a place to go and learn and be mentored, so that’s why my camp happened,” DeAnna says. “But then I realized the need was bigger than just working with teenagers, so we started three Bible studies every month that included a fun activity and a community service project — all of this during a pandemic, mind you.”

The backyard program she founded — Chosen Generation — continues to develop and grow and is close to becoming an official non-profit organization.

“That started because, though I am active in my church, I didn’t see a lot of young people there. I looked and saw the disconnect. If you’re trying to build bridges so young people can access things that they need, you need to look from their perspective. So, school focuses on the education path, and church focuses on the spiritual part — but neither really worry about the rest.”

She began talking to children in her program about college, taking them on college visits, and speaking on their behalf during the visits so children could hear answers to questions that they and their parents didn’t know to ask.

Today, DeAnna works to help high school students achieve better futures through the College Now Greater Cleveland organization, which provides career and post-secondary education advising to youth, and through her organization, Chosen Generation, which focuses on the spiritual, mental, emotional and leadership development of youth.

Just as the CSHO Scholarship program impacts the lives of many students by supporting their academic and social justice goals at Marietta, the organizations that DeAnna is currently focused on will surely benefit the holistic development of generations of students.

“I look at both of my jobs as going hand-in-hand. College Now focuses on the student’s career path — whether that’s in trade school, four-year college, community college, the military, or the workforce. Their parents, may not necessarily, have a higher education degree, so how do the kids know the way? They have to talk to someone who’s been there. … With Chosen Generation, I still take the kids on college visits and answer questions about what’s next, but I also put some light on the spiritual part. I have a seminary degree from Ashland Theological Seminary in Practical Theology with a concentration in Christian Formation — it’s Youth Ministry. I was talking to some kids, and they were saying that they didn’t just want to go to church, they wanted to know The Word. So, I try to be the bridge connecting them to both paths.”

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