Over the past decade I’ve driven back and forth across the state hundreds of times. While heading to Treehouse, Camp To Belong MA, Re-Envisioning Foster Care Conferences, Sibling Sundays and meetings of all kinds, I always have some fun music playing in my car. A few weeks ago it was a CD with my favorite songs from the TV show Nashville.
This week, after winning the Purpose Prize, I asked my husband for some music from Earth, Wind & Fire! I needed something celebratory. Something snappy that I could sing along with.
Today, with joyful music playing in the background, I began thinking of all the amazing people that have come together to Re-Envision Foster Care in America since I sold my businesses and began this journey in 2002. Earth, Wind & Fire inspired me to appreciate them all.
At the Grand Opening of the Treehouse Community in 2006, we unfurled a scroll that featured the names of all the people who made the building of the Treehouse Community possible. I had such a good time making that scroll. While writing the names, I fondly remembered the contributions that each person made. I recalled
their generosity and their talents. So many people. All focused on the health
and well-being of the kids.
Looking out across the sea of faces that had gathered to celebrate the mission and vision of Treehouse, I was struck by the generosity of spirit that filled the room. We were all there to bless the lives of our children and youth placed in foster care. You could actually feel our collective desire to invest in foster care innovation.
So much goodness..
I have felt that same collective goodness at Camp To Belong MA when the buses arrive in the Berkshires full of sisters and brothers from all over the state. It was there at our first Birdsong Farm Summer Enrichment Program. It’s definitely alive in the Treehouse Community Center during community wide events and celebrations. Folks definitely want to do what’s right for the kids.
If I created a scroll now – one that listed ALL of the people who have helped make the Treehouse Community, the Treehouse Foundation, the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative, Sibling Connections, Camp To Belong MA, Sibling Sundays and Birdsong Farm possible, it would extend all the way around the Treehouse Community Center.
Since 2002 we have been actively creating a collaborative social change movement and a compelling new Menu of Engagement Options so that Americans of all ages can become resources to children in their communities.
Treehouse and it’s partners have raised over $15 million to support foster care innovation. We are using the money to develop vibrant public-private partnerships that harness creative ideas, mobilize collective energy, and maximize financial resources in order to better serve our nation’s children experiencing foster care.
Replicable partnership and program models that we hope to share with communities from coast to coast.
We call our collaborative social change movement the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative. Would you like to join us? Go to birdsongfarm.org,treehousecommunities.org, and siblingconnections.org. We’ll show what Re-Envisioning Foster Care looks like!
Oh, what a beautiful morning! Calls from reporters who want to interview me about winning this year’s Purpose Prize are coming in fast and furious! I am elated.
It is such an honor to win the Encore/AARP award. Being able to stand on the
national stage to talk about foster care innovation is a privilege. Getting
millions of Americans to think about how we can all come together to enhance the lives of children and youth placed in foster care makes my heart sing. Telling
people about the work of the Treehouse Foundation, Sibling Connections and
Birdsong Farm fills me with joy.
The Encore/AARP Purpose Prize award shines a light on the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative that we launched in 2010. It holds the Treehouse Community/Hub of Innovation model up for consideration. It celebrates the year-round Sibling Connection program model we created for sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care. It moves people to go onto the Birdsong Farm website
to learn about our exciting farm based Education Center.
To the person who nominated me, to the folks who supported my nomination and to the national Encore/Purpose Prize trustees who found my work over the past decade worthy of national recognition.
The reporters are asking lots of great questions. Hopefully, they will write an
array of interesting stories that inspire philanthropists, foundations and
ordinary citizens to make generous donations so we can build on all of the
goodness that has been created over the past ten years.
Here are some of my favorite questions so far:
“You just won a national award for inspiring a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. How does that feel?”
“When you first started out Re-Envisioning Foster Care a decade ago, did you ever imagine that you would win a national award?”
“I hear the Purpose Prize national vetting process is rigorous. Were you surprised that you made the cut given all of the competition?”
“You say that most Americans think there are only two ways they can support a child placed in foster care: Become a foster parent and/or Adopt a child from foster care. The result: Millions of Americans turn and walk away from the children in their communities who need them the most. Is that why you began to Re-Envision Foster Care in America?”
“You became a foster parent at the age of 48 and completely changed your life: you sold your businesses, became a full time child advocate and established three non-profits to begin building a compelling new Menu of Engagement Options so Americans of all ages could become resources to children in foster care. Are you proud of your accomplishments?”
“You clearly believe in collaborative social change. Each one of your non-profits has developed many unique partnerships. What is it about the power of partnership that you find so compelling?”
“ Your Re-Envisioning Foster Care Menu of Engagement Options is growing bigger every year. Do you plan to share it with people in other states?”
“You have hosted three annual Re-Envisioning Foster Care Conferences since 2010, with a fourth planned for May 2013. Do people attend to learn more about foster care innovation?”
“Last week the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth came to Treehouse to hear about the Treehouse Community model and the Re- Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative. Do you think they left feeling inspired?”
“You won the Congressional Angel in Adoption Award in 2010. How do these important national awards like the Purpose Prize and the Congressional Angel in Adoption Award help you? Does it give you more credibility? Can you access more funding to better serve children and to replicate the innovative program models you have developed: The Treehouse Community, a year-round Sibling Connection initiative and the Birdsong Farm Education Center?
“What do you hope the Purpose Prize will do for children and youth in foster care?”
“Are you really going to invest all of the Purpose Prize money you were awarded in foster care innovation?”
The answer to that last question is, “Yes!”
Every year, 25,000 young people leave our public foster care system alone and head out into the world without all of the supports that we take for granted: enduring family relationships, community connections, a home.
My colleagues and I believe that this number should be zero! We believe that every child should be rooted in family and community so they are never at risk of “aging out” of the care and support we all need.
To Reporters Everywhere: Please keep the calls and questions coming!
I am profoundly grateful to have won this prestigious national award. I vow to
use it to help inspire widespread investment in foster care innovation.
Here’s to the kids!
Here’s to Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America!
Here’s to everyone who supports the REFCA Menu of Engagement Options!
This is the first post in our Community blog, featuring the voices of Treehouse community members and friends.
Our community is rich in learning - in fact we routinely describe ourselves as a learning community. We learn from each other every day, and as we do so, we learn about ourselves. We learn about trauma and attachment, and deepen our understanding of our mission and purpose. We care for one another amidst the challenges of loss and change that occur across the lifespan, and deepen our appreciation of the power of community living.
The following statements by Treehouse seniors (or, as we prefer to say, “Hot Mamas and Papas,”) set the stage for what’s to come in this section, and offer a glance back so that we can look forward, and reflect on our experience.
Being here has let my spirit breath. It has brought a balance inside that reflects the peace, comfort, and safety that this community has gifted me. This diverse community has inspired me to share my renewed attitude and outlook with laughter and creativity. THIS IS OUR CHANCE TO SHOW THE WORLD HOW IT IS DONE! ~ Holly
In my previous career, I was a therapist and worked with so many kids in “the system.” I was drawn to Treehouse and the concept of promoting security for kids in a community where they can feel secure and loved and know that they are special. ~ Cheryl
Our six year Camp To Belong MA partnership with Beaver Summer Programs makes my heart sing! It is a wonderful example of how 900+ families in the Boston area, who send their children to the fabulous summer day camp at Beaver Country Day School, step up to the plate to support youngsters who have been placed in foster care.
We are delighted that each summer visionary BSP Director, Nat Saltonstall, educates and engages his outstanding staff and all of the BSP camper families. The BSP staff then inspires campers of all ages (BSP serves youngsters ages 3 – 15) to support CTB MA campers. The result: every August we drive a big truck up to BSP’s front door in Chestnut Hill, MA and fill it with loads of brand new sleeping bags, pillows, pillow cases, beach towels, duffle bags, flash lights, batteries and more! All collected to give to sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care.
This wonderful partnership yields such incredible goodness! The donations are collected by campers in a beautiful leafy suburb of Boston, driven across the Commonwealth to a gorgeous camp in the Berkshires, unpacked by fabulous volunteer CTB MA counselors, and made available to siblings who travel from all parts of the state to spend the week together creating joyous shared memories.
Beaver campers learn about their peers who are experiencing foster care. They have an opportunity to reach out to them – one camper to another – and make sure that they have the basic resources they need to have a wonderful week together. Some are learning about foster care for the first time. Finding out about that over 75% of all sisters and brothers who are placed in foster care live in separate homes and typically do not get to see one another on a regular basis. They discover that a group of citizens are creating new programs to change that reality. And, BSP campers get to be part of that change.
We are profoundly grateful to Nat and his awesome Beaver Summer Program Team of campers, families and staff. They hit the ball out of the park every summer. We are so glad they are our CTB MA Partners. Camp To Belong MA simply would not be the same without their kindness and generosity!
On July 24, 2007 I received an email from Connie Harris, our Camp To Belong MA counselor outreach coordinator. The opening line read: “Wow… This is the first reference I have received for Byron. Pretty impressive.” I eagerly read Connie’s email. Then I printed the reference out and tucked it away. Every year I take it out and re-read it. It’s the best reference letter I have ever seen.. Truly genuine and written by a pro. Here are my favorite parts.
Byron is incredibly thoughtful and amazingly good with kids. He is, quite simply, one of the most natural teachers I have ever known. He cares passionately, he has a wonderful sense of humor, and he is possessed of almost incurably upbeat energy. I could go on.
But if I’m right in understanding that this is a job working with children in foster care, I don’t think I need to – or should. Grab him. Grab him by the ankle and don’t let him go. You will be delighted you did. More than that, the kids with whom he works will have an extraordinary time with him. He deserves to touch such lives. And such young people deserve to get to know Byron.
Please know that it would be hard to imagine doing any better than hiring Byron Thomas. He’s that good.
We grabbed him …. As a teacher, I couldn’t wait to meet Byron and see him in action. From the moment he met the campers it was clear – he is that good! When Byron’s fabulous energy is mixed in with all of the goodness that his fellow counselors bring to the kids, I can’t stop smiling!
Byron came to Camp To Belong MA as a volunteer counselor for the first time in 2007, with his amazing wife Kyessa. Last summer he took on the role of our CTB MA Youth Leader. This August he’s coming back to lead us forward into our 8th season, and we are delighted to have him!
Join Byron and the 2012 CTB MA Crew in the Berkshires. August 18 – 25. We will welcome sisters and brothers from all across the Commonwealth. Siblings who have been separated when placed in foster care. Kids ages 8 – 20 who look forward to spending the week with Byron and our stellar team of CTB MA volunteer counselors.
What will they be doing ??! Let’s see… This year’s schedule offers campers the opportunity to create joyous shared memories while riding horses, climbing the rock wall, swinging from the flying trapeeze, swimming, boating, enjoying a carnival, celebrating one another at a camp wide birthday party, singing, dancing, being artistic and, enjoying one another’s company. In short, hanging out being kids. Together.
Father’s Day in our family this year meant “Happy Father’s Day” phone calls & creative presents from our two oldest in San Francisco and Chicago. Our seventh grader gave thirteen little presents to her dad. She decided that since he’s been her Everyday Dad for thirteen years, he deserved one fun momento to honor each year of their father-daughter relationship.
As we were chatting about what might be good options, we discussed his varied interests: photography, tennis, cooking, music, reading, movies, travel. We made a list of playful accoutrements that go along with each interest and what was in our budget. We sifted through thirteen years of father-daughter memories and fondly recalled various “Dad Moments”.
When the list was finalized, she reminded me that we had run out of dog food. I volunteered to go pick some up at the store. While they were editing some photos she recently took on his computer, I slipped out the door with the list in my pocket.
On my way to the store I felt deeply grateful for my daughter’s cleverness and my partner’s steadfast parenting. This is a Dad we can all count on. For the past thirty one years he has shopped, cooked, cleaned, folded laundry, dropped off, picked up, went to work, came home, mowed the lawn, raked the leaves, shoveled the driveway, supported each one of his children’s passions, shared his interests, taught the kids about east coast customs that native Californians are clueless about (ice skating, sledding, shoveling, layering, seasonal closet changes), and took beautiful photos of them all.
That’s what Everyday Dads do. They show up, care deeply, and make sure that each one of their children feel strong, loved and successful. They earn those Father’s Day presents and so much more!