From the Treehouse Blog

New England Patriots Honor Treehouse Elder!

New England Patriots Honor Treehouse Elder!

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Jun 15, 2012 12:00 AM
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I was standing under a tree watching my daughter’s horse back riding lesson. It was a Friday afternoon. My cell phone rang. It was a call from the New England Patriots. A lovely Patriots staff member informed me that Treehouse community member, Rosa Young, had been chosen to receive a prestigious 2012 Myra Kraft Community MVP Award for her outstanding volunteer service to the Treehouse Foundation. Recently Rosa attended an awards ceremony at Gillette Stadium. She thoroughly enjoyed meeting MVP quarterback Tom Brady and hugging Patriots owner Robert Kraft. This is why she was honored.

In 2006 while listening to NPR in her home state of Michigan, retiree Rosa Young heard a story about Treehouse – a brand new planned multi-generational community in Massachusetts where children who had experienced foster care were being given the chance to thrive in permanent loving homes and live in a vibrant neighborhood where elders volunteered as “grandparents” and served as mentors to children and families – a village where children found not just parents, but also grandparents, playmates and an entire neighborhood designed to help them grow up in a secure, nurturing environment.

Rosa listened closely. She had spent her career working with disabled adults north of Boston and was looking for a meaningful way to live in this new era of her life. She did her research and chose to become a volunteer grandparent at Treehouse. She describes the process: “.. My dog Chloe and I jumped in our PT Cruiser, overflowing with our belongings, and drove 1,000 miles to Treehouse. The description of the Treehouse Community in Easthampton on National Public Radio, a conversation with the Treehouse Community Facilitator, Kerry Homstead, the Treehouse Foundation website, and other Treehouse materials had lured me to take a leap of faith and move. I could not be happier.”

“Four years after retiring, I wanted to settle down in a place where my contributions would make a difference in other people’s lives. Having an opportunity to help children in a meaningful way was paramount.”

Since moving to Massachusetts in 2006, Rosa has been a pillar of the Treehouse Community. She has woven a network of goodness and caring throughout the entire neighborhood where over 100 people, ranging in age from 4 – 93, live on Treehouse Circle. Rosa wakes up every morning and goes out into the world ready to serve her neighbors of all ages. She cares for the sick, supports families in need, brings joy to children and serves on the Treehouse Foundation board of directors. Rosa Young is an inspiration to us all. She is a selfless, humble, compassionate and awe inspiring Treehouse volunteer who lives the Treehouse mission every day of the year.

The impact of Rosa’s service is far reaching. Every week Rosa actively volunteers her time and expertise to support a family with five children. She picks the children up from school, feeds them dinner, helps them with their homework and provides a predictable, safe and loving environment for them which enhances their health and well-being, helps them successfully integrate into their adoptive family and succeed in school. In addition, Rosa provides their parents with respite and support. This concrete support, which extends across three generations, is reciprocated. Both the children and parents appreciate Rosa’s contributions to their family and are there for her in times of need.

Myra Craft Award Ceremony

Rosa also volunteers her time on several Treehouse Child, Family & Elder Teams, lending her expertise, life experience and wonderful energy to support Treehouse community members of all ages. Her willingness to help others deal with emerging needs enhances everyone’s well-being and strengthens the Treehouse Community model. Rosa is ready, willing and able to drive her peers to doctor’s appointments, fill out insurance forms, deliver food, care for children, sit with her neighbors who are ill, participate in community wide activities and help develop a strong and vibrant neighborhood where everyone is valued, cared for and appreciated. Rosa’s daily volunteer efforts help create a Culture of Possibility. Her friends call her “Treehouse Rose”!

As a Treehouse Foundation board member, Rosa’s position as Treasurer, is critical to the capacity building and sustainability of the organization. She brings her Treehouse community member perspective to the board and is a key Treehouse Ambassador. She helps raise money, host events, and shares knowledge and information about the value of the Treehouse Community Approach with others locally, regionally and nationally. Rosa volunteers her time as a Treehouse Ambassador to help change the foster care narrative in this country. Her generous contributions model what it takes to help a child whose life has been impacted by foster care thrive.

Rosa’s capacity to support children, families and elders living at Treehouse also extends beyond the actual neighborhood. Here is an example:

In 2004, one of her young neighbors who has Down’s Syndrome wanted to attend Camp To Belong MA, a wonderful summer camp program designed to serve sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care. She wanted to spend time with her younger sister who was living in another home in Connecticut. In order to attend CTB MA she required a full time one-on-one aid. As her mother and CTB MA staff were thoughtfully considering the options, Rosa offered to go to camp as a volunteer counselor. She packed up her suitcase, drove to CTB MA and spent the week helping this young camper move through the day successfully.

I do not believe that Rosa thinks of herself as a volunteer. She simply lives her life in a way that is aligned with her core values. She is filled with humility and a deep respect for others. That is her motivation for heading out the front door in the morning – to lend her warmth, goodness, expertise and compassion to those who might need a helping hand.

Rosa Young showed up at Treehouse ready, willing and able to volunteer her time, treasure and talent to actively support staff, neighbors and Treehouse Foundation board members. From the very first day she has been a value add to the Treehouse Community. Rosa radiates kindness, humor and intelligence. She is helpful to all. Rosa embodies the characteristics of an outstanding citizen and highly engaged community member:

  • She lives by her own highest standards.
  • She maintains dignity and grace in all circumstances.
  • She helps elevate the behavior of others.
  • She operates from a larger, inclusive perspective.
  • She increases the quality of every Treehouse experience.
  • She behaves with courtesy, respect, appreciation, gratitude & generosity of spirit.
  • She strengthens the integrity of all situations.
  • She increases the confidence and capabilities of others.
  • She consistently finds new ways to make life better for others.

It is an honor to know Rosa and to have her goodness woven into the fabric of everyday life in the Treehouse Community. Her contributions help restore the health and well-being of vulnerable children, families and elders, build a vibrant and caring multi-generational community model for the nation and inspire a re-envisioning of foster care in America. Myra Kraft would have loved her!

Kindred Spirits

Posted by Judy Cockerton at May 21, 2012 12:00 AM

Thirteen years ago when I became a foster parent, I had no idea that the heavy duty trash bags our social workers took out of their car and placed in my driveway were what most youngsters placed in foster care use as luggage…

I didn’t have a clue. Then I began talking to foster care alumni. It seems that garbage bags are frequently a topic of conversation when they get together. Recently I overheard a man and a woman who had grown up in foster care talking about their first pieces of real luggage. They spoke fondly about the colors and patterns of the suitcases, what they kept in them, and where they stored them in their rooms. “I remember when I traded my garbage bag in for that suitcase,” the woman said. “I was flying on Cloud Nine for days. Having my very own luggage boosted my self esteem. That suitcase was a sign that I was worthy. It became my ticket to success. I held my head higher when I was out in the world.”

Today I had the honor of driving over to 11 year old Emily’s house to pick up a car full of brand new duffle bags and suitcases for The Suitcase Project. This spring, Emily decided that she wanted to invest her time and energy supporting The Suitcase Project for the second year in a row. She approached her good friend Sarah and told her about it. They came up with a plan. They would check in with their teacher to see if all of the fifth grade classes at their school could pitch in. Thanks to their visionary teacher, the entire student body rallied to support the cause!

I drove up to Emily’s house. Sarah and her mom were carrying suitcases and duffle bags loaded with stuffed animals, journals, toiletries, baby supplies, socks, t-shirts and other goodies out to the front lawn. Emily and her mom came out of the front door right after them, arms loaded with additional items. The goodness in the air was palpable. We hugged and I told the girls how much we appreciate their vision, hard work and desire to support their peers who have been placed in foster care.

Emily and Sarah stood on the lawn behind their colorful collection to have their picture taken. They were delighted that this year’s donations will be given to social workers at the upcoming Third Annual Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Conference. They will take them to DCF area offices and share them with kids on their caseloads.

Making Suitcase Project items available to DCF staff has become a REFCA Conference tradition! I love setting up the Suitcase Project table! It reminds me of creating fun vignettes in my toy stores: suitcases & duffle bags of all sizes are set up next to colorful bins of Wish List items. Social workers are invited to walk by and “shop” for kids on their caseloads.

I love pouring whimsy, color, light and resources into the world of child welfare.

I love pouring whimsy, color, light and resources into the world of child welfare. I have done it for the past seven years at Camp To Belong MA. We set up our Camp To Belong MA Supply Cabin before campers arrive. It is chock full of brand new sleeping bags, pillows, pillow cases, duffle bags, flash lights, toiletries and beach towels that our stellar partner, Beaver Summer Programs, donates to CTB MA. Those BSP campers and their families step right up to the plate to support the kids. They want to help children and youth placed in foster care and appreciate having an easy way to do so. Just like Emily and Sarah.

Thinking about Emily and Sarah makes me smile. They are two awesome 11 year old girls who want to make a difference. And they are! Plans are already underway for next year’s Suitcase Project collection drive. I applaud the girls and can’t wait to collaborate with them again. Looking back fifty years, I see myself at age 11. Emily, Sarah and I are definitely kindred spirits!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted by Judy Cockerton at May 13, 2012 12:00 AM

I’ve been a mom since 1980.
I recall my first Mother’s Day.
May 1981…

I am a mom by birth and by adoption.
This year my youngest, who turned thirteen in December,
made a request: “Mom, instead of celebrating Mother’s Day,
can we please do something different? Can we make up a new family celebration?

Thanks to all of the adoptive parents who have gone before me and graciously shared their wisdom, I understood the importance of her request.

We sat down and talked about which relationship in her first family she wanted to honor. She chose her big sister. We went to visit her sister’s adoptive family to see if they might be up for a few tweaks to their Mother’s Day plans. They were open and flexible so the girls put their heads together and came up with a new 2012 Family Holiday – Sister Day!

We arranged to have dinner together. That way each family could spend the earlier part of the day with other family members. To honor the occasion, my daughter bought her sister a Wicked Good Cupcake. In a jar. Her favorite kind.

She wanted to give her “aunt” a Sister Day gift too so she bought her some lovely soaps. To add a bit more whimsy to the festivities, I gave the girls some fun little whale chocolates from a store in Nantucket.

We had a lovely evening. The girls felt good about their first Sister Day. Next May we may celebrate it again. Or, my daughter may choose to honor a different family relationship. I know what I’ll be doing. Paying attention. I know that the most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. So that’s what I’ll be doing next spring. The rest will come. All I have to do is be present.

Arrival Day

Posted by Judy Cockerton at May 11, 2012 12:00 AM
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On a beautiful May morning thirteen years ago today I woke up, got dressed, drove my 12 year old daughter to school, and went to work at No Kidding! – a wonderful specialty toy store in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was the day before my 48th birthday and I was in a celebratory mood. The sun was shining. Life was good. I was savoring this lush New England spring day.

I loved No Kidding! When my son was born I considered two paths: going back to school to get my PhD or owning a stellar neighborhood toy store that offered folks in the Greater Boston Area the finest in domestic and imported playthings. I opted for the second path. In 1983, with the help of friends and family, I purchased No Kidding!, a great little toy store in Brookline Village. Then I spent 16 years collaborating with a team of outstanding women to offer the community a unique No Kidding! experience. Together we served families in the best ways possible and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the process.

On this beautiful May morning, I entered the store and smiled. It was brimming with color, joy, whimsy and light. Janet Dennis, our wonderful Crate and Barrel designer, had been in the night before. Everything looked lovely. All I had to do was re-stock the shelves before we opened. After greeting my colleagues, I went downstairs to gather up dolls, games, puzzles and baby toys. As I traveled up and down the stairs, I thought about the MAPP Training class that my husband and I had completed the night before. We were preparing to become foster parents and were required to complete this course before a child would be placed in our home. I wondered when that might be.

I checked to make sure staff was in place, opened the store, and headed down the stairs for some more toys. While filling my bags a colleague informed me that I had a phone call. I remember picking up the phone and hearing our social worker on the other end of the line. Since I had just seen her the night before, I thought perhaps she was following up about the course. Instead she said, “We have two beautiful little sisters. They are five months old and seventeen months old. Will you take them into your home?” Tears filled my eyes. I put the bags of art supplies on the basement floor and sat down in a chair. I asked for some additional information and told her I needed to call my husband. I made the phone call and called her back within five minutes to say, “Yes!”

“Great!” she said. “We’ll be at your house in an hour!” I told her I didn’t have high chairs, a crib, car seats, diapers or any other infant/toddler accoutrements. I asked her for two hours. Then I called my daughter’s school and told them I was on my over to pick her up. “She’s going to become a big sister in a couple of hours,” I remember saying.

That shopping experience with my twelve year old will remain etched in my mind forever. There we were, excited beyond belief, standing in the diaper section of the store. I was so delighted that there was a young mom standing there who recognized our bewilderment and helped us. She told my daughter, “Go get another cart!” and then proceeded to walk us around the store, helping us select the right items. We loaded everything into the car and drove home. As we opened our car doors, I turned to see the social workers driving into the driveway. My husband pulled in right behind them.

On May 11, 1999 I had no idea that my life was going to change dramatically. I didn’t know that these two beautiful little girls were going to be the most powerful teachers I ever had or that I would sell my stores to become a full time child advocate. All I understood was that they needed me. I dove in headfirst and learned how to best meet their needs along the way.

I am profoundly grateful to all of the amazingly generous and compassionate people I have met over the past thirteen years. They have enriched my journey and our lives beyond measure.

Today is May 11, 2012. I open the front door, take the dog out, and drink in the beauty of this gorgeous spring day. I smile at the fond memories, embrace my entire extended family, bow to lessons learned and those to come. I plan to spend the day celebrating life-long connections with my loved ones!

Anna’s Goodness & Grace

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Apr 16, 2012 12:00 AM
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Anna KirwanThis morning we gathered at the Community Center to honor the life of Anna Kirwan, one of our beloved Treehouse community members. Anna died in her home last week, surrounded by her loving family. The announcement in the Hampshire Daily Gazette said, “Anna C. Kirwan, 63, of Easthampton, died early Easter Sunday, courageous and sweet to the end.”

I have met many wonderful people over the past decade in my tenure at Treehouse. Anna was one of my favorites. She had a vibrant and loving spirit and was a wordsmith extraordinaire. Our Writer in Residence, she inspired both the young and the young at heart while living at Treehouse.

A published author and poet, her resume was impressive. She published nine books for young readers, two poetry books, numerous short stories and an array of poems in anthologies and journals. She was a member of the Authors Guild, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a charter member of the prestigious Amherst Writers & Artists, Inc., also serving on its board of directors.

No doubt about it, Anna was accomplished. She was also one of the most generous people I have ever met. Today, as we shared our appreciation for her goodness, intelligence, and willingness to help anyone who knocked at her door, I remembered an Anna Moment – one of the many delightful encounters that we shared over the past six years. It took place in 2006, shortly after she had moved across the street from seven children who she clearly adored.

There was always a group of youngsters helping Anna with her kittens, digging with her in the beautiful flower garden she planted just outside her front door or asking to borrow a book from her vast library.

A mother of three, Anna was truly comfortable with kids. There was always a group of youngsters helping Anna with her kittens, digging with her in the beautiful flower garden she planted just outside her front door or asking to borrow a book from her vast library (one of the young women who shared her memories today spoke about the double layer of books on Anna’s bookshelves).

On this particular day, I was walking to Anna’s house to return a book she had loaned me. An avid reader myself, I was drawn to the reading sanctuary she had created with her white couch, tall bookshelves, rocking chair, piano and favorite objects. I had to stop myself from pulling a book off the shelf, plopping down on the couch and passing the day reading – one of my favorite pastimes.

“Come in!”, Anna called when the doorbell rang. I opened the door on a magical scene. Anna was seated in her rocking chair – a family heirloom that her grandmother had rocked her father in when he was a baby. One of her young neighbors was on the couch across from her with a kitten lying across his stomach. She was reading to him from a large book lying on her lap. A feeling of peace was floating through the air. They were both lost in the story’s adventure. I felt privileged to witness this Anna Moment. It was such a gift – for the child who was being nurtured in such a safe and loving environment, for Anna whose goodness was deeply appreciated, and for me.

I was able to witness this kind and generous person who had chosen to move to Treehouse – a newly launched multigenerational neighborhood designed to support families adopting children from foster care – living the Treehouse mission and vision in the most loving way possible.

Murmuring my appreciation for the borrowed book, I placed it on the coffee table and quietly slipped out the door. The magic of that moment is something I will never forget. It was what child welfare professionals call “best practice”.

Many people at today’s Celebration of Life mentioned their appreciation of Anna’s “best practices”: as a writing teacher, friend, neighbor, role model, storyteller, wise elder and fellow traveler on this journey called Life. Anna created a sacred space for anyone who asked. We are blessed to have shared our lives with her
and to carry her forever in our hearts.

Sibling Connections Mentors & Guides

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Mar 10, 2012 12:00 AM

Over the past few months I have had the distinct pleasure of chatting with a group of veteran Camp To Belong MA campers – young people who have experienced our week long Sibling Connections summer program at some time over the past seven years.

I have met up with them at youth leadership gatherings, during sibling visits, at Treehouse, and around town. As we share our favorite memories of CTB MA, I find one common theme always emerges: In addition to seeing their sisters and brothers, the kids really appreciate that they have the opportunity to spend time with outstanding role models – our CTB MA volunteer counselors, ranging in age from 21 – 63, who introduce them to new life options as they begin to envision life after foster care.

Campers say they enjoy learning from young adults who are attending college, working, living on their own or with roommates. They like seeing older couples who model respectful relationships and healthy parenting. They feel grateful for the adult siblings come come to camp together and highlight different ways sisters and brothers stay connected. They love hearing from foster care alumni about things that worked for them as they emancipated from the child welfare system.

Being introduced to this vast array of life choices is something every youth I talk with thoroughly enjoys about the Camp To Belong MA experience. They also like the fact that they can spend additional quality time with Sibling Connections volunteer counselors if they choose to attend our year-round Sibling Saturday and Sibling Sunday programs.

Lynn knows all too well that every year 25,000 young people “age out” of our state child welfare systems, typically between the ages of 18 – 22, and are sent out into the world without all the supports we take for granted: enduring family relationships, community connections, a home.

Connecting with role models and mentors is truly important for our nation’s children and youth placed in foster care. As Camp To Belong founder, Lynn Price, a foster care alumna says, “One thing we know for sure. Our young people who are experiencing foster care today will grow up and leave the system.”

As someone who did just that, Lynn knows all too well that every year 25,000 young people “age out” of our state child welfare systems, typically between the ages of 18 – 22, and are sent out into the world without all the supports we take for granted: enduring family relationships, community connections, a home.

The result: they face homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, teen parenting, isolation and exploitation as they make their way into adulthood. Many times there is no one investing in their lives or their futures. No one is listening to their dreams or offering to help them find the necessary resources that will help them move forward in the best possible ways. Frequently they lack role models to show them how to make positive choices that will result in good outcomes. Sadly for many of our young people whose lives have been impacted by foster care, when they emancipate from foster care, no one is even making sure they have a hot meal.

  • 65% emancipate from foster care without a place to live.
  • 25% become homeless within the first two years
  • 51% are unemployed
  • 25% become incarcerated
  • Less than 3% go to college
  • Within 4 years, 60% have had children, and those children are twice as likely to be placed in foster care.

Due to these realities, I listen very closely when our CTB MA campers tell me what they find helpful. As one of the leaders of Sibling Connections, I also want to make sure that our programming is meeting the emerging needs of CTB MA campers.

Here are some of the stories campers have shared:

One young woman said two of her CTB MA counselors became her foster parents and provided her with a secure home environment. Then they helped her successfully complete high school, find a job, set up a bank account, learn to drive and get her driver’s license. They also guided her through her college application process, helped her transition to college and remain in her life as role models and extended family members.

Another young woman told me that she thoroughly enjoys the time she spends with her sisters at CTB MA and will always treasure the memories she has of their time together. Equally important for her: to spend time with female counselors who are college students or college graduates; young adults who are out in the world following their dreams. She spoke of how critical it is for her to hear counselors speak about the road ahead. She likes asking them specific questions. She loves it when they offer to help her create her own roadmap forward. She said that her CTB MA counselors inspire her to dream and seek the resources she needs to achieve the life she envisions for herself.

A young man shared that he likes being with his siblings and at this time in his life, he finds it even more important to be in a sane and peaceful environment that is so different from the one he has grown up in. He appreciates being with an intergenerational group of counselors. He is especially grateful for the male role models at camp because he has never lived with his father. This youth has a concrete vision for his life and needs a bridge to help him transition to a new era. He talks with CTB MA counselors about college options and what he needs to do over the next few years so he can actually achieve his dreams.

Poverty is the root cause of foster care. One young man who understands this reality said that he was placed in foster care because his family has not been able to move out from under the shadow of poverty. He wants to break this cycle but is not sure how to do it. He knows he does not want to be the next generation of our nation’s homeless and poor. When he’s at CTB MA he feels energized by the team of hardworking counselors. They give him hope. They talk with him about the importance of a high school diploma. They offer to tutor him. He knows they will help.

A 14 year old said that she loves everything about CTB MA! It is the place where she feels like she is a regular kid just doing what typical siblings and families do. Those positive emotions fill her up so when she goes back to school feeling “different” and “less than” she can pull out her CTB MA photo album and re-live her time at camp. Her memories strengthen and sustain her.

The mission of Sibling Connections focuses on providing sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care with opportunities to come together to create joyous shared memories all year long.

The vision of Sibling Connections is that one day all sisters and brothers who are placed in foster care will be provided with year-round programs and events that allow them to spend time together engaged in developmentally appropriate activities with trained volunteer counselors from their communities who act as stellar role models and mentors.

Listening to campers and counselors who participate in our programs is a critical piece of our evaluation process. It is inspiring to see how many people who have entered the world of child welfare through Sibling Connections programming have gone on to become valuable resources to campers: social workers, foster parents, medical professionals, adoptive parents, educators, visiting resources, philanthropists, animal therapy providers, mental health professionals
and more!

These important conversations over the past 7 years have helped us develop our roadmap forward. Here’s to the next 7 years! May we all continue investing in widespread foster care innovation so that every child is rooted in family and a community that supports in their health and well-being.

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