Cleveland Angels Connection
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
Five years ago our founding board traveled to Austin, Texas to gain a deeper understanding of the programs and business model of National Angels. They returned to Cleveland to launch Cleveland Angels and began the journey to reach and serve every child and youth experiencing foster care in Greater Cleveland.
When this team began the process to found Cleveland Angels, they did so because they knew every child and youth deserved to have someone cheering them on and empowering them to reach their fullest potential. They also believed the families who said yes to fostering deserved to have caring community members walk alongside them on their journey to enable them to continue saying yes to our kids who desperately need their consistent love and support.
Over the past five years we have gained a deeper understanding of the foster care community and what role we can play in helping to strengthen support. We have also learned more about the devastating statistics our youth in care face if they age out without consistent, caring role models and support. This fuels us to push harder and passionately pursue these deserving youth because we KNOW that together we can change the experience of foster care and the statistics our kids are facing.
For National Women's History month we would like to honor the women who made this mission possible. We are grateful to our founder, Susan Ramirez, for her vision, passion and dedication to found National Angels. The ripples she has created will be felt for years to come! Thank you to our founding board members for their dedication and commitment to serving children and youth in our community. They helped start this movement in Cleveland and we are energized by the momentum we have gained!
Thank you to each and every volunteer, partner and investor who believes what we believe...that everyone can do something to impact the life of a child. We cannot wait to see what the next five years will bring!
Come celebrate this important milestone with us on April 21st at the Foster the Future fundraiser and be a part of fostering the future for youth in the years to come! Click below for more information.
Pictured (L to R): Colleen Mansuetto, Beth Draeger, Susan Ramirez, Gretchen Dupps, Stephanie Sharpnack, Kristin Caputo, Tess Smith
the year of covid-19
It has been about one year since we all faced the biggest change ever experienced in our lives, Covid-19. Looking back, we are amazed at the way this community came together and all we were able to accomplish despite the challenges of, and also in response to, the pandemic. Cleveland Angels was able to safely provide care for its kids, youth, and families in need. Those were, and still are, tough times for youth impacted by foster care, and it is imperative, now more than ever, that they know that they are loved.
Throughout the pandemic, our Love Box leaders were still delivering Love Boxes while following the CDC social distancing guidelines. The Love Box leaders would deliver these boxes of goodies and necessities to the family's doorstep and would see smiling children peeking through the windows eager to receive their boxes.
In 2020, Dawn signed up to be a Love Box leader and soon formed a strong relationship with long time foster mom, Ms. Winnie and the 2 children in her care. Dawn went above and beyond and stepped in to help care for the kids when Ms. Winnie was unexpectedly hospitalized. Dawn provided the children with Christmas gifts, extra groceries, and guidance.
"This year, the girls have had to navigate Covid and online school, on top of having jobs. When their foster mom was hospitalized, it resulted in yet another housing change.
Many children and families experienced greater needs this year, which is why Cleveland Angels created an Amazon wish list where our community could purchase and provide for emergent needs of our families. Community members were also able to drop off purchased items through no contact donation drops that were scheduled at the Cleveland Angels office. This idea arose once we realized that the pandemic had led to a host of new needs that not all foster parents had the capacity to provide for their families. In addition to meeting immediate needs, teens at Metro Health received well-being and hygiene bags, kids received summer fun boxes, and families received special deliveries from Love Box leaders.
Angel Relief campaign
The Angel Relief Campaign was launched specifically to help families during Covid-19. This campaign gained many followers, donations, and an overwhelming amount of support, which we are so thankful for. The rate of newborns coming into foster care in 2020 was quite large, which led to the creation of the Angel Relief Campaign. Along with the no contact drop offs and an Amazon wish list, the Angel Relief Campaign received several donations from the community to help provide extra support, care, and financial relief for foster families in need. Throughout the campaign, Cleveland Angels partnered with the Metro Health Medical Home for Foster Care and other volunteers to meet the immediate need brought on by the increased rate of newborns entering the foster care system, which included anything from diapers to cribs. We were grateful that Channel 5 news covered this campaign which helped us reach more kids in need. By meeting the needs of our newborns, foster families were able to say yes to a placement and say yes to giving a child safety and unconditional love. As you can see in the picture below, the community response to these needs was amazing through our Angel Relief Campaign. We are so thankful to be a part of this amazing Cleveland Angels community that came together to help our youth!
We are proud of what we have accomplished this past year and how many children we were able to serve despite these uncertain times. It is truly a blessing to be able to provide support for the children, youth and families in our community. We are excited to see what the rest of 2021 has in store for us, and because of our generous supporters, we look forward to serving even more children and families in our Cleveland Angels community!
An Interview with Executive Director, Gretchen Dupps, and President of the Board, Christy Rutkowski
Cleveland Angels recently celebrated three years of walking alongside children, youth, and families impacted by the foster care system and we could not be more proud of everything we have accomplished. This past year, in particular, presented many new challenges and obstacles, but our struggles taught us valuable lessons and helped us develop new strengths. As we enter our fourth year, we have made some changes to our leadership structure in order to improve the efficiency and impact of our organization. Our founder and Executive Director Gretchen Dupps still leads Cleveland Angels with passion and drive, but she is now joined by our new President of the Board, Christy Rutkowski. In this interview with Gretchen and Christy, they share their personal experience with Cleveland Angels, their new roles within the organization, and what they are looking forward to within their positions.
“I know what it is like to have the unknown and trauma brought into your home. There is secondary trauma and underlying stress for everyone in the home. It is so important to make everyone a family member, a part of your home, and a part of your heart. Providing support to the entire foster family (foster parents, children in care, adopted and biological children) is what I believe will change the face of foster care.” -Gretchen Dupps
Christy first heard about Cleveland Angels from our current Program Director, Apryl Rashid. After leaving the construction industry, Christy spent time as a stay-at-home mom homeschooling her two oldest children. During that time, she and her husband were active foster parents for 4 years through Cuyahoga County and adopted one of the young girls they fostered into their family. Christy and Apryl met through their foster parent training courses. Apryl shared with Christy about Cleveland Angels and a job opening within the organization. After having closed their home to more foster children, Christy saw that as the perfect opportunity to continue feeding her passion for educating others about foster care and advocating and supporting children and families impacted by the foster care system. Christy started her journey with Cleveland Angels by working as one of our first case managers but transitioned to our Church and Community Engagement Chair on the board in 2019.
As a foster parent herself, Christy knows the flood of emotions that comes with that title. The fear of the unknown, the daunting feeling of being lonely, the joy of creating a better life for children, and the love for the kids and the relationship you create. From personal experience, she knows how important it is to have someone to show up. Whether it be to provide goods, spend time with the kids, converse with the adults, and give the biological kids in the home some extra attention too. It is critical to value and see everyone equally.
“My drive is putting a face to what foster care is. To bring awareness and advocacy to these families. It is so important to have wraparound care for the family. I can remember incidents where my biological children were in need of something and they had to wait because there was something more pressing at the moment. It is important to me that our programs and mission, create an environment for everyone to be seen and everyone to be valued” -Christy rutkowski
For the first year of operation, Cleveland Angels was run by a volunteer working board who helped run the day-to-day operations, fundraise, build relationships and connect within the community. It was, and still is, an all-hands-on-deck community, but we were able to hire our first case manager, Apryl Rashid, in spring of 2019. Working in both roles of President and Executive Director, Gretchen, was managing board work and communications, training the new staff, running day-to-day operations, planning and executing events, and much more. With a growing list of responsibilities, Gretchen felt that Cleveland Angels would benefit from a new balance of leadership as she stepped down from her official position of President of the Board. Christy had become actively involved in many facets of the business and was more than qualified to take on the role of President of the board. Christy and Gretchen now work in tandem to help operate our growing organization.
As President, Christy now leads the board and continues to build relationships and networks within the community. In the role of Executive Director, Gretchen continues to run day-to-day operations, working closely with our case management staff, marketing team, and interns, executes events and outreach initiatives and helps to build our funding base. Gretchen and Christy will continue to work alongside one another; collaborating to build strategic growth plans to further our reach and serve more children. With a working board of 11 people, a growing staff, and large intern classes, Christy and Gretchen will work closely together to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Both Gretchen and Christy are filled with passion and dedication for the mission of the Cleveland Angels. Their commitment and determination are complementary to one another and they hold the staff and board to a high standard of work ethic. Working together, they will grow networks in our community, diversify our volunteer and donor base and increase the impact for children and families in Greater Cleveland.
We are grateful to have Christy step into this new role as President, and look forward to seeing this partnership continue to build and grow Cleveland Angels.
In this blog post, we wanted to let the English family share their story about fostering and adopting during a global pandemic and how their Cleveland Angels Love Box group made a world of difference when they were in need of a community to support them.
"We have always been blessed to have a tight knit community in both our church and our small town. We had heard of the Cleveland Angels and thought they sounded like an amazing group, but we didn't want to take an opportunity away from a foster family who might not have had the community that we had. About a year and a half after we adopted our first daughter, Hailo, we decided to take in another foster placement. We picked up Liana from the hospital when she was two days old. After she had been exhibiting some concerning symptoms, we took her to the emergency room at two weeks old to find that she had a congenital heart defect and would need open heart surgery.
Her surgery took place at the end of January and she came home from the hospital at the beginning of February. In just a matter of days, Covid-19 became a major headline in America and just a few weeks later, everything shut down. With the shut down came the loss of our community. Since Liana was just weeks out of surgery, we had to keep her home and safe. An energetic three year old and a medically fragile infant made for a long and stressful spring. Fortunately, that was exactly the time we were matched with our Love Box group.
Our incredible group swooped in and filled a need at the perfect time. They did our grocery shopping, played socially-distant soccer with our active preschooler, and put together crafts and activities to do with her since we couldn't go anywhere. Throughout the week we would receive texts, phone calls, and cards of prayers and encouragement. They became the community we never knew we needed. Although we finalized Liana's adoption in September, just two days before her first birthday, they still continue to have a friendship with us that we hope will last for many years!"
November is National Adoption Month and we wanted to celebrate by sharing stories from three members of our Cleveland Angels board and staff who have personally grown their families through adoption.
Christy is a member of our board and grew her family through adoption three years ago when they adopted their daughter into their family, alongside their five biological children. Christy had always wanted to be involved in foster care, but it had never occurred to her that they could adopt through foster care. It turned out, one of their foster care placements was in need of a forever family and it felt completely natural to be that family for her.
Jacki is one of our case managers and grew her family through adoption by adopting two girls into her family of her, her husband and their two biological children. Jacki explained that even before she and her husband were married, they knew they wanted to adopt. They decided they wanted to go about that process through the foster care system. They knew there was such a need out there and they felt like God had called them to grow their family specifically in that way.
Apryl is another one of our case managers and grew her family through adoption by adopting a boy and a girl into her family, alongside her biological son and another biological child on the way. Apryl explained that it has always been the intent of her and her husband to adopt a child and in 2013, they traveled to Colombia to meet a three year old boy who was in need of a permanent home and family. After that experience, they felt they would not be at peace knowing there are still so many children in need of a home, so in 2015 they became a licensed foster home and took in a young girl at eight weeks old. She soon became a permanent part of their family as well.
reflectioning on adoption
What called you to grow your family through adoption?
Christy: I always wanted to be involved in foster care, but it never really occurred to me that we would adopt through foster care. As life would have it, one of our placements was in need of a forever family and it just felt natural to be that family for her.
Jacki: My husband and I knew before we were even married that we wanted to adopt. When the time came, we decided to become foster parents in hopes of eventually adopting one of our placements. We knew there was such a need out there and we felt like God had called us to help and grow our family specifically through foster care. In the nine years since we have been in the foster care/adoption world, our views have changed so much. We were pretty naïve when we started out, but our understanding of the system and the children is much better now than when we started.
Apryl: I can’t really name what it was that called us to adopt. I can say that for some reason, the impetus to nurture patiently, to pass along the love I learned from my own mother was always a strong force in me. In high school, whenever I had a choice, I wrote my research papers on adoption or family law. At 16, I went to NYC with a school group. My young, small town mind ended up completely obsessed with the Broadway show I saw there, Miss Saigon. I was so affected by the intensity of this woman’s story of loving a child so much she would sacrifice herself to provide him a chance at a better life. That show became my touchstone to process why and how parents might part with their kids. When I went on to college and my world opened up, my interest in child development, cultural differences in family dynamics, and social services for children throughout the world became my focus. How could I help? I have a very distinct memory of finally seriously talking with my future husband about getting married, and telling him he should know how serious I was about adoption being something that I wanted for my own family. I didn’t need to say it though; he already knew. He has been the most supportive and kind dad to all of our kids, no matter how long or briefly they’ve been with us, or what their struggles have been. I feel amazingly lucky to have a partner who truly wants to use his life and time to be there for kids who need him. Plus, he is exceedingly handsome! (That last bit was his edit).
Was there anything about the adoption process you had no idea to expect?
Christy: Adoption is very easy in the sense that you love a child, but it’s very hard because it comes at a great loss. I think the part I didn’t expect was the tidal wave of emotions I felt on adoption day. I was very excited and happy to have our daughter be part of our family forever, but after developing a relationship with her birth mom, I also felt a deep sorrow for what had transpired to bring us to that point.
Jacki: While this child is now a part of your family forever, your family is forever changed. Continued growth in areas of cultural competency, the adoptee experience and identity are all important things you will need to consciously work through.
Apryl: Having been through both international and local adoption through the foster care system, I can say there were things that surprised me about both. The world of international adoption has shifted a lot, even since we experienced it, so I’m not sure I can speak at all to what anyone considering that would go through today. For us, the level of psychological testing required by our program was definitely a bit of a shock, as well as the amount of changing circumstances within our agency as we went, and then the intricacy of the paperwork required. It was overwhelming. Yet, we have the most beautiful memories of the people who hosted us in Colombia - people who truly cared for the kids & families they helped unite; people who fed us turkey lunch meat and boiled potatoes as a surprise one evening because they knew we were missing our American Thanksgiving back home. It was an incredible time.
Our second adoption was in a way, worlds simpler and worlds more complicated for us as parents. On one hand, yes it took two years to arrive at an adoption day just as the first had, but the actual adoption, once the state had secured custody of the child, was relatively straightforward, affordable, and pretty quick. However, having parented her during those years and living with ups and downs of what may happen, if she would leave, where she may go, would she be safe...all of this was a learning experience for us emotionally. Through fostering, we have had to examine our biases, learn to balance our own feelings with what is truly best, and do the work to understand more deeply the wounds children experiencing trauma face.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is considering fostering or adopting youth, what would it be?
Christy: My advice would be have no expectations. Walk through each moment as it comes and walk with people who are also walking through the same journey. You will need the support for the roller coaster you are about to go on.
Jacki: To never put expectations on the child or outcome. Things will always change and you need to be ready to pivot. Uncertainty is a part of the fostering and adoption journey. The sooner you accept this, the better it will go.
Apryl: Know yourself well before you jump in. Be sure you know the ways you cope, both healthy and unhealthy, because your skills in that area will be tested, undoubtedly. Know your true intentions. Know deeply if you are ready to be devoted to a child who has been through trauma, even if the trauma was separating from their biological mother right at birth. It matters, and it will affect their lives. Know your capacity to accept children who will not be a mirror of you- not only physically, but very likely also in interests, in emotional regulation, and in how they interpret the world. If you enter it all with an open mind and heart, you are giving the child and yourself the best opportunity to make it work.
Can you describe what it felt like to officially complete the adoption process?
Jacki: It was very exciting and full of joy. We had thought for 10 months our daughter would be leaving, and she didn't. When we finalized the adoption, all those months of uncertainty changed and she was to forever be a part of our family.
Apryl: I was honestly in awe at our son’s adoption. Seeing him in bed in our home the first night; it felt very surreal that we’d been entrusted with this child and that he was ours to love. For me, he made me a mother. That’s an altogether intense and visceral thing on it’s own, but even more so after waiting, hoping, and working toward that goal for so long. I felt overjoyed.
At the same time, we are always aware that for him, the story did not begin there, and that he and his birth family walked through tragic circumstances for this to have happened. I have never liked the idea of him having been “chosen” or “meant to be” part of our family, to be very candid. When it comes to adoption, the love of a newly created family is a wonderful part of the story, but it is only part. We know that in another circumstance, we ourselves could have been the ones not able to care for our child, and in age-appropriate ways, we are really open with our children about how we came to be a family. We do not forget or take for granted the true privilege we have to raise these precious kids.
Why do you think families who are in the process of fostering or adopting should get involved with Cleveland Angels?
Christy: Everyone who volunteers to be a foster home or walks through adoption needs and deserves the support they can get from the volunteers at Cleveland Angels. Even if it is something as easy as a gift card for a meal or someone to play with a child so a parent can get a much-needed break, help is available. There are many people who don’t feel called to open their home or adopt a child, but they want to help in another way.
Jacki: As a current foster parent, I know emotional support and tangible help is so needed. Cleveland Angels provides this through their programs and helps to facilitate these relationships for foster parents. Being a part of Cleveland Angels programs offers invaluable resources for the foster family- allowing the best outcomes for the family and child to be achieved.
Apryl: In my mind, the support of a community who understands, with unending positive regard, the challenges foster and adoptive parents have daily is immeasurable. In our family, we have had nothing but the utmost support and we have had only caring, well meaning friends helping us. Still, so many days we felt isolated and like no one could really understand what we juggled, especially through the fostering process and navigating the world of parenting special needs children. We were lauded and congratulated, yet often were pained behind closed doors, not wanting to burden anyone else with what we “had signed up for.”
Cleveland Angels exists to lend consistent support to fostering families and to help share the load that comes with fostering- the unpredictability, the pain you see in your own kids as they struggle to understand saying goodbye to someone they’ve come to love, and so much more. When I first became part of this organization and entered a room full of people who were talking about kids like mine, and had the research and the goals to support families like mine, I felt relief and gratitude that made me ugly cry! It was probably quite a sight.
Every parent needs support and a rest. Every child needs to know there are people who care about them, unconditionally. This organization creates a village for families, and a pathway to a more secure future for kids who are without a permanent family. To me, there is nothing more meaningful.
Meet Joe Masi, one of our incredible Dare to Dream Mentors!
Joe is a local facilitator and coach who brings groups and individuals to the next level in their work and lives, which can be anything from building self confidence to working on how to authentically connect with others.
Joe found his way to Cleveland Angels after meeting our executive director, Gretchen, at a charity event. After learning about Cleveland Angels, he knew he wanted to be a part of it in any way possible. He had always wanted to work with youth impacted by the foster care system, so it was the perfect opportunity
Joe has now been an active Dare to Dream mentor for the past four months and was matched with a youth who has decided to call him "Coach" due to their shared love of basketball.
"I love what Cleveland Angels is doing for the foster care community. From the moment I began working with Gretchen and Apryl, I felt and have been inspired by the immense love and devotion they have for the children and families in the foster care system. I am so happy to be a part of the Dare to Dream mission."
When asked what experiences have stood out to him so far as a Dare to Dream mentor, he said, “It was probably the first time I met my mentee. He's not big on eye contact but there was a moment where he locked eyes with me and smiled and I smiled back. It was like it was his way of saying, 'I trust you.' It was a pretty great way to start things off.”
Joe has also found it very rewarding to know that his mentee feels heard and seen. Joe says, “He loves to talk with me and for a 13-year-old boy to want to do that is a pretty good sign he feels comfortable and valued.”
Finally, Joe shared why he thinks mentorship is so valuable for youth, especially for those who have experienced foster care. He said, “It sends a very powerful message of, "you matter' to a youth. On some level they feel important, seen and heard. I also think adults have a responsibility to make sure that children, especially those who don't have adults in their life, are shown their worth and receive guidance towards healthy and loving ways of living. It also provides a consistent level of structure in their life which is an important part of developing well in formative years.”
Thank you Joe for everything you are doing for the Cleveland Angels community and your mentee. We cannot wait to see your relationship grow and blossom into something that will hopefully impact both of your lives for the better.
Featuring Founder and Executive Director, Gretchen Dupps
You may be surprised to learn that Cleveland Angels has only existed for a little over two years. The work that has been done in such a short amount of time has been monumental. Although we are extremely proud of where Cleveland Angels is now, the journey to get to this point was not without challenges. In this interview with Executive Director and founder of Cleveland Angels, Gretchen Dupps, Gretchen shares what her personal experience founding Cleveland Angels was like and what she is excited about moving forward.
When was the first time you heard about National Angels/ Austin Angels?
The first time I heard about Austin Angels was through a live stream of one of their first big fundraisers during November of 2017. They were featuring a panel of women who were speaking about their experiences with foster care and adoption. I had not been following Austin Angels specifically, but found the live stream through one of the panel members who had a large online following. I sat down to eat my lunch while watching the live stream and I was hooked. I had been looking for some way to bring light to children who were being affected by the opioid crisis, which sadly has a significant overlap with the foster care system. This seemed like the perfect avenue to not only educate about the rise in numbers of children coming into foster care, but I also loved the model to support the entire foster family. My family fostered children in our home when I was growing up and I know first-hand the impact it has not only on the children in care, but every member of the family. Three days later, I had already reached out to Austin Angels and started the process of establishing what is now Cleveland Angels.
Do you remember how you felt when you decided to start on the journey of founding Cleveland Angels?
I started my journey with Cleveland Angels by talking to a few people who were already working with National Angels. I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of the organization and my role while launching here in Cleveland. The team in Austin also thoroughly vets potential presidents for each chapter prior to giving the okay to move forward with chapter formation. The first person I talked with was Tavia, who is a founding board member of Austin Angels and their current Vice President. Next, I talked with Gwen who is the Executive Director of Amarillo Angels and the first person to establish a chapter outside of Austin with National Angels. She shared her experience and insights into what it would take to form a chapter here in Cleveland. Neither of them sugar-coated what it would be like to get a chapter started, but both were encouraging and ensured the ongoing support we would receive and the impact we could make through the programs. Finally, in January I talked to Susan, the CEO and founder of Austin Angels, and she gave me the official go ahead to launch Cleveland Angels.
I remember feeling excited and energized about preparing to lead this organization because I knew it was going to be really impactful for the Cleveland foster care community. I also went into this knowing that it was not going to be a small project, and I was ready for that. At the end of the day, I knew it was something that I just had to do.
What was the most intimidating obstacle when starting?
When I started, I knew that I was going to need a strong board filled with people I could rely on. I reached out to friends and acquaintances that I thought would have a heart for this type of work and our mission. I needed people who could walk alongside me, but I also wanted to make sure they were committed to the mission. An interesting outcome of this search was while talking to a friend, who I had known since moving to Cleveland in 2004, to see if she would be interested in serving on the board, I found out that she actually had connections to foster care. I knew she had a heart for children but I had no idea that she had also had a family member who fostered in the past. There have been other instances where I found out that acquaintances also had some experience with foster care. Overall, I just feel really lucky that I got to start this organization with such passionate and strong women on our founding board.
What surprised you the most about starting a chapter of a nonprofit?
I think what surprised me the most was the process of fundraising. We were focused on the programs and the initial funding to establish the chapter and didn't really give as much thought to the ongoing process of fundraising required to run a chapter. We led with our hearts for this work, but it was definitely more challenging than I anticipated. There is always a steep learning curve when you are doing something for the first time. For the most part, it has been a really positive experience though. Being able to see our community come together and support one another has been amazing. Sometimes it can feel like there's a lot of weight on my shoulders to support the organization and mission as Executive Director. Then I focus on the amazing, caring community who all want to see us succeed, and our dedicated staff and board, and I know that together we will do what needs to be done to support our children and families.
What do you think is unique to Cleveland Angels compared to the national organization or other chapters?
I don't know if it is really unique to Cleveland Angels, but I think it is incredible to have made so many great strides in such a short amount of time. Even in this past month, we have seen the number of families and volunteers involved with Cleveland Angels continue to rise. We are now serving 94 children and their families monthly! Of course this growth didn’t happen overnight. It took us some time to reach out to county and private child placement agencies, explain our program model, and gain their trust. They are rightfully protective of their families and children, so we had to prove that we were going to be a trustworthy and valuable partner for them. Since making these connections, things have really taken off! We still have so much potential for growth, which is really exciting.
If you could give yourself some advice two years ago, what would it be?
I think I would tell myself that I would definitely face challenges, but I needed to try to not take any of it personally. This work is not about me; it's about serving the children. I would also remind myself that I am going to have to make a lot of asks and it can take lots of noes to get the yeses we need. Finally, I would tell myself that the challenges are going to be worth it in the end.
What are you most proud of that Cleveland Angels has accomplished in the past two years?
There are many things, but I am really proud that we have had so many volunteers who have said YES and committed to our programs, which allows us to serve so many children in the Cleveland foster care community. I am also really proud of the momentum we have recently gained and the growth we are having. I am so excited to see what we can accomplish together as our team and volunteer network grows. Knowing the challenges we have faced and the successes we have celebrated in the past two years, we are all the more ready to move forward and work together as a team and community to help support even more families and youth in the foster care community.
What many families and volunteers have found after joining our Cleveland Angels program is that there is a very special bond between a Love Box group and the family they serve. Two groups of people, who often have never met before, suddenly become constant forces of love, support, and understanding in one another’s lives. In the case of foster parents Leanne and Dustin, they found that they really did develop a strong bond with the volunteers who came to their house to deliver their Love Boxes. Those volunteers are Cynthia and her daughter Sarah. This post is a feature of both of their stories and experiences with Cleveland Angels interconnected with one another since they have both become such important parts of each other’s lives. We are so grateful to have all of these wonderful people in our organization, as they exemplify exactly what we are trying to do for the Cleveland foster care community.
Leanne and Dustin have been one of the incredible families in our Love Box program since this past winter. They are proud foster parents right now to two babies, one 13 months old and the other 7 weeks old. Leanne and Dustin’s journey with foster care began early in their marriage when they found out they would not be able to have biological children. Years later, they realized that they still had room in their hearts and home and decided to be a safe place for young children to learn and grow until their parents and/or family could provide them with the life they deserve. They became certified foster parents last June, and within 45 minutes of being a certified foster home, they got their first placement and took in a set of young siblings that very night. They cared for those children for seven weeks and after taking a month off to regroup, took in their third child in September and their fourth only a few weeks ago.
Cynthia and Sarah are a mother daughter duo who have been volunteers in our Love Box program since this past February. Cynthia explained that Sarah and her were looking for volunteer opportunities they could do together and after their neighbor told them about Cleveland Angels, they knew it was what they were called to do. They saw it as a perfect opportunity for them to do something together that would hopefully bring other people support and joy.
Leanne and Dustin found their way to Cleveland Angels after hearing about the organization from a fellow foster parent. They decided to gauge their interest in participating by attending our summer picnic and found that although they only knew one person there, everyone was welcoming and inviting. They had a wonderful time visiting with the other families, the kids were able to run around and play, and from that point forward, they knew they wanted to continue growing with Cleveland Angels.
Fast forward a few months to the winter of 2020 and Leanne and Dustin were matched with their first Love Box group, which included volunteers Cynthia and Sarah. Cynthia explained that the first time they got together at their house they felt like the two families immediately clicked. They spent their time listening to Dustin and Leanne explain what it means to them to be a foster family and the emotional and physical challenges they face. Leanne explained that since Cynthia and Sarah have become acquainted with their family, “they have walked alongside them, let them know they can do hard things, cried with them, laughed with them, and blessed them the entire time."
Both fostering and being a volunteer have their own unique challenges, but also reap rewards that make the entire process worth it. Leanne explained that “fostering has been the hardest thing [they have] ever done mentally and emotionally, [but] it has also been the most rewarding. Staying connected to other foster families has been a tremendous blessing and [they] suggest finding a group of other foster parents to stay in connection with. Learning to accept any support you can is also huge.”
“For someone who is proactive and a planner, fostering often throws you curveballs and with so many working pieces and people it can be difficult to plan ahead. Not being able to see the full picture can be difficult too. You have to stay focused on the children and provide them with the home they need during that time.” -Leanne
Sarah and Cynthia have recently been facing a challenge that many of our volunteers can relate to, which is having to figure out how to support their family during a global pandemic. Cynthia explained that they are doing their best to be there for them by keeping in touch by talking through the storm door at their house, and dropping off meals on the porch.
In regards to the rewarding aspects of foster care, Leanne explained that getting to watch the children grow and learn is extremely rewarding. “Helping them on their journey is so sweet and even though you won't always get to see the fruits of that labor, knowing that you helped them during a season of their life is so worth it. It's also rewarding if the situation allows you to walk alongside the parent(s) in any way and help them to be the people they need to be for their children.”
When asked what mark Sarah and her hope to leave on the Cleveland foster care community, Cynthia said, “It is my hope that Sarah and I can be a positive source of support for the entire family, allowing the children to know that they have a wide network of people who love them, and being there as someone to lean-on for the foster parents. Everyone needs love, support, and understanding!”
Both of these families exemplify what Cleveland Angels stands for — compassion, understanding, perseverance, and most importantly, love. We could not be more grateful to have them in our community and we can’t wait to see how their families grow and flourish.
As we launch the Cleveland Connection blog, we wanted to introduce our organization to those who may be unfamiliar with who we are and what we do.
Cleveland Angels is the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization called National Angels, which was was created to support families and children experiencing foster care.⠀
We know that foster care is HARD - on the children who are placed in the system as a result of abuse/neglect at home, on the caregivers who open up their homes to them, and on the biological families being separated. We know that children in foster care are of the most vulnerable children in our population, and often fall victim to homelessness, human trafficking, incarceration, struggles with mental health, and more.⠀
The National Angels organization started as volunteer groups throwing fun service events and extracurricular activities for children in foster care. Over time, support for foster care became less about the one-time activities and gifts (which still have their time and place)... and more about the real bonds that were forming. It was about the lives being changed as a result of community, consistency, and intentionality.⠀
What started as a single chapter in Austin, TX quickly grew into a national organization with chapters opening up in major cities like DFW, Cleveland, Seattle, Houston and more all across the country. These chapters are building communities of people that walk alongside foster families and youth in their normal, everyday lives. These communities are providing much needed wrap-around support - intentional gifts, healthy relationships, mentorship, resources, emergency support and more - for kids in foster care as well as families who care for them.
LOVE BOX PROGRAM
The Love Box Program was created to provide our local foster care community with consistent, customized and holistic support. Our Love Box volunteers are everyday people from the Cleveland community, who are matched with foster families based on zip code and compatibility. These volunteers help meet practical, financial and emotional needs for the entire family.⠀
Our "Love Box" may LOOK like a traditional cardboard box, but this program is so much more than a box of stuff - it’s about relationships, connection and support.⠀
Depending on the family's needs, Love Box support could be a box filled with practical items like groceries, paper products, seasonal activities, special treats, etc. But Love Box support could also look like volunteers offering to babysit, tutoring or helping with homework, planning a child's birthday celebration, or even chipping in for a new washing machine (which has happened twice already!)⠀
And even in the midst of today's social distancing, our volunteers are still supporting their families through porch drop offs, grocery shopping, submitting online orders, sending activities for kiddos, and communicating via Zoom, FaceTime, or texts.⠀
You've heard us say that foster care is HARD. But we know that if we can wrap community support around foster families, we have a much better chance at ➡️ increasing the families' overall sense of normalcy ➡️ helping caregivers feel equipped to continue this hard work ➡️ establishing much-needed stability and relational permanency for children in foster care ➡️ steering them away from negative outcomes, and creating more opportunities for their health, happiness and thriving ✨⠀
DARE TO DREAM PROGRAM
Youth who age out of the foster care system at 18 are often expected to be just as self-sufficient as their peers. But the absence of parental guidance and emotional support hinders the ability for any youth to flourish in the world -- and this is especially true for kids who have grown up in foster care.⠀
The constant lack of support and resources, combined with the multiple traumas these youth have experienced throughout their lives, greatly affects their success and well-being upon aging out. This is why youth in foster care are more likely than their peers to struggle with mental health, drop out of high school, not attend college, become homeless or incarcerated, or pregnant as a teenager.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Our waitlists have been growing rapidly, and there is a clear need for additional community support for our city's foster families and youth. Sign up to receive our emails and follow us on social media to stay in the loop about current needs and volunteer opportunities.
Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone can play a role in this mission. And we hope you'll join us!
Provided by Houston Angels:
It is a harsh reality that foster care is connected with so many other social issues of today - one of which is human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a market-driven, global industry that generates hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. It is a form of modern-day slavery when someone is exploited through force, fraud or coercion for the economic gain of another, in the form of:
Not all those who are trafficked are physically forced - in fact, most human trafficking occurs through psychological coercion, tricking, manipulation, or threats. This criminal industry affects every type of community across the country and is present amongst various ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds; however, according to the Polaris Project, roughly two-thirds of reported survivors in 2018 were women and girls. According to the nonprofit organization Children at Risk, Texas is a leading hub for human trafficking, which spans across all of our major cities and even exists in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods.
REPORTS SHOW THAT ROUGHLY 60% OF TRAFFICKING VICTIMS HERE IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE A HISTORY
Join us for a live information session by zoom, and learn more about Cleveland Angels!
Phone: (216) 206-7172
3615 Superior Ave
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
25935 Detroit Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44145