Cleveland Angels Connection
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
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.