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Wings prevention program helps pregnant teen finish high school

Eight months pregnant and living with her godmother, teenager Nasia realized quickly that finishing high school while pregnant was going to be a challenge.

Prior to living with her godmother, Nasia was sent to live with her maternal grandmother due to her biological mother’s substance abuse. When her grandmother passed away, Nasia came to live with her godmother, and it was her godmother who referred Nasia to the Chicago-based Wings prevention program.

One Hope United Wings services help new parents adjust to the responsibilities of parenthood. Targeted for new and expecting parents, Wings promotes positive parent-child interaction while working to enhance family functioning, build trusting relationships and teach problem-solving skills. The purpose of this service is to prevent child abuse and neglect.

One Hope United Case Manager Naima Normand, a neighbor of Nasia and her godmother, was assigned to work with Nasia on her parenting skills.

“Nasia is an avid reader who took great pride in learning about her baby’s development and increasing her knowledge during our home visits,” said Normand. “She was aware of the baby’s cues and followed them appropriately.”

Normand reported that Nasia adequately utilized resources such as Teen Parent Services and Illinois Action for Children to assist her with transportation, cash and child care in order to complete school and work. In the Wings program, Nasia was focused on the goals she and her case manager developed on the Individual Family Support Plan. Nasia was adamant about graduating from high school, getting her child fully potty trained, obtaining a job and finally, getting accepted into a four-year college. Naisa kept in constant contact with her caseworker and was available for each home-visiting appointment.

In school, Nasia was a proven leader. She worked on a leadership committee in which she put together a proposal for a girl’s leadership group for her school. In this group, she helped host etiquette classes for her classmates as well as spearhead community projects.

She focused on her goals and with the help of her support system, case manager and the Wings program, Nasia graduated on time in June 2009 from Youth Connections Alternative School.

Nasia is now attending Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she has obtained an off-campus apartment in order to ensure that she would be able to take her son Jarrett with her. She saved six months of rent from money she made through her after-school work and summer job working at IIT. Her next goal is to purchase a vehicle.

Please consider making a donation to the nonprofit prevention program, Wings, in honor of teens just like Nasia. Without generous donors like you, One Hope United would not be able to make a positive impact in your community. Donate Now — note Wings in the note section when donating online.

Jessica's story: Hope wins out for a forever family


In July 1996, Jessica’s mother left her in the care of an eleven-year-old cousin. The cousin physically abused two-year-old Jessica. An investigation into the incident revealed bruises and marks consistent with physical abuse.

Then on Sept. 27, 1996, the Florida Department of Children and Families received another report alleging inadequate supervision. Allegations of no caretaker present, bruises and welts on the child, and failure to protect inflicting harm were all verified by investigators.

On Nov. 25, 1996, Jessica’s already neglectful mother, who was addicted to crack cocaine, was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for suicidal ideation. While hospitalized, her mother allegedly left Jessica and her siblings with non-relatives who were unable to care for them properly. After an investigation into the whereabouts of the children, the case was closed with findings of inadequate supervision, and the children were removed from the mother’s custody and placed in foster care.

Jessica’s mother eventually left the facility and completed her case plan, so Jessica was returned to her mother’s custody. Within a week of returning to her mother’s care, DCF received another allegation of abuse.

On Dec. 19, 2000, a report was made to the Florida Abuse Registry alleging the mother’s paramour hit Jessica with a belt. Jessica reported that the mother’s paramour hung her over the top bunk bed by her neck and was choking her. Jessica was also subjected to sexual molestation by the mother’s paramour.

While Jessica’s siblings were reunified with their parents, Jessica was permanently separated from her family after nine traumatic years of on and off abuse. Jessica’s parents surrendered their parental rights.

Jessica faced many challenges in foster care. Although she understandably had therapeutic needs as a result of past abuse, she was a genuinely nice and caring girl. While in foster care, she had 24 case managers and 15 different living arrangements, including three failed adoptive placements, because she hadn’t been matched up with the right family for her. Jessica struggled to comprehend why her siblings were reunified, and she was still in foster care. She struggled with building relationships and trusting people, but with therapy and time, Jessica gradually overcame her challenges.

Jessica’s case came to One Hope United in Oct. 2004. Always friendly, grateful and nurturing to other children in the home, it was a surprise to all that Jessica was still in foster care at age 15 without a family to call her own. Statistics show that few families are willing to adopt older children and many of these children end up aging out of foster care at age 18.

Last summer, at age 15, it seemed like time might have run out for Jessica. Despite the facts, and her failed adoptions, Jessica never gave up hope on finding a forever family. And although her case plan goal was Independent Living, the OHU staff working with Jessica never gave up looking for potential families.

Across town from Jessica, OHU Adoptions Case Manager Stacey Greenberg was meeting with a family that had moved to Orlando from New York. Elba, the prospective adoptive parent, had adopted four children through the foster care system in New York, and now that they were grown she wanted to adopt again. She had lots of experience with older children including foster children, and Elba said she wanted to adopt a teenage girl. Stacey immediately thought of Jessica and told Elba she should introduce herself to her at the upcoming adoption event.

Elba and her family met Jessica at the adoption event at Sea World and immediately hit it off. Jessica quickly became best friends with Elba’s 18-year-old daughter, Franchesca. From that day on, Elba referred to Jessica as her daughter. Jessica visited with the family throughout the fall and winter and officially moved in mid-January. After the required 90-day placement period, Stacey and the OHU Adoptions Unit, including Jessica’s Adoption Case Manager Christina Narain, joined Jessica and her new family at the courthouse for her adoption finalization. Jessica was wearing a ring with her new last name and the date of her adoption finalization, and she wasn’t the only one teary-eyed when the judge granted the adoption.

Congratulations Jessica! We wish you all the best!

Toddler reunited with biological family almost two years after death of mother

When Jason came to One Hope United in October 2009, very little was known about his birth mother.

At the age of 2, Jason was removed from the care of non-relatives after he was repeatedly left alone without supervision. He was found,  wandering outside and was almost struck by a vehicle in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he was living.

Jason was immediately removed from the caregiver due to neglect and inadequate supervision.

Upon receiving Jason’s case, One Hope United team members discovered that he had no known biological family. His mother was killed by gunshot when Jason was only 3 months old. Since then, his life was unstable, having lived with two families, both non-relative, who were unable to care for him properly.

One Hope United staff were passionate about finding a permanent, loving home for the young boy. Utilizing a new family finding approach, which included a brainstorming session between Program Director Neika Berry, Supervisor Ebonie Hopkins and Program Specialist Valerie Threadgill, to determine what could be discovered about Jason’s biological family.

First, the identity and location of Jason’s father were questionable and following paternity testing, there were no leads.

Through diligent case mining efforts, staff discovered that Jason had two half-siblings that were removed from his mother’s care prior to his birth. Those children remained with paternal relatives, who were not related to Jason, and unfortunately, the caregivers were not interested in taking care of him.

It was through the implementation of family finding techniques that One Hope United was able to locate two possible maternal relatives of Jason. The maternal grandmother and uncle were possibly living in Lake Worth, Florida.

Family Case Manager Alrick Esberry took the initiative and attempted to contact both individuals at their last known addresses. Within a week, both relatives contacted Esberry and were eager to assist in providing a home for Jason. It was discovered that the maternal relatives had lost touch with Marie, Jason’s biological mother, due to her troubled past and were not aware of the baby that she had prior to her sudden death. Immediately, both relatives were invested and worked with One Hope United to give Jason a much deserved home.

In March 2010, Jason was placed with his maternal uncle and family in Palm Beach County with a goal of adoption. Due to the hard work and dedication of Esberry and the new Family Finding Initiative, launched by passionate One Hope United team members and in collaboration with Family Services of Metro Orlando, Jason was reunited with his biological family, found a loving home and forever family.

A tumultuous time line before finding a forever home

Jay, 16 going on 17, has spent the vast majority of his life in and out of foster care along with his five siblings. Jay, his two brothers and three sisters were initially removed from their mother on May 6, 1997, because of unsafe and unsanitary living conditions in the home. Upon entering the household, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) could not alleviate the safety and risk concerns due to verified findings of medical neglect and conditions hazardous to the health of the children.

On Aug. 15, 1997, against the recommendation of DCF, the court reunified Jay and two of his siblings with their mother.

A year later, Jay and his siblings once again, found themselves back in foster care after the children were exposed to domestic violence and physical abuse.

By April 19, 2000, the court terminated the parental rights of the mother and legal father.

And in 2001, the three sisters were adopted, leaving Jay and his brother behind in foster care. All hope was not lost for the brothers, as the two were placed with their maternal grandmother shortly after the girls’ adoption. But by 2005, the brothers were once again moved into a nonrelative placement after their grandmother fell very ill and could no longer care for them.

Hope seemed to be seriously waning for the brothers, when they were removed from the nonrelative placement due to physical abuse. The brothers were then thrown back into foster care.

In April 2007, Jay was placed in a One Hope United foster home with Nikki Ballou. The experienced foster mother noticed Jay was exhibiting problems with depression and anger and rightly so, after so many years of let downs. Then, the unlikely happened; Ms. Ballou and Jay began to bond.

With Ms. Ballou’s devoted presence in his life, Jay was able to overcome his struggles with depression and self esteem. Then, in Aug. 2008, a paternal cousin stepped forward and Jay was placed in that home with a goal to close permanent guardianship.

In Jan. 2009, despite his needs being met with the paternal cousin, Jay requested to be placed back in licensed foster care home of Ms. Ballou. Ms. Ballou was happy to have Jay back. He returned to her care on Jan. 16, 2009, with a goal to age out of foster care in her home, because Jay did not want to be adopted.

About six months ago, Jay finally started considering the idea of adoption after considering his future with no forever family, as he had lost most of his family members during his tumultuous youth in and out of foster care. Stephen Ryan, adoption case manager for One Hope United, and Shanda Moorman, Family Services of Metro Orlando and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter, were relentless on encouraging Jay to never give up on the idea of finding his forever family.

In early Feb. 2010, after much encouragement from Stephen and Shanda, Jay, finally opened up about his true feelings and desires to be adopted by the woman that has shown him unconditional love and devotion, his foster mother, Ms. Ballou. So it was that at a Parent’s Night Out Adoption Recruitment event in late Feb. 2010, Jay talked to a room full of future adoptive parents. Jay spoke about his life in foster care, about being ripped apart from his siblings and about his struggle to accept being adopted.

Jay told the crowd, he changed his mind about being adopted, because he wants “someone to pick him up when he falls.”  Jay, who just wanted “to know that at 18 I have a family,” was officially adopted by his foster mother, Ms. Ballou, on March 31, 2010.

Advocacy and collaboration paved a path to permanent home with birth father

A destructive confrontation, in which her mother brandished a knife, landed Brianna*, 13, in foster care. Brianna suffered knife cuts on her hands as a consequence of the altercation with her mother. Investigators saw these cuts during a visit to the home, resulting in Brianna’s removal in Sept. 2009.

Brianna was placed in an emergency shelter in a neighboring county about 70 miles from her mother’s home. Not quite a month later, she was moved to a residential foster care group home for teenage girls in Orlando. Upon entry to the group home, Brianna faced many hardships as the youngest and was picked on by the older girls.

Family Case Manager Jacinta Robinson became an instant advocate for Brianna and began to search for appropriate options for the young girl outside of licensed foster care.

While mining the case file, Jacinta located contact information for Brianna’s birth father. The One Hope United case manager took things a step further and made contact with the father, who was living in New Jersey. The father assured Jacinta that he wanted his daughter home with him, and he was able to provide a copy of the court order showing that he had joint custodial guardianship of Brianna, as a result of a previous divorce.

Jacinta continued to advocate for Brianna by communicating with Supervisor Laurie Stern and other One Hope United leadership with a hope that potential barriers could be removed on the behalf of the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, some of the barriers included a criminal case in addition to a dependency case against the mother, where Brianna would be a witness required to testify. In addition, Interstate Compact was also a potential barrier given her recent shelter.

Despite the barriers and challenges, Jacinta continued to work with OHU leadership who worked with the Department of Family Services staff and Children’s Legal Services staff to think out of the box to ensure that Brianna would not spend Thanksgiving in foster care. Jacinta strongly felt that Brianna should be placed with her birth father, who eagerly wanted her home.

With the collaboration of many, and the advocacy by Jacinta and Laurie, Brianna was able to visit her father in New Jersey for Thanksgiving. While she was there, OHU continued to advocate for Brianna’s well-being and worked with Children’s Legal Services to dismiss the dependency case and place the child with the father, who also worked with an attorney in New Jersey to get full custody of Brianna.

Eventually, the teamwork lead by Jacinta made it possible for this child to be placed with her birth father permanently. Brianna was able to happily spend the holiday season with family and loved ones, where Jacinta reports she is now flourishing.

*Name was changed to protect confidentiality.

Collaboration between staff members offers hope to mother and daughter

On April 9, 2009, 16-year-old Christina* was removed from her mother’s home due to medical neglect. It was alleged that Christina was not receiving the proper health care treatment nor was she taking her medication on a consistent basis (she was diagnosed with a chronic infectious disease that is life threatening}.

Initially, Christina was placed with her maternal grandmother. However, shortly after, Christina was removed and placed in a foster group home as the maternal grandmother was not able to meet Christina’s medical needs.

Upon meeting Christina’s mother, Family Case Manager Jessica Rodriguez felt confident that Christina would be home within a few months. The mother appeared highly motivated to complete her case plan tasks and to be reunified with her daughter. But, the mother’s motivation quickly decreased, and she began to become less involved with the case over time.

Christina was extremely upset coming into care and did not understand why she could not be with her mother and brother (who was never removed from the home). Jessica worked with Program Specialist Valerie Threadgill to identify relatives via Family Finding that would be willing to keep Christina or even pick her up during the weekends for temporary relief from the group home environment.

The case soon came to a stand still as all of the relatives seemed to be unstable and the mother was making minimal efforts to achieve the permanency goal. Christina began to lose hope and her frustration was revealed in her school performance and day-to-day attitudes about life.

Jessica turned to Valerie who provided her with words of wisdom and encouraged the young family case manager to re-engage the mother, letting her know how much she was needed in her child’s life. Taking Valerie’s advice, Jessica began to engage the mother once again by explaining the situation from Christina’s perspective.

The mother finally admitted to Jessica that she was upset the whole time with the Department of Children and Families for taking her child away after she had requested help on several occasions. The mother said she knew that Christina needed medical attention, but recognized she needed assistance in taking care of Christina’s medical needs. She did not understand why removal was the “best option” for her family.

The mother admitted to being rebellious, and also realized that she was only hurting Christina in the process. After the conversation, the mother worked, in conjunction with Jessica, diligently to achieve her permanency goal, completing her tasks and establishing a stable residence in which she could bring her child to live. In the meantime, Christina continued to take her medication, participated in her counseling sessions and worked hard to bring up her grades.

Christina was happily reunified on Feb. 22, 2010, and is spending her 17th birthday with her mother and brother. Great work to Jessica Rodriguez and Valerie Threadgill for collaborating to fulfill the OHU promise of hope!

*Name was changed to protect confidentiality.

Orlando foster youth to go from independent living to full academic scholarship playing Division I football

While growing up, Davonnie Coard admits he was a very difficult child and was no stranger to the delinquency system. At 14, Davonnie got into a violent fight with his brother—ultimately leading to his arrest. His mother, unable to handle the situation and fearing for her and the family’s safety, requested assistance from the State of Florida.

So Davonnie entered foster care. He bounced from group home to group home, mostly due to requests for removal due to bad behavior. At 16, he arrived at a facility in Pine Hills, Florida, and enrolled at Evans High School. Greg Thompson, head football coach at Evans, immediately recognized Davonnie’s large stature, standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighing 305 pounds, and asked Davonnie to play for the Evans High School football team.

Davonnie credits Coach Thompson with teaching him how to refocus his anger onto the football field. Davonnie’s demeanor at the group home began to change for the better shortly after starting football, and for once in his life, Davonnie found stability.

By age 17, Davonnie remained stable in his group home in Pine Hills and demonstrated no negative behaviors. And, for the first time in a long time, he had committed individuals in his life, including Coach Thompson, and new mentor, Bill Rodriguez.

With his new found success on the football field and entering into his senior year of high school, Davonnie was looking for and wanted more in his home life. During this time, Stephen Ryan, independent living coordinator with One Hope United, worked with Davonnie on transferring to the Laurel Hill Independence Center, an independent living group home facility that allows older, responsible children in foster care to have more self-sufficiency, while teaching them essential skills to prepare them for the real world.

“I did a lot of work with Davonnie in preparing him for his 18th birthday,” said Stephen. “When the children I’m working with turn 18, I give each of them a way to contact me, whether it’s by phone or e-mail, so they do not lose that extra support while they transition to adulthood. Even though One Hope United is no longer officially involved in these cases, I still work with them to help point them in the right direction.”

Stephen says that Davonnie is thriving and learning so much from his stay at Laurel Hill Independence Center, including how to lead an independent life after 18. He is also learning about collegiate football from the center’s Program Manager Calvin Windham, who was a former player of Louisiana State University.

Unfortunately, during the first preseason scrimmage of Davonnie’s senior year, he broke his left foot. Even with such a short amount of playtime due to the injury, Davonnie’s confidence on the field and passion for football showed through, making an impact on football scouts from across the nation.

On Feb. 3, 2010, National Signing Day for college football, Davonnie signed his Letter of Intent to play Division I football at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida A&M University even offered Davonnie a full academic scholarship!

Davonnie still calls Stephen to ask for life advice or help with filling out forms. Just the other day, Davonnie asked Stephen to accompany him to a parent/teacher conference at school.

“While I had no legal standpoint because Davonnie was 18 years old, I believe that he just wanted to see a friendly face and have someone he can turn to with questions,” said Stephen. “I’m so excited to see Davonnie off when he moves to Tallahassee in the fall!”

One Hope United received $5,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

CHICAGO (Feb. 9, 2010)—One Hope United was recognized by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois with a $5,000 grant for its success in and continuance of its critical prevention programs for at-risk children and families in Lake and Cook Counties.

“We are proud to support One Hope United,” said Clarita Santos, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois director of community health initiatives. “Our mission is to promote the health and wellness of our members and our communities through accessible, cost-effective, quality health care. By supporting organizations like One Hope United, we are able to reach out to the people most in need.”

The funds from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois will benefit both The Parent Group and Wings programs at One Hope United in both Lake and Cook Counties.

“Without the generous support of corporations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we would not be able to fulfill our mission of protecting children and strengthening families,” said Joyce Heneberry, senior vice president at One Hope United. “In today’s economy, our programs are struggling with whether they will be able to operate the next day. Having corporations philanthropically support the advancement of the community through organizations such as One Hope United is critical to our at-risk neighbors surviving this economic turmoil.”

The Parent Group of One Hope United brings parents together with a profes­sional facilitator to sharpen their child-rearing skills. The voluntary service, provided free to parents thanks to generous funders such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, is designed to support parents and teach parenting skills. The ultimate goal of the program is to prevent child abuse and neglect. Groups meet weekly in English and Spanish. One Hope United accepts referrals from a variety of sources.

The Wings program of One Hope United serves to help new par­ents adjust to the responsibilities of parenthood. Targeted for new and expecting parents, Wings promotes positive parent-child interaction. It works to enhance family functioning, build trusting relationships and teach problem-solving skills. The purpose of this service is also to prevent child abuse and neglect. Wings is available to families from the prenatal period until the child reaches the age of 5, at no cost, thanks to donors like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. To inquire about the Wings program in Lake County please call, 847.245.6800 and for Cook County, please call 312.9495590.

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About One Hope United

One Hope United is a private human service organization dedicated to protecting children and strengthening families. One Hope United offers a diverse array of prevention, intervention and community-based programs. One Hope United also specializes in child welfare system management, reform, consultation and training. With principal offices in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida, One Hope United serves more than 15,000 children and their families across the country each year. For more information, visit www.onehopeunited.wpengine.com.