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Continuing a Legacy of Servant Leadership 

Pictured: Clarke Robinson with his four children at his 90th birthday. Left to right: Sarah Michael, Philip Robinson, Clarke Robinson (center, seated), Jim Robinson, and Becky Reeve.

Clarke Robinson held many titles in his life: student, Harvard-educated lawyer, husband, father, church leader, quilter, rare book collector, history enthusiast, and early childhood education advocate. As one of the founding members of One Hope United’s Scofield-Gibbs Society, Clarke’s spirit of service will continue through his charitable major trust. Because of Clarke’s generosity and commitment to One Hope United’s mission, the organization will have the resources it needs to serve thousands of children and families for years to come. 

Clarke’s passion for giving back began at an early age. After moving from New England to Mount Prospect, Illinois as a child, his family soon became active in the Baptist Church in their neighborhood. Clarke also met his wife of 56 years, Lucia, through her father, who was the pastor at their church. For many years, Clarke’s church supported the Central Baptist Orphanage – the organization that would one day be known as One Hope United. 

Becky Reeve, Clarke’s daughter, shared, “My dad was a humble servant throughout his entire life. He always did what he could to help people, often quietly and without seeking recognition. He understood that in life, you plant seeds, often without knowing what will come of your efforts – but you plant seeds for future growth and happiness for your loved ones, and for your community.” 

After attending Harvard Law School, Clarke returned home to Illinois, where he served as a Probate and Estate Planning Lawyer in Chicago for over 40 years. Through their church and philanthropic involvement, Clarke and Lucia learned more about foster care, and even though they had four biological children already, they answered the call to become foster parents. Their teenage foster son was with them for five years, and their foster son later shared that he felt their family “saved his life.” He served in the United States Marine Corps and has built a happy life with his wife and three children. Years later, he spoke at a One Hope United board meeting about his experiences in foster care. He shared that when he was growing up, he heard a lot of kids say they wanted to be a police officer, fire fighter, or teacher. What he wanted was to be a parent like Clarke. 

Soon after welcoming his foster son into his family, Clarke joined the Central Baptist Children’s Home’s Board of Directors. He served as Chairman of the Board for many years, and saw the organization through several periods of growth, including the organization’s expansion into early learning. Clarke became closely involved with OHU’s preschool programs, developing an interest in the connection between early learning and children’s future academic development. 

Clarke said, “I grew my understanding of the needs of children, and I’m generally very satisfied with what I’ve seen and what I’ve been able to do with One Hope United.” He also shared that one of his favorite aspects of his involvement with OHU was bringing members of his church to tour and read to children at the Elgin Early Learning Center. 

Clarke’s daughter, Becky, shared that Clarke was able to accomplish so much in his life because he had a loving partner standing beside him. “A lot of what he was able to do at OHU was done with and because of mom,” Becky said. “They showed us kids the importance of giving what we could to our community.” The Robinson family also enjoyed supporting and volunteering at many One Hope United events throughout the years, including the Annual Charity Golf Outing. 

“Clarke was humble and unassuming, considering all he accomplished personally and professionally,” said Joyce Heneberry, Planned Giving Officer at One Hope United. “He approached our early learning programs with such intellect and curiosity. I admire him so much.”

RJ Young, former Chairman of One Hope United’s Board of Directors, and Joyce Heneberry felt privileged to present One Hope United’s Life Director Award to Clarke at his church. Clarke passed away in March of 2021. He is survived by four children, eleven grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren. One Hope United is grateful for the spirit of love, service, and generosity Clarke shared with our organization, and the impact he continues to have in the lives of the children and families we serve. 

 

Learn how you can make an impact for One Hope United through a planned gift.

 

Building the Mindset for a Social Services Career

Guest blog written by Melissa Y.M. Webster, M.S., LCPC, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Residential and Day School Programs

With the employment landscape changing every day in this country, industries like social welfare must adapt and innovate in order to continue to provide the critical, often life-saving services our young people need. I supervise One Hope United’s residential programs, which provide live-in care for youth whose needs are best addressed in a highly structured environment. The young adults we serve have a history of trauma, and they need our support 24 hours a day. While the situations we face are often painful and overwhelming, our work is also incredibly rewarding. My staff and I go home every day knowing that we helped a young person feel seen and loved.  

You can imagine the challenges a global pandemic and employment crisis pose in our line of work. While these obstacles are significant, our team is working hard to meet the present moment head on. 

When considering what makes our programs unique and how we have been able to respond during this time, I have found three unique approaches that we have taken have helped us find the best people to serve our youth. If you are interested in a career in social services, whether it be as a residential youth care worker or a similar position, these tips can help you gain the tools you need to build your career – and in turn, make a difference in someone’s life. 

First, find your why. This is imperative for staff members at every level, from senior managers to entry-level youth care workers. Once you know why you are here, you can encourage those around you. I have young team members who have served youth and families for over 10 years. Many started when they were 21 or 22 years old, and they have remained in the field and at One Hope United. 

Our world is full of opportunities, and many of these talented and committed team members could find meaningful and lucrative employment in a myriad of fields. Why do they choose One Hope United? There are many reasons, but I believe the biggest reason is that these young professionals have found their “why.” 

Simon Senek gave a highly viewed Ted Talk on finding your why: your purpose, your calling, your beliefs. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why this job and why stay?

I have done this work for a long time. I know why I am here, and what drives me to keep doing this hard work every day. My residential team members have found their whys. They are pulled out of bed in the morning by a love of serving teens who have suffered trauma, who often have mental health issues and behavior disorders. The days are always challenging, and sometimes the struggles our youth face drive people away. But those who stay do so because they have found greater purpose in remaining committed to extremely demanding yet fulfilling work.

Next, find your team. Social services professionals are team driven. We work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We do it because we are committed to our youth, but we also do it because we are committed to each other. 

Residential folks have found a tribe in their team members. At One Hope United, we are a team of people who share a passion to serve this population of youth. We serve alongside inspiring professionals and paraprofessionals who, in the deepest part of their souls, want the world to be a better place, one youth at a time. What a blessing it is to have a workplace where we come together, see a vision for a different kind of world, and work with people we like and respect to reach that vision. Once you find your why and your team, it is hard to imagine doing anything else. 

Finally, help others see the value of what we do. Most of our residential programs at One Hope United had their roots in orphanages founded over 125 years ago. There is a mythos in our culture around the orphanage and orphans: think of Dicken’s Oliver Twist and Annie. It’s important that whenever we can, we challenge misconceptions about the work we do, and help our friends, family members, and the general public gain a more accurate understanding of what modern residential programs actually look like. 

When people learn what I do, they always want to know more. They always want to hear the stories. What I am proud to tell you after almost a quarter of a century in this field is that we make a difference. From the first youth served at the beginning of my career to now, many of them still reach out. They tell us we made an impact in their lives: who they are today was in part shaped by us. We see their children, their work, and who they have become as an adult. They share their accomplishments and their challenges. 

A key part of attracting the right people to serve our youth is finding people who care that the work they do today will create happier and more successful adults, five, ten, twenty-five or fifty years in the future. Many jobs are rewarding, but our careers help support a shifted trajectory of the lives of youth who have suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the most traumatic ways possible. 

Final Thoughts: Even as essential workers who have been on the frontline throughout this challenging time, our focus remains on providing the highest standard of care possible to the vulnerable youth we serve. Our young people deserve the opportunity to build happy, healthy lives, and we help equip them with the tools they need to do so. I know that if you choose a career in social services, you will find fulfillment in a mission centered around serving others.

Want to make a difference in the life of a child, youth, or family? Learn about current employment opportunities with One Hope United here. 

Hope Talks | August 2021

Hope Talks

“Advocating for Affordable Child Care and Education”

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Hope Talks 

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by April Janney, President & CEO of Illinois Action for Children, to discuss Advocating for Affordable Child Care and Education.

About April Janney

April Janney is the President and CEO of Illinois Action for Children. Janney was named to this position in January 2021 after serving as Acting President and CEO since June 2020.

Working with children in Chicago and throughout Illinois to foster positive outcomes has been April Janney’s passion for more than 30 years. Prior to becoming President and CEO, Janney served as IAFCs Senior VP of Operations and Senior VP of Programs.

Before joining the Illinois Action for Children leadership team as Director of Provider Programs in 2010, Janney provided school-age programming through a career that spanned 21 years with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys & Girls Clubs Chicago. Janney earned her master’s degree in Public Administration with a focus on Nonprofit Management from Roosevelt University as a Woodruff Fellow and holds a bachelor’s Science degree in Education: Early Childhood and Special Education from Chicago State University.

About One Hope United 

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential. 

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5 Tips to Prepare Your Children for Preschool

Beginning preschool is an important milestone that will likely bring feelings of excitement, anxiety, and curiosity for both parents and kids. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic may make the transition even more daunting. One Hope United Early Learning Centers are ready to welcome preschoolers back to the classroom, and want to make sure your little one is ready for a fun year of learning! Here are 5 simple steps our teachers recommend to prepare your child for preschool, so they are ready for all the fun, exploring, and learning they will experience in the years ahead.

1. Talk with your child about their feelings around school. Your child may need some time to find the right words to convey how they feel about going to school. They will likely encounter a mix of excitement and nervousness, especially because many children are wary around strangers when they first meet them. 

If your preschool offers a virtual or in-person back-to-school or meet-the-teacher event prior to the first day, this can go a long way toward helping your child feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Remember to point out things like the classroom library, blocks, or fire trucks, as your child will likely remember and hold onto memories of favorite classroom items as they prepare for their first day of school. Marybeth Mlikotic, Director of Programs at One Hope United’s Bridgeport Early Learning Center, shared, “Seeing toys, games, and play areas ahead of time helps children connect with the concept of school, and focus on specific activities they’ll be doing at school. It can be tough for children to connect with the concept of making friends, but things like having their own locker, playing restaurant, or bringing their blanket or lovie for naptime is easier for a child to visualize.”

As a parent, you can help your child get used to the idea of school by asking them some open-ended questions, like what they are most looking forward to, or what they may feel nervous about. It is also important to validate children’s feelings and discuss any changes to their day-to-day routines ahead of time, so they are ready for and used to their new schedule when it is time to start school.

2. Prepare them for the social-emotional aspects of preschool. Children in a preschool classroom may range in age from 2 to 5 years old, and may be at various stages of social, emotional, and intellectual development. Your child’s preschool teacher will likely focus on many aspects of social and emotional growth in the first few months of the school year, so children become more comfortable with concepts like sharing, getting to know their classmates, dealing with disagreements, and helping themselves when they are experiencing tough emotions. After developing this social-emotional foundation, children will have the tools they need to build on other aspects of their development, like language, literacy, and math. 

One of the best things parents can do to prepare their children for the social and emotional components of their school life is to practice interacting with family members and friends in a group setting, and even role-playing certain scenarios, like what their child should do if they are feeling sad, or how to show kindness to classmates. 

Marybeth said that an important piece of helping children feel comfortable socially in their new preschool environment is becoming acclimated with teachers and staff members at school. That’s why teachers at OHU’s Bridgeport Center take steps like hanging photos of team members in each classroom, so that when a teacher, staff member, or maintenance team member enters the classroom, children are already familiar with their face. Children also practice expressing their emotions through activities like journaling or drawing pictures. Additionally, students answer a question of the day that may address topics like what it felt like to say goodbye to their parent or guardian that morning, or how to help a friend feel better if they are sad. 

“It’s about more than learning ABC’s and 1-2-3’s,” Marybeth shared. “One Hope United’s Early Learning Centers care for the whole child, and help them develop equally important skills, like negotiating space, conflict, and relationships.”

3. Stick to routines and schedules at home. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have faced challenges creating a steady day-to-day routine for children. In the weeks leading up to a child’s first day of school, it can be beneficial for parents to start their back-to-school schedule ahead of time. A predictable weekday is a helpful way to support a child’s emotions and prepare them for success in the classroom environment. 

Each day in the classroom at OHU Early Learning Centers follows a predictable pattern, and this is a key part of acclimating children to the school environment. Kids get used to lining up for lunch, playing at recess, and prepared lessons. An at-home schedule which includes things like a standard bedtime, a space for your child to hang their coat and backpack, and daily playtime at home after school can help your child adjust to the school year. 

4. Encourage curiosity. Parents can also play a significant role in supporting children’s interests and academic development at home. Through daily activities like those on this list from the Mayo Clinic, parents can set their children up for success in preschool and beyond. 

OHU administrators take a unique approach to learning by tailoring each curriculum to their student’s areas of interest. Marybeth Mlikotic shared, “our teachers ask students what students would like to learn about. If children in their classroom love trains, their teacher may create a week’s lesson plan around transportation or arrange for a truck driver or fire marshal to visit the classroom. We take this approach to all learning opportunities. It’s all about encouraging a child’s natural curiosity to foster a love of learning.”  

5. Take care of yourself! OHU programs focus on important self-care items like healthy eating, exercise, and mental health. The busy back-to-school season presents both challenges and growth opportunities for children and parents. Family activities that center around things like being active, drawing, and free play can go a long way in supporting children’s mental and emotional health. And of course, self-care is important for parents too! When parents take time to take care of their health, their children are more likely to develop healthy day-to-day habits. 

Final Thoughts 

While the preschool transition may be challenging, OHU is here to help parents and children with the transition, so students have the tools they need to be happy, healthy, and successful as they return to in-person learning. Marybeth concluded, “One of the most important things parents can do to feel comfortable and set their child up for success in preschool is to be really intentional about their goals. Parents should visit the preschool or early learning center and feel that they understand the center’s policies and procedures, as well as its culture and philosophy. Parents should make sure these approaches match with what they want for their child.” 

Social-emotional skills are the foundation of preschool learning, and are key to ensuring students’ future academic success. Parents can support their children’s transition to preschool by establishing and practicing a daily school routine, and by encouraging their curiosity and interests. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges in preparing children for in-person learning, communities can come together to support our youth, and ensure their future academic growth and success. 

Interested in enrolling at a One Hope United Early Learning Center? Learn more here. 

Hope Talks | July 2021

Hope Talks

“The Philanthropic Redesign”

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Hope Talks 

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by Mark Brewer, President & CEO of Central Florida Foundation, to discuss the philanthropic redesign.

About Mark Brewer

Mark joined the Central Florida Foundation in 2000, and has earned respect for his ability to build community partnerships that meet issues head-on and produce measurable results. He has worked with hundreds of individuals, families, and corporations to establish philanthropy plans, endowments, funding strategies, and planned gifts. He is a well-known national speaker on the independent sector, philanthropy’s role in America, venture philanthropy strategies, and the role of the independent sector in public policy. In his leadership role at the Central Florida Foundation, Mark frequently advises private and corporate foundation grant makers across the region, and plays a public policy advisory role on strategy and advisory boards around the state of Florida.

Mark began his career in the media as a reporter, anchor, and journalist. Mark holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a specialty in Nonprofit Management, is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy ®, and is ABD for a PhD in Public Administration with a specialty in Policy and Law from Walden University.

About One Hope United 

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential. 

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Reunification Made Possible with Community Support

Foster parents can be one of the most impactful resources in helping children reunify with a biological parent successfully. While a mother named Stacy* worked to be reunited with her three children, she built strong relationships with the foster parents caring for her youngest son, and the paternal grandparents caring for her oldest son. This support system would end up being the difference in bringing Stacy and her children back together.

Stacy struggled with undiagnosed mental health and substance abuse problems for many years. When OHU Case Manager Monaya Crossen began working with Stacy, she soon noticed that Stacy frequently rescheduled home visits, and seemed drowsy and disorganized at meetings. When Stacy’s mother passed away while incarcerated, she seemed to lose all hope.

A wakeup call came for Stacy at a court hearing a few months later. She had been working to obtain stable housing and employment but had not yet been reunified with her children. When Stacy learned the judge had added a dual goal of adoption for her children, she became very emotional, and feared she was about to lose her children forever. This moment turned out to be a turning point in her life, and eventually led to a bright future for her and her family.

Though Stacy did not like asking for help, she eventually built a strong relationship with her Case Manager, Monaya, and still asks her advice when she faces tough situations. Stacy eventually overcame her addiction and got a new apartment. After three years apart, Stacy has been reunified with her children, and her family is in a much better place.

While they were living apart, Stacy was there for her children at school conferences, holidays, and everything in-between. The foster parents and grandparents who cared for her kids were always in Stacy’s corner. “They played a major role in this reunification,” Monaya shared. “They didn’t put up any roadblocks. They drove Stacy to see apartments, brought the kids to her home for visits, and always included her in parent-teacher conferences.”

Stacy’s 5-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism and has made significant progress since transferring to a special needs school, where he “soared.” They are now working on transitioning him to his siblings’ school.

When Stacy saw signs of the same mental illness she struggles with in her daughter, she acted right away to get her help. All of Stacy’s kids are doing well in school, and they still see their foster parents regularly for haircuts and visits.

“This story shows that no one is perfect, and we all need to ask for help,” Monaya concluded. “I’m glad Stacy felt she could trust and lean on me.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Foster Alumnus Dedicates Career to Foster Care Advocacy

“When we talk about improving outcomes for youth in foster care, it’s critical to make sure current foster youth and foster alumni have a seat at the table where decisions are being made. We need to approach system reform from the perspective of the young people who are meant to be benefitting from these programs,” James McIntyre shared.

James McIntyre spent 17 years in the foster care system before aging out of foster care at age 21. Since then, he has dedicated his career to advocacy and system reform. James currently serves as the Director of Community Outreach and Engagement for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County, and he served for five years as President of the Foster Care Alumni Association in Illinois. OHU was proud to present its President’s Award to James in 2020 in recognition of his unwavering dedication to bringing about true and lasting reform.

“I was physically abused as a child, and eventually I needed therapy and care at a high-level Residential home,” James said. “I made it out of the system and worked as hard as I could to improve my circumstances. For years I worked a full-time job while also working with the Foster Care Association of Illinois at nights and on weekends. I’ve only begun to see my efforts come to fruition in recent years and seeing that my sacrifices were worth it means everything.”

James believes social services providers have a duty “to walk hand-in-hand with foster youth, and make sure they feel like people, not commodities.” While James was living at One Hope United’s Residential home in Lake Villa, he saw Executive Directors and other members of OHU’s leadership team visiting campus regularly and developing positive relationships with youth there. He shared that this was the first time he saw leadership choosing to be actively involved in the lives of the children in their programs, from holiday visits to day-to-day activities. “We felt cared for – we didn’t feel like we were just a paycheck,” James said.

At 18, James was invited to join the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Youth Advisory Board. He said this experience motivated him to think more about his place in the world, and the places where he could make an impact. “Seeing agencies having honest conversations with young people and with their constituents was huge for me,” James shared.

Rather than viewing the challenges he’s faced as entirely negative experiences, James focuses on the knowledge he can use to improve systems for other foster youth. “Coming from the foster care system and the environments where I grew up, I know we can do better,” he said. “When children are placed in a bureaucratic system, their firsthand knowledge and lived experience should inform decisions about their care.”

Growing up in the foster care system, there were times when James did not feel like his perspective was valued, or that he could openly express who he was. “I always knew I was queer, but in certain situations I was forced by people in my life to remain in the closet, or to go back into the closet,” he said. James went on to say he was impressed by the work OHU has put into accepting and celebrating LGBTQ+ children, youth and families. “There is a lot of visual representation of LGBTQ+ staff and leaders here, which is crucial in making sure a young queer kid knows that where they’re going will be safe and affirming. And for a queer foster youth to see LGBTQ+ leaders like OHU’s President and CEO, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer, who are out, proud, and at the top of their field – that could make a dramatic difference in a young person’s life.”

James shared that the messages and lessons instilled in him by staff members at the Lake Villa campus have often played out in his life as an adult. “People like Glen Seymour told me I would look back and understand what they were talking about, and that’s really true,” James said. “The Residential team helped me gain strength and confidence in myself. They helped shape me into the advocate I am today.”

When asked how he feels people can make a positive impact for a youth in foster care, James shared that he sees many ways to get involved outside of becoming a foster parent. “You don’t have to be an attorney or a child welfare expert – anyone can make that positive impact just by being a caring, stable figure in a young person’s life,” James concluded. “One consistent adult can make all the difference.”

Creating an Affirming Home for Transgender Youth

When Owen* first arrived at One Hope United’s Centralia Residential home, he hadn’t yet come out as transgender. In the past, when he disclosed to therapists that he was trans, they didn’t believe him, and told Owen he must be feeling this way due to his history of trauma and physical abuse.

After Owen had been living at OHU’s Centralia home and working with his therapist, Stephanie, for about 45 days, he decided to share his identity with her. Stephanie responded with openness and compassion. Her first concern was making sure Owen had his needs met, and that he received gender-affirming care. She immediately went to work, obtaining things like gender-affirming clothes and a chest binder, and arranging for Owen to have the haircut he desired. Owen chose to come out more publicly, and community members at the Centralia home, including staff members and other youth in the program, transitioned to using his chosen name, Owen.

Owen has since been reunified with his birth mother and will be graduating high school this spring. After a family therapy session with Stephanie and his mom, Owen complimented Stephanie, saying, “Other people have treated my mom so badly. You make her feel like a person. And you were the first therapist who accepted me for who I am.”

Jessica Perry, Director of Residential Clinical Services for One Hope United’s Centralia Residential home, said stories like Owen’s make her incredibly proud. “If Stephanie hadn’t reacted with acceptance, Owen may have shut down,” she said. “When a transgender youth first arrives at our program, they’re still asking the question, ‘Is this a safe place to be who I am?’ We strive to make sure they always feel comfortable, safe, and loved.”

Owen is one of many young people in the child and family welfare system seeking a home where he can live as his authentic self. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, on any given day, there are more than 100,000 youth living in group homes in the United States. Each of these young people arrives at a group home with a unique set of life experiences and care needs. One Hope United team members help these young people address any challenges they are facing, understand and accept who they are, and work towards a happy and healthy future.

One Hope United’s exceptional standards of care haven’t just been noticed by our own staff members. About five years ago, Jessica Perry and Melissa Webster, Executive Director of OHU’s Residential Programs, took part in an all-provider meeting at the Illinois State Senate. During a Senate subcommittee meeting on human trafficking, they learned more about the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) efforts to improve services for transgender youth. Soon after, DCFS asked Melissa if One Hope United could serve as the point organization in standard-setting for transgender care in residential group homes.

Since then, Melissa has never wavered in her conviction that her team could lead the way and help define what it means to provide excellent care for transgender youth. Jessica Perry has spearheaded these initiatives and works closely with DCFS leadership toward one goal: making sure both agencies are always doing what is best for their kids.

“Ensuring this philosophy is top of mind for all of our team members is important to Jessica and me,” Melissa shared. “We don’t use dead names or misgender youth. From daily interactions to responding to a crisis in the middle of the night, we provide training and coaching to make sure our staff are implementing these standards of care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Leading the way in caring for transgender youth is a multi-faceted undertaking. In practice, it means ongoing trainings for staff, gender-affirming healthcare, LGBTQIA+ youth support groups, and in some cases, hormone therapy. And in many instances, it means allowing youth the space they need to discover who they are.

“If a youth is exploring their gender identity, they may experiment with different pronouns, clothing, and ways of expressing themselves,” Jessica shared. “We let our kids take the lead. We never want young people to feel like we don’t believe them, or think that we don’t believe they know themselves and the identity they are developing and discovering.”

In certain cases, transgender youth in care are ready to begin hormone therapy. To meet youth’s medical needs, Jessica’s team works with a healthcare provider in the region. A transgender youth at the Centralia home received hormone therapy for a little over one year at this clinic. They are the first minor in Illinois DCFS residential care history to receive hormone therapy. “This young person’s nurse and gender clinic team taught him how to administer hormones himself, which was a great step forward,” Jessica said.

Jessica shared that she will never forget the day it was decided that this young person could start hormone therapy. Her team struggled at the time and wanted to make sure they were making the right decision with the youth, since hormone therapy has lasting effects, and the youth was still a minor. They worked closely with their DCFS guardian and psychologist, who determined this young person was ready to move forward with treatment. This DCFS guardian works with other transgender youth in the program to help determine whether a young person is ready to start hormone therapy now, or whether they could benefit from hormone therapy in the future but aren’t ready yet to begin this treatment.

Melissa and Jessica are proud of their “phenomenal nursing staff,” who they consider to be among the best nurses in the state for youth in Residential homes. They’re also proud of the growth and understanding exhibited by their staff.

“Even if staff have personal or religious beliefs that differ, our youth would never know, because their main focus is on making sure youth feel loved,” Melissa said. “When you know someone and you see their heart, you can say, ‘I don’t understand your experience, but I care about you, and that’s what matters.’”

Janet Ahern, the DCFS Guardian Administrator who works closely with Melissa and Jessica to ensure the highest standards of care for transgender youth, and each youth in care, shared, “OHU has been one of the leaders in Residential care over the last several years in meeting the needs of our transgender youth. Staff has worked to understand these young people and create a welcoming community. With the help of allies in the community they meet youth where they are at and accompany them on their journeys.”

“Residential kids are just kids,” Melissa concluded. “When we began this undertaking of making sure we were providing the best care possible for transgender youth, our OHU leadership team never set a limit on the progress we could make. We have finite resources, but we’ve never hit a ceiling.”

Sometimes, youth in Residential care struggle when they step down to a traditional foster placement or reunify with their biological family. Owen, the young man who benefitted from a supportive therapist, Stephanie, is thriving as his authentic self, three months after stepping down. Our One Hope United community will continue to provide compassionate care to young people of any race, gender, gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation, so they can discover who they are, and live authentically.

*Names of youth in care have been changed to protect privacy.

If you would like to support One Hope United’s efforts to help children and youth build happy, healthy lives, you can make a gift here.

Hope Talks | June 2021

Hope Talks

“Advocating for LGBTQ+ Foster and Adoptive Parents”

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Hope Talks 

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by Brian Rosenberg, Founder of Gays With Kids, to discuss Advocating for LGBTQ+ Foster and Adoptive Parents.

About Brian Rosenberg 

Brian Rosenberg has more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, but his real passion has been the creation of Gays With Kids, the one-stop destination for gay, bi and trans dads and dads-to-be. Brian and his husband Ferd became first-time dads back in 2009, creating their family through adoption and surrogacy. At the time, there were few resources available to help queer men become dads, and even fewer for those who already were, so they launched GWK in March 2014. Together since 1993, the secret to this couple’s longevity is Ferd’s prowess in the kitchen and Brian‘s great appreciation for anything his husband cooks!

About One Hope United 

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential. 

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One Hope United Facilitates Adoption One Day Before Youth’s 18th Birthday

One Hope United Facilitates Adoption One Day Before Youth’s 18th Birthday

Steven Ivy, foster and adoptive parent, describes the moment when his 17-year-old foster child, Michael, asked to be adopted, as one of the happiest in his life. Michael and Steven wanted to make sure Michael was legally adopted before he entered adulthood, because they felt adoption secured their lifelong family connection. After countless phone calls, meetings, and prolonged efforts by Michael’s DCFS guardian and One Hope United team, Michael’s adoption was finalized the day before his 18th birthday.

“People take for granted things like having a home to return to for the holidays, or a place to go when you’re having a hard time,” said Devin Dittrich, Director of Foster Care for Community-Based Family Services (CBFS) Programs at One Hope United. “Being adopted is different. It gives a child or teenager that legal bond. They can say this is my family regardless of where I am or what happens in life, and Steven and Michael made that commitment to each other.”

Michael and Steven understood each other right away. “We are very similar,” Steven shared. “We bonded quickly in the first year Michael was in my home. The challenges he faced drew me to him. I wanted to make sure he had all the help he needed.”

When Michael suffered an epileptic episode, Steven realized just how much Michael meant to him. Steven said, “I remember sitting on the kitchen floor with Michael’s head in my lap, thinking, my life is not complete without this child in it.”

Michael’s adoption presented significant challenges for several reasons, but because of the efforts of his care team and his adoptive father Steven, who Devin described as “the glue” in this effort, the team overcame every hurdle in finalizing the adoption. Michael and Steven’s story is historic, since theirs is the first case in Cook County that originated in the juvenile justice system and resulted in adoption.

When it seemed like the bureaucratic and legal hurdles may be too great to move Michael’s adoption forward,   reached out to the DCFS special attorney on Michael’s case, and asked this simple question: Why would we deny this child the opportunity to be adopted?

“The special circumstances of Michael’s situation forced DCFS and OHU to think  outside the box,” Devin shared. “We don’t usually have conference calls every Friday talking about a case, but all of our departments needed to come together to make this adoption happen. It showed a huge commitment from both of our agencies.”

Permanency is a significant term in the social services sector, because it encompasses so many aspects of what it takes for young people like Michael to build happy and healthy lives as adults. According to the Juvenile Law Center, permanency means young people have built positive, healthy, nurturing relationships with adults who provide emotional, financial, moral, educational, and other kinds of support as they mature into adulthood. Ideally, permanency takes the form of a relationship that has a legal component and provides a parent-child relationship.

Achieving permanency can be incredibly difficult for older youth and teenagers in foster care. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, nearly a quarter of the approximately 442,995 children in foster care are age 14 or older, and more than 15,000 young people age out of foster care at age 18 each year. The era of COVID-19 has only increased the disparity of resources available to young people aging out of foster care. According to Today, of the 18-23 year old’s who are currently in or recently aged out of foster care, 43% either were forced to leave their current housing situation or experienced homelessness or housing instability during the pandemic. On top of that, 55% of these young people reported they were food insecure during the COVID-19 crisis.

“There are teenagers out there who are lost, who no one is willing to work with,” Steven said. “Even at 18, there’s a lot I can do to prepare Michael for the outside world and instill family values in him before he goes out into that world.”

Steven chose to become a foster and adoptive parent, because when he was a kid, he needed a guardian who could provide a stable, loving home. He knows he can be that guardian for young people in similar situations.

Steven was removed from his biological parents’ care at the age of 9, and he aged out of the foster care system at 21. He shared that he felt blessed to be in foster homes with caring people, but because of his younger brother’s behavioral health issues, he and his brother were moved frequently. DCFS tried to keep them together, but eventually he and his brother ended up in different group homes.

As an adult, Steven thinks about the things he saw and experienced in foster homes, and how he could use his lived experience to help kids going through the same things he went through. Steven has fostered 11 children as a single father, and has adopted four young men, the oldest of whom is 21 and the youngest of whom is 14.

While Steven and Michael remain close, Michael struggles with aspects of adulthood. “Ever since he was 5 years old, Michael had basically no boundaries,” Steven said. “It’s tough for him to break that cycle. I’ll continue to work with him to get on a better path, and I’ll always be there for him.”

Steven concluded, “I’ve always wanted a big family – grandkids to come over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s all about family.”

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