Alderman Smith visits Edgewater Early Learning Center

Center unveils new classroom for two-year-olds

Alderman Mary Ann Smith of Chicago’s 48th Ward visited the Edgewater Early Learning Center, 5244 N. Lakewood, on Wednesday, May 19, to celebrate the opening of a new classroom for 2-year-olds.

With help from a group of children, Alderman Smith cut the ribbon to the new classroom in the Chicago child care center, which will eventually serve up to 12 children. She also read the book “On the Day You Were Born,” and presented a copy of the book to the students.

“The new classroom is a bright and cheerful space for children with a variety of learning centers for children to explore, discover and create,” said Connie Acevedo, center director. “We have received numerous calls from families in this community for services for younger children, and we are excited to open a new classroom to meet this need.”

The ribbon-cutting was followed by an open house and community resource fair for current and prospective families.

Edgewater Early Learning Center, previously known as the Kids Hope Child Development Center, has been in the community since 2006 and currently serves children ages 2 – 12. Learn more at www.onehopechilddevelopment.org.

Story of Hope: An Early Father's Day

On April 23, 2010, Lane Bennett achieved his life-long dream of becoming a father. Like an increasing number of single men, Lane explored the option of adoption and found that it was the perfect decision for him. Lane always knew he wanted to be a father and he felt that through adoption, he could share his home and his love with a child who needed it most. Lane knew that the adoption process would be challenging, especially as a single father, but he was fully committed from the very beginning.

After his adoption home study was approved, Lane enthusiastically began his search for his adopted child. Lane attended an Adoption Recruitment Event in October, where amidst numerous waiting children and adoptive parents, Lane was introduced to an 11-year-old boy, Bradley.

Lane and Bradley’s connection was immediate. The pair shared may things in common such as their outgoing and happy personalities, love of video games and their desire for a family. Lane and Bradley soon began visiting with each other and it became obvious that the match was meant to be.

Bradley, who easily attached to Lane, moved in with Lane in time for the Christmas holiday. Bradley was so excited about his new family, that he even began changing his last name at school, which caused some confusion for his teachers!

As a single father, Lane met each challenge of raising a special needs child with a positive attitude and his decision to adopt Bradley never wavered. Lane successfully navigated the educational system to ensure that Bradley’s educational needs were met. In fact, Bradley has made huge strides in his educational progress since being placed in Lane’s home. Lane also continued to meet regularly with an adoption mental health therapist to help make Bradley’s transition into his adoptive home as smooth as possible. Lane and Bradley quickly bonded, and on April 23, 2010, Lane legally became Bradley’s father.

When most people think of a single parent adopting a child, they usually picture a single mother. This story of hope clearly demonstrates that a successful and loving adoptive parent comes in all shapes and sizes. Lane will really have a reason to celebrate this Father’s Day, as he and his son look forward to a lifetime of memories to come!

After the traumatic death of one daughter, a family is safely reunited

Ms. Archer came to the United States from Peru through a college, foreign exchange program. At the time she moved to Florida, she only knew her boyfriend and a couple other exchange students.

Ms. Archer soon gave birth to a baby girl named Eliana. The baby was born with a facial deformation and had surgery when she was only one month old in an effort to fix the deformation. Pre-surgery, the surgeon told Ms. Archer that Eliana was to stay in the hospital for four days and then be discharged with Tylenol.

After the surgery the doctor told her that the surgery went okay. However, at about 3 a.m., Eliana began to show signs of distress. The baby was experiencing internal hemorrhage. A second surgery was then performed on Eliana the morning after the first.

After the second surgery, the surgeon reported back to Ms. Archer that Eliana was in coma, and she was brain dead. The family was given the option to disconnect Eliana from the machines, which kept her alive.

Ms. Archer and Eliana’s father refused to give up hope.

The family’s hope seemed to win out when Eliana awoke from the coma. But, the baby required constant care and was still in a vegetative state from that moment forward. Ms. Archer was unable to work, as she had to provide constant care and supervision for Eliana.

Ms. Archer never received counseling after this incident, and she later had a second child, Francy.

On Feb. 3, 2010, the Department of Children and Families received a report alleging that the family’s current environment was dirty and that Ms. Archer was depressed and exhausted.

Then on Feb. 24, 2010, a report alleged that Eliana died the night prior. Eliana’s sister, Francy, was sheltered on Feb. 25, 2010, due to concerns that Eliana had not been to the neurologist and reports cited medical neglect.

Upon receiving the case, One Hope United Family Case Manager, Yonaery Hernandez, immediately recognized the mother’s need for counseling and services after hearing of the family’s traumatic ordeal with Eliana’s surgeries and ultimate death.

Yonaery spoke to Ms. Archer about depression and she understood that the removal of Francy was yet another loss for the already troubled family. The distressed mother needed to know there was hope for the future.

Yonaery arranged twice a week visitation with Francy for Ms. Archer. Staffings were set up to occur between all parties to discuss what the mother needed to complete in order to heal and learn from the experience, so that the family could be permanently and safely reunited.

One Hope United also provided family team conferencing services to the family. One Hope United Family Team Coordinator, Ida Rivera, was an advocate for Ms. Archer through the services and assisted the mother in identifying and establishing a support system.

Francy was successfully reunified with her mother on April 2, 2010. Ms. Archer still attends weekly counseling sessions. Francy attends fulltime child care while Ms. Archer is searching for a job in the art field.

Family Case Manager, Yonaery, never stopped advocating ensuring that this family was safely reunited and that the mother was given the hope she needed to provide for her family. Together, Yonaery and Family Team Coordinator, Ida, collaborated to ensure Ms. Archer didn’t lose yet another child and worked diligently to make sure the family was reunited with Francy in a nurturing home environment.

Meet Foster Grandparent Program Volunteer Grandpa Jack

Jack Sunderlik is a retired school teacher and brings a wealth of experience with him to the One Hope United Springfield Foster Grandparent Program.

The OHU Foster Grandparent Program offers seniors age 55 and older the opportunity to serve as mentors, tutors and loving caregivers for youth with special needs. Volunteers serve in a variety of locations throughout the community, including schools, after-school programs, Head Start, child care centers and youth centers. The personal attention offered by foster grandparents like Jack helps youth grow, gain confidence and succeed as productive members of society. In return, Foster Grandparents receive the joy of being needed within their communities.

Jack is currently volunteering more than 40 hours a week at Dubois Elementary School. He is working with special needs students and is always trying to come up with a new way to engage the students and keep them interested. Jack is so dedicated that in addition to his 40 hour work week, he takes projects home, making flash cards or creating new activities to do with the kids.

Grandpa Jack is extremely humble and says it’’s the teachers who deserve the recognition. Jack also says that the program is giving him a renewed sense of purpose and he will do all he can to help.

Dubois Elementary assistant principal and teachers cannot say enough positive words about their volunteer. Ms. Medley and teachers have seen noted improvement in students after only a short time of working one on one with Jack. Ms. Medley says that all she hears up and down the halls is students calling out “Grandpa Jack, Grandpa Jack!” The school also reports that students are showing improved reading and math scores due to a rubric for each child that Jack uses to keep track of their progress.

Ms. Medley thanks the OHU Foster Grandparent Program for sending them their “Grandpa Jack.” We thank Jack for joining our program and appreciate his patience and easy going demeanor as well as his commitment to go above and beyond the call of duty and dedication to always trying to find a way to help.

Thank you Grandpa Jack!

For more information about the Springfield Foster Grandparent Program, contact Program Director Gloria Plummer.

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!

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.