Our 4th annual Celebration: October 19, 2018.
All proceeds serve bright young adults transitioning out of foster care in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
RSVP here, and anticipate an evening of celebration!
Can't make it? Consider an honorary donation to provide direct support to our Fellows.
The American Dream is alive in Montgomery County. As a young single mother, Emily* demonstrates motivation, tenacity, and a commitment to her daughter and their future. Her resiliency during long and frequent periods of homelessness and time in the foster care system only served to strengthen her resolve to work harder. Anybody could have crumbled under the pressure of raising a daughter, managing the mental stress incurred through the loss of her family, and the lack of stable and safe housing; but Emily did not quit. She wanted to be a nurse, and now, after years of struggling and false starts, she is enrolled in the nursing program at Montgomery County Community College.
In a letter to the R. J. Leonard Foundation, who took her into their scholarship and mentorship program 14 months ago, Emily wrote, “I remember feeling like I would not get very far in nursing school due to me being a single mother and knowing how many various challenges I had. These challenges were child care, transportation, financial support while in school, amongst other things.” As a Fellow of RJLF, Emily was matched with a Mentor who now supports her educational, professional, and personal goals by meeting with her on a regular basis. “One day out of the week, I have to leave home no later than 6am and it was really difficult to find a babysitter. With the help of my mentor Pam, I was able to find a trustworthy babysitter to watch my daughter as I go on to school”
RJLF has provided multiple educational, socio-cultural, and transportation scholarships to Emily. In one of her thank you letters, she stated: “This financial assistance included ... help with bills and childcare costs. The program that I attend is very vigorous so the help with financial support has been extremely helpful to me.” While she juggles her studies, Emily also works on being the best mother she can be to her young daughter.
RJLF provides a support system for Emily, but it is still up to her to work hard and chase her goals. Day in and day out, Emily puts in the time and effort into nursing school and parenting to make a better life for her and her daughter. Those who know her describe her Emily as someone who sees barriers as lessons and celebrates each success. Emily’s American Dream is coming true. Provide support to Fellows including Emily by donating today.
Below are a few of Emily’s thank you letters to RJLF:
Thank you for sending me this opportunity. I sometimes think about how far I have come from dhs, group homes, abuse, homelessness, and being a young parent to almost completing my first step in my education goals--obtaining an RN License (Associates degree) I have had to endure some things and I have also made plenty of mistakes (still make them at times!!), but to know how much support I have is a huge blessing. I know life is filled with ups and downs, but I thank God through it all. It may not be easy, but I have faith. A lot of blessings have been coming my way lately. I thank you so much for thinking about me, sharing opportunities with me, letting me know I have support, and always being there for me to help me get to the things that I need in order to be successful. I have such strong, positive, and successful people in my corner. Thank you for everything you do and your kindness. You all are amazing people. Have a great day. "
"To the RJ Leonard Foundation:
I want to write this letter to thank you for the things you have helped my daughter and I with recently.
We are so appreciative of your kindness and thoughtfulness. I always will remember and be grateful for these times of my life. I am at a place of transition in my life by striving everyday to be successful in getting a college degree. I am also working everyday to be a better woman and mother to my daughter. The foundation has helped me when I had no one else. I just want to really thank you for the continued financial assistance that allows me to focus more on school so that I can pass my classes. Also, I want to thank you for the assistance with babysitter costs. One day out of the week, I have to leave home no later than 6 am in the morning and it was really difficult to find a babysitter. With the help of my mentor Pam, I was able to find a trustworthy babysitter to watch my daughter as I go on to school (hospital as a student nurse). This was something that I was worried about, but things worked out well and I cannot thank you enough. I am also getting Hello Fresh meals here and there to help with meal planning for the week. I thank you so much for that. As I end my letter, I want to let you know that this foundation means SO much to me and I take nothing for granted. My daughter and I are improving and progressing as a small family unit by getting closer and closer to our goals and dreams. Thank you so very much."
*Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
Caitlin Deppeler Becomes Our New LeadeR
“I’m thrilled to introduce myself to the RJLF family!” Caitlin has served the mission of the Foundation during the past ten years in multiple capacities: participation in the planning of our first two fundraisers, four years on our Board, and most recently as our Board Chair. It is my privilege to transition into the role of Executive Director, while Jo Leonard, our Founder and a close friend, will be serving in a new role as Chief Visionary Officer.
Caitlin brings a unique understanding and familiarity of our Fellows’ perspectives - “I previously supervised Valley Youth House’s emergency shelter in Bucks County, which serves youth who are experiencing homelessness, are at-risk of becoming homeless, or are involved with the child welfare system. ... I am humbled to have been chosen to lead the organization into the future."
Read Caitlin's complete letter of introduction.
Britany* Dreamed of a Road-Trip With Her SoN
“It was just like watching an endless movie … From Elvis to cowboys, native Americans and dinosaurs. Aliens and waterfalls. Ghost towns and the city that never sleeps. Canyons and mountains and horizons that never end. I still am in shock.”
Our Fellow, Britany, and her son had “the experience of a lifetime … driving on what is considered America’s most beautiful highway:” Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 (also known as “A Journey Through Time”). Through our Dare to Dream program, Britany worked closely with her Mentor and the RJLF team to plan her four-day camping trip and achieve her dream to share moments of awe with her son. ”As a parent we know we can’t give our children the world, but we can show them it, and to be granted the opportunity to show him this part of our world was the biggest blessing.”
See photos of Britany’s Dare to Dream experience.
Aging Out at 18 Makes it Nearly Impossible to Launch
When youth in foster care turn 18 they become eligible to transition out of foster care. Often these youth are completely unprepared for the daily realities of adulthood, and little to no support system or network to lean back on. When these young adults fail to launch, they cost the tax payer $300,000, annually.
However, our transitioning Fellows benefit directly from RJLF's Friends Launching Futures sustaining support fund. Read our breakdown of Friends Launching Futures support and hear one of our current “Friends,” Delana, explain why consistent support is a commitment you can feel good about.
Heart for Change: A Celebration!
In the News: Foster Care, Transitioning Out, and Mentorship
*Names and identifying information has been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
“I have a knack for the outdoors, and that has undeniably worn off on Derrek.*” Britany's Mentor asked her what she would do if given the opportunity for travel and a new experience. Her immediate response was “an outdoor experience out west with my son... Nevada, Arizona, and Utah have the highest density of National Parks... To be able to witness these up close, and experience such a vast arrangement of them within only a couple hours of each other is a dream come true." Britany dared to dream, and the RJLF team is proud to support our Fellows' dreams. See images of Britany's and Derrek's western adventure below! Learn more about RJLF's Dare to Dream Experience.
*Names and identifying information has been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
Often these youth are unprepared
When these young adults fail to launch, they cost the taxpayer $300,000, annually.
Our transitioning Fellows benefit directly from RJLF's Friends Launching Futures sustaining support fund. This fund is solely supported through our donor base. We are currently campaigning to increase our number of Friends to 100!
100 donors giving $18 a month immediately benefit our communities' youth in transition. A monthly stipend of $1,800 provides Emily, one of our determined single moms, with:
- A laptop to assist her in her core curriculum toward her nursing degree
- Tires for her car so she can get to school, work, daycare, and her home
- Groceries and the chance to instill healthy eating habits in her son
Current Friends Launching Futures Supporter, Delana, feels satisfaction through consistent support. "Our recurring donation supports the R.J. Leonard Foundation on a continuous basis. It’s gratifying to know we are helping the fellows in a consistent and seamless way."
Our dollars help at-risk youth. Increase our impact by joining our Friends Launching Futures sustaining support fund.
You can launch the futures of multiple young adults in transition, and empower them to succeed.
My name is Caitlin Deppeler and I’m thrilled to introduce myself to the RJLF family! I have served the mission of the Foundation during the last 10 years in different capacities including participation in the planning process of our first two fundraisers, four years as a Board member, and most recently as Board Chair.
I bring a unique understanding and familiarity of our Fellows’ perspectives due to my experience working in the child welfare system in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I previously supervised Valley Youth House’s emergency shelter in Bucks County, which serves youth who are experiencing homelessness, are at-risk of becoming homeless, or are involved with the child welfare system.
When I am not working I love to travel and explore new places. I am delighted that RJLF has developed the Dare to Dream Program to create the opportunity for fellows to grow through nontraditional educational experiences while still pursuing higher education.
I am humbled to have been chosen to lead the organization into the future as we attempt to fulfill our mission to educate, initiate careers and personally mentor young adults who are aging out of the foster care system.
In collaborating with the dedicated staff, Board members, Mentors, Fellows, and Volunteers, RJLF will continue to transform the lives of transition-aged young people!
The R. J. Leonard Foundation has elected a new Executive Director Caitlin Deppeler, effective April 2018. She will take the helm from Jo Leonard, Founder, and former ED, who will continue to serve the organization as Chief Visionary and Youth Advocate. “After 7 years of piloting the RJLF, it is time for me to hand over the controls to a new leader, and after an extensive search for a replacement, I am 100% confident that Caitlin is the ideal person to usher in new growth and development for this unique and accomplished organization. Her personal passion and academic and professional background make her a perfect match for this position. I could not be happier to see her lead the RJLF.”
Caitlin has an MSW from Temple University’s Clinical program, with a concentration in children and families. She has spent most of her career working with young people involved in the child welfare system and counseling at-risk youth and their families. Caitlin’s most recently supervised Valley Youth House, an emergency shelter for runaway and/or homeless youth. Prior to Caitlin’s social work career, she was an entrepreneur, running Lucca Salon in Doylestown, PA where she offered free services to young people in the juvenile justice system. She shares that it was this experience that propelled her to pursue a social work degree.
Senior Director of the RJLF, Kathleen Kasper, notes that “while Caitlin has been an outstanding Board Chair, I am excited to have her step into this new role.” As an MSW with therapy experience working directly with foster care youth, Caitlin is very qualified to bring insights into the issues that face the RJLF Fellows. She is well known in BucksMont as a passionate leader focused on building and developing important programs for this population and has already brought new ideas for the foundation’s growth.
Caitlin will direct a dedicated team at the R. J. Leonard Foundation whose work with aging out foster care youth has transformed the lives of bright young adults. “I am excited and honored to take over the leadership of the RJLF and implement creative strategies to serve more youth and manage an incredible organization.”
Media Mentions & More
Times Pub. "SPOTLIGHT: Local Nonprofit Empowers Young Adults Aging Out Of Foster Care." January 23, 2018.
Doylestown Patch. "R.J. Leonard Foundation Raises $2,000 to Benefit BucksMont Foster Care Youth." Jun 21, 2015.
BUCKS COUNTY - According to statistics, Chris fought and won the battle against the odds when he aged out of foster care. He is not homeless, unemployed nor incarcerated, and he did not drop out of high school. In fact, Chris has a stable career in technology as an analyst for JPMorgan Chase. He considers it “kind of a miracle” that he landed where he is now, but his miracle involved resiliency, tenacity, incredible hard work and a series of mentors who were all on his team.
Nearly half of Pennsylvania youth in foster care age out and find themselves unemployed for at least four years because they do not finish high school and/or they suffer from mental health issues that preclude them from functioning normally and managing their lives.
For Chris “aging out was chaotic ... I went from being a junior in high school to living in an apartment alone.”
Chris was referred to the R.J. Leonard Foundation by Montgomery Children & Youth. The RJLF is an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to young adults who have aged out of foster care in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Chris was matched carefully with a Mentor who shared similar values and professional and personal interests. Their relationship was based on their shared love of creative writing, but also on Chris’ fierce desire to learn new things and push himself to the maximum in order to create the life he wanted. Lela provided a non-judgmental, kind and caring platform upon which Chris could form his ideas and plans, and they subsequently worked together to explore a career in technology, his secondary interest. The RJLF introduced Chris to a competitive software development program, advocated on his behalf, and trained him in interviewing techniques during the admission’s process. In addition, the foundation provided Chris with a grant and interest-free loan that covered his living expenses so he could focus 100% on the training. After 12 grueling weeks Chris graduated and so impressed the corporate recruiters at J. P. Morgan Chase, that they hired him on the spot!
Thirteen other young adults have been supported by the R.J. Leonard Foundation’s program, which is unique in that it customizes each individual grant and scholarship based on specific goals. Those goals are the focus of the Fellow-Mentor relationship, however, short-term obstacles and struggles are managed on a daily basis, ensuring that everyday stumbling blocks do not derail progress towards self-sufficiency. “A flat tire or bungled financial aid form should not cause the loss of a job or college class,” says Kathleen Kasper, Senior Director of the RJLF, “so every Mentor is acutely attuned to the well-being of their Fellow. That’s what makes us so unique.”
Chris’s experience with foster care was “mostly negative ... A government system will never, ever, be able to replace a family and community.” Chris told us. The R.J. Leonard Foundation is proud to share that Chris has been living free of government assistance for one year, is about to be married and is loving his independence and life.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that educates and mentors young adults aging out of the foster care system in Montgomery and Bucks counties. RJLF’s scholarships and mentoring program are described in detail at rjleonardfoundation.org.
For young adults who have aged out of foster care, the holidays are isolating . Imagine living in independent housing or a group home, wondering where you will be this time next year. There are no holiday traditions.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation invites you to support our Fellows this holiday season. Empower these bright young adults to succeed through scholarships and enrichment opportunities.
Featured Fellow: Joseph*
Joseph spent most of his early life in and out of different group homes. Despite graduating high school and being extremely independent, he did not think he would be capable of success in college. His main concern was to find employment and pay his bills.
When Joseph was referred to RJLF by the county, he was a contract maintenance worker. We were able to quickly match him with a Mentor who assisted him with his goal to secure full-time employment. He tells us he has learned a lot working in an office as an account specialist. “My Mentor…is awesome. Having his listening ear and encouragement has been so great.”
Now, Joseph is taking evening classes that he loves, and wants to pursue a job in social work. “The support I’ve received from [my Mentor] Tom and RJLF has been amazing.”
RJLF Joyfully Welcomes Two New Mentors
John is a retired Ernest & Young partner who currently participates in multiple not-for-profit activities. After hearing about RJLF through his parish, he was told about our need for a Mentor to our Fellow Jason.* “We are still learning about each other,” said John. “We are working to set meaningful and specific goals … I hope that whatever guidance I provide, that Jason finds [it] meaningful. I want to take whatever we discuss last week and move it forward.”
*Names changed to protect identity
As a teacher, Pam was already alarmed by the number of children she has seen enter foster care. Her husband was the Master of Ceremony for our recent fundraising event, Heart for Change . Pam was moved by our board member and Fellow Miles’s keynote speech . “[The] stories I heard of Fellows being positively impacted and their lives changed…I was completely moved by the whole event.” Pam is excited to build her relationship with our Fellow, Emily.* “They possess the power that determines their destiny.”
In the News: Foster Care, Aging Out, and Mentorship