He Was In Foster Care - Now a Former RJLF Fellow is an RJLF Board MembeR
This story was written by the R. J. Leonard Foundation team in cooperation with Miles Hanley, formerly an RJLF Fellow and now an RJLF Board Member. It is a story that has brought Miles Hanley full circle from receiving help from RJLF to now working as a Board Member to offer help to current Fellows. He is an inspiration to all who know him. Here is his story:
By the time Miles reached 10 years old, he had lived in four states, constantly relocating due to the instability of his parent’s marriage and abuse within his family. Miles believes he last saw his father when he was between five and seven years old. It was difficult for his single mother to make ends meet as she raised him and his three rambunctious brothers, and when Miles turned 12, his mother became ill, no longer able to care for them. One day child protective services removed Miles and his siblings from their home with only a few minutes to collect their most precious belongings. After a short period of living with other family members, Miles and his brothers entered the foster care system.
Miles shared that after many challenging years in foster care placements, he was accepted to an Independent Living Program, which allowed him to live on his own while finishing high school. “People assume I had guidance and support,” Miles states, but he ultimately guided himself through school and life challenges. “It must have been a sight for other shoppers to see a teenage boy shopping for groceries by himself.”
At age 16, Miles met his future adoptive parents, Chris and Kelli Hanley. “They grew into my parents … my mentors ... They are a huge influence on my life. From navigating school and its complications to getting my driver’s license, Miles said, “they were there for me. After being in foster care, and a broken home, I had no experience of healthy relationships. They were my role models of how men and women should act. Their lessons and their values have taught me about healthy, loving, committed relationships, and how to be a good person in the world.”
When Miles was referred to the RJLF, he was at West Chester University and needed assistance with the transition from college to a career. At that time Miles told us that he had no professional network. “Having a team of people committed to me and my success gave me confidence to take a risk. With professionals in my corner, I was no longer in a position to lose.” When Miles joined the RJLF as a Fellow he was immediately matched with Jo Leonard who served as his Mentor during his college transition. In addition, he was given many resources such as a laptop, clothing for interviews, a network of industry professionals as well as job search training. He was connected to SAP through Jo Leonard, RJLF’s Founder and current Chief Visionary Officer, and after extensive interview prep prior to the interview he told us that he felt, “so prepared. Every question they asked me I had prepared for.” He received and accepted his job offer promptly after. He also received an Education Scholarship to reduce his loan burden. All of this support empowered him to pursue his goals with more confidence and passion.
Today, Miles is a successful Senior Solutions Engineer at SAP, however, he remains connected to the foster care system as a Board Member of the R.J. Leonard Foundation. When asked why he wanted to continue his involvement in foster care, he immediately responded: “For the Fellows. I believe in the cause, and being a champion for this cause. There is an impact I can provide that others cannot … I want to be able to tell them, ‘Here’s what I learned: to believe in yourself. You are capable. You can create the life you want … as you want it to be. Be confident, and believe in yourself. Believe that you can do.”
About the R.J. Leonard Foundation: The transition from foster care to the ‘real world’ is abrupt. When a foster youth turns 18, they “age out” of the system and are left to shoulder all of the responsibilities of an adult with very little support. And most of the time, with no family. Aging out of foster care unprepared for the real world can have dire consequences. Between 400,000 – 500,000 children in the U.S. are broughtinto the child welfare system each year. In Pennsylvania approximately 13,000 – 15,000 children are currently in foster care or their families are involved in the child welfare system, according to the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation team is thankful that local "celebrities" Marc Farzetta of CBS Philly, Jennifer Eckfield of The Learning Experience, and Mike Sielski of the Inquirer and Daily News were able to participate in our Celebrity Bartender event at The Other Side, located at Chambers Bistro & Bar in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on August 29, 2018 from 5:30PM to 8:30PM.
Chambers 19 donated 20% of sales to support our mission to educate, initiate careers, and mentor young adults as they age out of the foster care system, empowering them to be free of government assistance for the rest of their lives.” Multiple baskets were up for raffle along with a 50/50.
Images of the event, below:
With the generosity of the local community we have raised over $2,000, which does not include the donation from the Chambers 19 Bistro and Bar family. We look forward to sharing the final total with our supporters and donors. This contribution will be used to provide our Fellows with Mentors, educational scholarships, transportation scholarships, and social and cultural enrichment opportunities.
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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.
Young people aging out of foster care need a safety net
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.