Save the Date! The R. J. Leonard Foundation’s annual Heart for Change gala will be October 27, 2022 at Cedarbrook Country Club. We are thrilled to announce that the gala will be held fully in-person this year, as well. We can’t wait to see you - to share more about RJLF, raise money for our Fellows, and enjoy good food, good drinks and good times.
Tickets go on sale soon! Watch your inbox and social media for details.
To donate auction items, visit https://H4C.givesmart.com.
Somehow, it’s August. Relatively speaking, we are just moments away from back to school, Halloween, the holidays and another year. As we all do, we will soon be remarking on how quickly time flies, how much changes in the blink of an eye. But for youth in foster care, that quickly speeding time can run simultaneously with a life standing still.
For so many of us, reflecting on what has just passed is an opportunity to wax poetic about happy memories, growing children, milestone moments. While youth in foster care may have glimpses of that, they have, in many ways, experienced that time differently. Another summer passing, another school year starting, is often a reminder that they remain in the system. They are not home.They do not have the same privileges as their peers. They are not flying through a “normal” childhood.
Remember that as you see opportunities through the remainder of this year to help fill backpacks, grant holiday wishes, and more for young people in foster care. Those small gestures from you may not give youth the “normalcy” they deserve, but it will give them a few more things to look back and smile at when yet another year ends.
At the age of 18, young adults in foster care age out of the system. In some but not all states, they have the option to remain in care until they are 21. Services for young adults who are or have been in foster care, such as independent living and housing assistance programs, typically last until age 21 as well, with some now extending to age 23. Beyond that cutoff of 21 (or 23) is a dearth of services. There are a few transition age youth programs that work with young people to 26, but they are more limited in their scope.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we do not have an age limit. We recognize that a young person may not be ready to pursue career or education goals until they are older than 18, 21, or 23. We know that “life” may make the education process longer, particularly when children and additional responsibilities are involved. And we are privileged to be able to help our Fellows without the constraints of age or time. We are a support no matter what.
To be a part of that support, visit https://www.rjleonardfoundation.org/ to learn more and get involved.
On July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline changed its number to 9-8-8. The streamlined three digit number (previously a 10-digit 800 number) is available to everyone in the United States. Those who call, text or chat will be connected to a trained counselor who is available to listen, support and connect to resources, as needed.
Since its inception, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reports that it has proven to help individuals experiencing mental health crises “feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed and more hopeful.”
No matter your experiences today or in the past, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is three digits you should know, share and utilize. You cannot predict how mental health may affect you and your loved ones in the future, but you can be prepared.
It is easy to jump to judgment. In fact, it can be difficult not to, particularly when an individual is making choices you never would or you know they should not. This often comes up in Mentoring, as for example a Fellow struggling financially makes a large, seemingly unnecessary purchase or finds fault with a job they just started.
However, in these moments of judgment, we rarely take the time to consider the whole picture, the whole person. Why was the purchase made? What does it mean to the Fellow? Is the conflict at work legitimate or are there underlying issues - past trauma - that may impact decisions. And what else is going on? What is taking up space in this person’s every day that might not leave room for other concerns. Just because an issue is standing out to you, doesn’t mean it is to them.
That doesn’t mean that a Mentor (or anyone) cannot address questionable actions, but it does mean that they should not do so rashly. The short gasp of judgment should be followed by a deep breath of learning and understanding. Only when we take time to see the whole person - past, present and future - can we truly connect and support them.
In the UK, a documentary was released this week discussing the foster care system in Wales and the use of temporary placements like hostels. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke has continued to point to the state’s child welfare system (as a part of his campaign) as something that needs to change to truly protect youth. All over the world, media, politicians, individuals and organizations are calling for change, for improvement to systems that are meant to help children but too often fall short.
Yet, it feels like these calls also fall short, never quite making it to the point of action. They reveal or remind us of what is wrong but don’t necessarily point to a solution or next step. We must remember that awareness can never be the end goal. It is the starting point.
For real change to be made, we must contact our legislators - state and national, work with community organizations to plan and implement meaningful programming, and continually look for (and act upon) ways to help.
Learning is crucial. But utilizing our knowledge is even more important.
Since the first day of the first school shutdowns in the spring of 2020, parents and educators have worried about the impact of virtual learning. Would students fall behind by being out of the classroom? And if so, by how much?
According to a study out of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, the answer is yes. Students learned less from home - missing the most, presumably, when virtual learning was new and forced to begin without preparation (early on in the pandemic). On average, it is believed that students missed 7 to 10 weeks of math learning in the 2020-2021 school year.
While that in and of itself is concerning, what’s more so is that schools in communities with high rates of poverty missed even more. The researchers estimated that students in high-poverty schools missed 22 weeks of math learning, having spent more time out of the classroom with fewer resources from the schools and at home.
This gap between low poverty and high poverty communities is not new and thus isn’t entirely unexpected. However, that does not make it any less concerning. All students, educators and parents will have to work hard in an attempt to recoup some of the educational losses. However, the schools and families already under-resourced will have to work even harder. And if the gaps cannot be closed, those students will take the next steps into college and/or the workforce less prepared.
**The R.J. Leonard Foundation fully supports all public health measures that keep children and families safe, while also recognizing the need for solutions to the challenges that evolve as a result of such measures**
My oldest son starts kindergarten this fall, with a start date about two months away. Last week, I received an email from his school with his school supplies list and the opportunity to purchase those supplies now though a district-wide program. In looking at the list, I was reminded of the school supply lists I compiled last year for our Fellows’ children. It was a very different experience.
Our Fellows live in a variety of districts across Bucks and Montgomery Counties, some highly rated, others poorly so. When I called one of the districts in mid-August, attempting to find a supply list for the upcoming school year, I was told that the list wasn’t ready yet and would only be shared with parents. Many other districts, at this point, had posted their lists online in addition to sending it via email/mail. This was mere weeks before the first day of school, leaving the parents with limited time to find the items, let alone the best prices (more often than not brands are also specified on lists).
Now, does a delayed supply list indicate a lesser school or district? No, but it does demonstrate the difference between what parents from one school district to another not only expect but receive. It illustrates the privilege of time for preparation and suggests a school district that is perhaps better resourced, in that it is able to send out this information early and quickly.
This comparison may seem trivial, but it is an example of the small pieces of disparity throughout our communities that compile into uneven playing fields. It is a look at how families in neighboring districts start off the school year - one with time to spare, the other harried through no fault of their own. It is something that we need to remember.
Not every community has the same step up - whether in regard to their school district, access to groceries, access to gas or public transportation and more. That needs to change.
You may have heard in recent months, if not years, that the United States is in a mental health crisis. And whether or not the word “crisis” is apt (it is), we are certainly experiencing an uptick in mental health issues and concerns. The White House reported in March of this year that 2 in 5 adults report experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, with several subpopulations harder hit than others. The number of adolescent girls, for example, who have been to the ER following attempted suicide has increased 51% since 2009.
The causes of this ongoing increase are wide ranging and not fully flushed out, though many point to the COVID-19 pandemic and social media as two major catalysts. Regardless, one thing is certain, as a country, we are not equipped to handle the rising need for mental health treatment. Access to mental health care in terms of affordability/insurance coverage, location, virtual availability, and practicing practitioners is overwhelmingly limited. Slate published a piece this week about call centers unable to staff the Mental Health Crisis Line, for instance.
Without mental health care actions taken to address mental health will be stymied before they start. We must work to find meaningful ways to make treatment available to all who want and need it.
Pride Month is a month that celebrates the freedom for individuals who are LGBTQIA+ to be themselves. It is a month marked by parades, festivals and more. This year’s Pride Month is no different in how it is commemorated. A full calendar of events can be found throughout Bucks, Montgomery and neighboring counties. However, there is also an underlying anxiety in 2022 - an acknowledgement that throughout the country the gains toward equality and acceptance that have been made are being pulled back or, at least, threatened.
We cannot afford to take steps back when there are still so many steps forward ahead of us. This Pride Month, celebrate, yes, but also learn. Find out what you can do to continue fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights.
Love cannot win when hate legislates.