At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we encourage our volunteers to take part in suicide prevention training, either hosting the training ourselves or connecting Mentors and Board Members with the opportunity elsewhere. Recently, a potential volunteer questioned the need for suicide prevention training. He was planning to be a mentor, he said, not a counselor. Would he be expected to address suicidal ideations on his own?
The answer was, of course, no … but.
We don’t expect our Mentors to take on the role and responsibility of a crisis counselor. But that doesn’t mean a Mentor - or anyone - should pass up the opportunity to better understand suicide and suicide prevention. The reason for that is simple - suicide can affect anyone. There are factors that indicate a greater risk, but people of all ages, from all backgrounds experience suicidal ideations, attempt suicide or die by suicide every year. Suicide is , in fact, the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Thus, we believe it is imperative that anyone in a role of support and guidance be informed about suicide prevention. Truthfully, we believe that everyone should be informed about suicide prevention.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. May it serve as a reminder and an opportunity for us all to learn more.
Is it too soon to think about the holidays? It might feel like it. After all, kids just went back to school and the Halloween decorations are just now hitting the aisles of Target. But it won’t be long before Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Year and more are upon us. In fact, ongoing shipping delays already have the media and stores urging early ordering.
And if the time is now to make your holiday shopping spreadsheet (just me?), then it’s also time for you to start brainstorming your holiday/end-of-year giving plan.
The fall is a great time to research local organizations and groups. Many, like RJLF, are hosting fall events (in-person or virtual) that will allow you to meet, learn and get a better feel for the cause. They’re also preparing end-of-year fundraising drives. At RJLF, we’ll be participating in Giving Tuesday and launching an annual gift drive to help our Fellows and their families have a happy holiday.
Knowing what’s out there and who’s in need will allow you to enter the holiday season ready to spread cheer.
If you’d like to learn more about RJLF, contact us here.
Financial aid is often the deciding factor in whether a student is able to attend their school of choice - or any school for that matter. In fact, at the R.J. Leonard Foundation, many of our scholarships go toward filling in where financial aid falls short. When students receive their financial aid package, it can come as a huge sigh of relief, but that sigh can be cut short by the expectations that come with the assistance.
A new report published by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) sheds light on the requirement for Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). SAP typically requires a student to maintain a specific GPA and course completion rate in order to retain their education grants. If a student does not meet SAP, their financial aid can be withdrawn. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “The JBAY report ... found that over a third of all youth in foster care and 42% of Black youth in foster care did not meet SAP requirements during their first year at community college. Black, Native American and Hispanic students represented in the study were more than twice as likely not to meet SAP than white and Asian students.”
When financial aid is withdrawn, the student is more likely to drop out of college. The JBAY report urged schools and states to adopt policies and practices that offer a greater level of support to students. By, for example, creating escalating GPA requirements that allow for a lower GPA in a student’s first year of college, schools may be able to help more students remain at college and graduate.
This report is a good reminder that getting to college is not the ultimate goal. Students must have the resources, tools and support they need to successfully complete their degrees once there.
First days are hard, especially first days of school. They come with new teachers, new material, perhaps a new building and - even with the same peers - new or evolving social circles. Often, parents try to lessen the nerves around the first day of school through celebration. They buy new clothes, as well as backpacks and lunchboxes with favorite characters on them. They make a special breakfast and take a photo on the front steps to commemorate. They reinforce a foundation, essentially, of love, safety and warmth at home that will remain with the child through the newness of the school year and beyond.
But what of the children who don’t have that? For many young people in foster care, the first day of school is even more nerve wracking, not only because they are so often in a completely new school with unknown peers and teachers but because they know their home lives are different - and not only different but likely temporary, making the first day of school in August or September the first day at this school and just one of many to follow.
If you’re like me, your social media will be flooded with first day of school pictures over the next few weeks. Enjoy those photos. But while doing so, don’t forget that not every child is having the same first day. There are some for whom it is a greater challenge.
This spring, even as late as early July, things were looking up. Vaccines were widely available, transmission rates were down and the media was hyping a return to almost normal. Then vaccination rates stalled, the delta variant became the dominant variant, and transmissions of COVID-19 began and continue to rise.
Yet again, it feels like we’ve taken too many steps backward. It’s frightening but also frustrating, because now is supposed to be different. At least, that’s what we’ve told ourselves.
It may be a while yet before masks come off once more. We may start or continue to pause our in-person meetings and rethink our plans for the near future. But we should not lose heart. We can do this.
Last month, Earth’s Future published a study on the impact of extreme heat in the United States. The study found that people who are low income and people of color live in significantly hotter neighborhoods than those with higher incomes, as well as those who are non-Hispanic, white. The disparities occurred across more than 70% of the counties studied in both subcategories, and in some cases, the difference in temperature was as great as 7 degrees Fahrenheit. When those 7 degrees are spread across ever new and increasing temperature records, that can be a life-ending difference.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us again and again that a global experience, even a community event, is felt differently depending on individual circumstances. The same is true for climate change and more. The disparities that exist in our county, our country and throughout the world will only continue to grow without action.
It is up to all of us, particularly those of us with more resources at our disposal, to find a path toward equity. When the heat is bogging you down this month, remember that.
This past weekend, on a late afternoon run to the grocery store, I caught a few minutes of Kelly Corrigan Wonders on NPR. It just so happened that, at the time, Corrigan and her guest Lande Ajose were discussing the power of networks, specifically those built over the course of a college education.
“The power of a network is not just ... I have proximity to this person, it’s the actual moving from casually knowing someone to getting to know them better and well enough that they’re willing to share their network with you,” said Ajose. She added that when networking relationships remain transactional, they’re less beneficial.
“Right, because they’re not going to call their uncle to see if they can get you an internship,” Corrigan said by way of example.
This struck a chord with me, as it instantly reminded me of the goal of RJLF. When we connect a Fellow with a Mentor, we aren’t just connecting them with one support person but with a network of support that includes their Mentor, the RJLF team and the community of resources we have established throughout Bucks and Montgomery Counties. We are asking and encouraging each Fellow to be open to relationships that extend beyond transactions to meaningful, mutually beneficial connections. In doing so, we offer our Fellows the opportunity not just to complete their education or launch a career but also to become a connection within that network - to be able to be called upon by another in need in the future.
At RJLF, we understand and place great value on the power of the network. We are in awe of the resources and opportunities that have sprung up from our network, and we are constantly looking to build upon it.
If you are interested in becoming a part of the RJLF network, contact us here. To hear the full Kelly Corrigan Wonders show, click here.
It may only be mid-July, but stores throughout the area have already made the change from their summer stock to back to school. Bookbags, notebooks, crayons and more fill the aisles previously occupied by pool floats, picnic baskets and fairy lights. While it may seem too soon for this transition, for many parents, it’s a welcome reminder to get started early. Not only does summer school shopping help lessen late-August panic, but it could - if budgeted properly - spread out the cost, as well.
After all, back to school isn’t cheap.
On average, parents spend more than $500 a year on school supplies for their children. This includes not just the long classroom-specific lists (which last year saw the addition of hand sanitizer, masks and disinfectant wipes) but needed electronics and clothes as well. For many, these costs are overwhelming if not unattainable. Not everyone has the money needed to comply with expectations.
This is often true for our Fellows. Those with kids are most commonly single parents, often college students themselves, trying to make ends meet. And while we have some amazing community partners - One Simple Wish and The Vine - who so often help our Fellows with the bulk of these costs, we can’t always cover everything. But we would like to, and for that, we need your help.
To help our Fellows prepare to return to college this fall and our Fellows’ children prepare for the new school year, click here to learn more about donating and/or how to contact RJLF.
RJLF partnered with Sunshine Letter Co. to create a sign that will be available on Sunshine Letter Co’s site starting this week! For every sign sold, $5 will be donated to RJLF.
The sign reads “Still I Rise”
The quote was recommended by our Fellow Ana. Ana first read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” at a time when she was struggling. The words struck a chord with her and have served as a source of inspiration and strength ever since. “It means everything to me,” she says. “No matter what life throws at me, no matter how many times I get knocked down, I will always pick myself back up and keep going.”
Check out the sign here!
Over the past several weeks, more than 3 million young people in the United States have graduated from high school. How many of those youth were or have been in foster care? The numbers are likely lower than you imagine - not because so few high schoolers are in foster care but because so few students in foster care graduate from high school.
Youth in foster care had a 55.3% graduation rate in 2020, compared to a rate of 87.3% for their peers not in foster care. Similarly, youth in foster care have a higher dropout rate than their peers and are more likely to be held back, suspended or expelled.
For those who graduate, the next steps are not any easier. In fact, the stats for college are much worse. Less than three percent of foster care youth earn a bachelor’s degree.
Educational success should not be an anomaly for youth in foster care. It should be the norm. At the R.J. Leonard Foundation we are committed to changing the statistics. Join us in this mission, as we help youth aging out of the foster care system find and accomplish their educational and career paths. Click here for more information.