Our fearless founder evolved into our chief visionary officer!
Earlier this year, the R.J. Leonard Foundation’s founder Jo Leonard moved into a new role as our Chief Visionary Officer. We recently sat down with Jo to talk about her new position and her thoughts about the future.
How was the transition to Chief Visionary Officer?
It has been very interesting for me. As you can imagine I felt protective about who I wanted leading this very personal initiative. After interviewing a number of candidates for the role I was relieved to find that one of our own was the best candidate for the job. Caitlin has been working with us since our launch, and so I felt very confident in not just her abilities but her passion and commitment. This made it much easier for me personally.
How is your new role as Chief Visionary Officer different than your previous role as Executive Director? How have your tasks changed?
I’m definitely not as involved in the day to day as I used to be, which is lovely of course, as it gives me more time to work on other projects. Beyond supporting the team as they continue with the transition, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas that can improve our programs. I am an avid listener to local media broadcasts, which often highlight local social programs that can be of value to our Fellows (foster care youth we serve). For example, we connected one of our Fellows to Zip Code Wilmington, a fantastic coding program. Sam* excelled in the program and now works for a large investment company, earning a salary that gives him a wonderful quality of life for his new family.
What are you hoping to achieve as Chief Visionary Officer in the next year, or maybe in the next month?
I think the year is a better question than the month. It’s hard to be a visionary every day!
Making connections is what I love to do. Uncovering new supporters and new programs and connecting them to the RJLF keeps the organization fresh and innovative, and engages Bucks and Montgomery County residents in a cause that we can all feel great about. We live in a county of disparate opportunities and overall quality of life. When we share our wisdom, effort and wealth with those who have less opportunity than ourselves, everyone wins.
Longer term? I have a lot of big ideas. We are always on the look out for smart, vibrant board members who love the idea of changing the trajectory of someone’s life for the better. With this new team in place, I am confident the big ideas will come to fruition over the next 5 years. And I can’t wait to see it all manifest!
The vision for the RJLF remains the same. It’s quality over quantity, changing the lives of our Fellows in meaningful ways. Our program’s attention to detail and involvement in almost every aspect of our Fellows’ lives is what sets us apart.
Meet Jo and Caitlin at Heart for Change, the R.J. Leonard Foundation's largest annual fundraiser!
* Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
SPONSORSHIP opportunities are available!
We all want to make a difference in someone’s life. We, at the R.J. Leonard Foundation, are making a difference in many lives, every day, and we do it with the help of our Mentors, Sponsors, Donors, and Volunteers. Join our growing list of sponsors for our largest fundraiser of the year!
Build goodwill in our community and provide your company with another vehicle to highlight your services and capabilities. Accept our “challenge” to become a sponsor for our annual fundraising event. Your sponsorship will defer the costs associated with hosting this wonderful event, which include venue costs, entertainment and speaker fees, and program printing. Learn about our different levels of sponsorship by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Auction donations appreciated!
Contribute to the success of Heart for Change by donating a live or silence auction item or experience.
The RJLF is requesting auction items for our upcoming celebration. Contributions can be sent to P.O. Box 1138, Doylestown, PA, 18901. Auction items can be mailed through email request: email@example.com.
Our theme for this year’s event is “Enriching Experiences.” Vacation homes and concert, theater, and sporting event tickets are gratefully accepted. Cash donations, jewelry, and beautiful items are welcome.
Your critical support will provide an immediate impact on our Fellows. Their list of needs is constant from new tires to a new car. Consider becoming a sustaining donor in RJLF's Friends Launching Futures monthly support fund, or make a one-time donation below:
Thank you for your heart and for making a difference in someone’s life!
The R.J. Leonard Foundation: What We Do
We educate, initiate careers, and personally mentor young adults who are aging out of the foster care system; we empower them to succeed, free of government assistance for the rest of their lives.
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.”