Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a new program on which we will be keeping an eye.
Each year, more than 20,000 young people age out of foster care. According to HUD, “approximately 25 percent of these young people experience homelessness within four years of leaving foster care and an even higher share are precariously housed.”
To address this, HUD is creating the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative, which will “housing vouchers to local public housing authorities to prevent or end homelessness among young adults under the age of 25 who are, or have recently left, the foster care system without a home to go to. Read HUD's notice.”
Contact: Caitlin Deppeler (RJLF), 1-833-4RJLFND
Contact: Jennifer Ashenfelter (Holiday House),
In late October, a Halloween fundraising event at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center raised $1,000 for the R.J. Leonard Foundation.
Holiday House clients received an official photo of their dog in costume in return for a small donation, the proceeds of which went to the R.J. Leonard Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young adults aging out of the foster care system through mentoring and scholarships.
Holiday House holds several similar events throughout the year, each time in support of a different charity.
Caitlin Deppeler, director of the R.J. Leonard Foundation, has been taking her dogs to Holiday House for many years. She was thrilled with the support her organization received. “They have become family as they care for our family, and I am so excited that they are taking interest in a mission I hold close to my heart,” she said.
Dr. Laura Weis, who with her husband Dr. Randy Weis owns Holiday House as well as the Doylestown Veterinarian Hospital, remarked, “Giving back to local organizations that support the people and pets in our community is very important to everyone at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center. Our clients love the special photos of their pets, so including them as part of a fundraising effort creates a fun and meaningful event. We are so grateful to our generous clients for their overwhelming support.”
About the R.J. Leonard Foundation
The R.J. Leonard Foundation is dedicated to helping young people who are aging out of the foster care system by providing them with personal mentoring and educational scholarships.
About Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center
Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center is owned by Drs. Laura and Randy Weis, DVM. Theirs is the only veterinarian owned pet resort in the Doylestown area. Learn more at holidayhousepetresort.com.
our Content Development Associate remarks on "Heart for Change" and "building a current" for Our Fellows
Last week, on October 19, I drove up from the Montgomery County, Maryland to attend the R.J. Leonard Foundation’s fourth annual Heart for Change fundraising event in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. I have been working as a writer and editor for the RJLF for a couple months, but this was my first time seeing any of the Foundation’s Fellows, staff, or supporters in person. The experience was well worth the four-hour drive.
Before attending Heart for Change, I of course already knew that the RJLF is dedicated to helping young people living in very difficult circumstances achieve their dreams. I was already proud to play a part in the work.
The stories I heard at Heart for Change, however, drove home just how impactful the Foundation has been in the lives of its Fellows.
These young people already had drive, passion, and intelligence before they ever came into contact with the RJLF. What the Foundation has done, however, is given Fellows the tools to harness those qualities and reach their full potential.
I was especially moved by a point that Fellows returned to again and again: that their time with the RJLF has inspired them to give back in turn, thus creating a positive cycle of social change.
The great Robert Kennedy once said that each time a person “stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice,” they send forth “a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”
That is precisely what the RJLF is doing.
By Peter Sicher, Content Development Associate for the R.J. Leonard Foundation
See more photos of our Heart for Change on our Facebook page.
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.
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!
In December, our Mentors shared their experiences and strategies for achieving their Fellow’s goals. At our Mentor Meeting, current Mentor and RJLF board member Jim Brennan shared tactics for developing a plan for his Fellow, Anthony*. “Assess the Fellow; Set Aspirational Goals; Define Foundations to achieve Goals; and Regular Check Ups,” are the steps Jim uses when creating a plan for Anthony. He used this plan to help Anthony prioritize his schedule when he had too much on his plate. The plan allowed Anthony to decide which schools he wanted to apply to, as well as how much he would need to save to attend his dream school. Now, Anthony has also prepared to save up for a truck. It’s “less about the documents and more about the discussion,” stated Jim, and he listened to other Mentors as they shared what works - and what doesn’t - when they set goals with their Fellows. Have an interest in becoming a Mentor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of Fellows involved in the R.J. Leonard Foundation's programming.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation surveyed their Fellows and learned that 20% have never been outside of Pennsylvania. 50% have never seen the ocean. 75% have never seen a play or live performance.
We learned about the places they dream to visit: Alaska, California, Florida, London, France...
... and the things they would like to do:
Our goal is to broaden our Fellows' perspectives and futures, and we can identify and offer the best possible experience for all. Generosity and support from our donors allowed us to raise over $10,000 toward this initiative to date.
A recommended share in this program is $25.00. Become a supporter of our Dare to Dream initiative, and provide vulnerable youth with a chance to experience something breathtaking.
“Closed in a room, my imagination becomes the universe, and the rest of the world is missing out.”
Criss Jami, American poet