When my dad died in 2006, it felt like someone had removed a part of me. It was as if my foundation had crumbled away, and I had been left alone. Who was I going to call when I was in trouble? Who was going to talk to me logically about my heartache, my house flooding, the career decision that I needed to make, etc.? Who was going to come and look at the house that I wanted to buy and give me advice?
Lucky for me, my dad had given me an internal fortitude, a solid foundation. He was an incredibly competent and capable man, and I learned from watching him and working hard in his business. And as it turned out, I was not alone; he had helped me become a capable and strong adult, and for that, I feel blessed.
Robert James Leonard, my dad, was a successful teacher and entrepreneur who had passion for knowledge and education, as well as the tenacity necessary to build a successful business from very little. His passion, the decisions that he made, and the opportunities that he grabbed have inspired me throughout my life and still do today.
In August 2008, motivated by both his passions and the support that he offered to me throughout his life, I launched the R. J. Leonard Foundation (RJLF) in the memory of him.
It may come as a surprise to you that in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, which have a reputation for being affluent suburbs, there are approximately 125 young adults who are in the process of aging out of the foster care system. Their foundations are nonexistent. Their families are gone or unknown to them, and they are left to fend for themselves at 18.
Many of these young adults have overcome obstacles that would upset, frighten, and/or startle you. They have been forced to bounce from foster family to group home and back again, more times than they can count. At 18, they are emancipated, often unable to afford and insufficiently qualified to continue their education. They are let out into the real world to fend for themselves without any kind of support system.
Our mission is clear. While we are supportive of government programs to assist the underprivileged, we are dedicated to providing our Fellows with the resources that will put them back on a level playing field with their more privileged peers. In this way, they will live their own lives and raise families without government assistance. Self-sufficiency is imperative.
It is our hope that our Fellows will pay it forward, helping others like themselves in the future. It is my hope that they build a career and a family – a life after foster care – so that their past does not define their future.
With love and gratitude,
R. J. Leonard Foundation