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.
In honor of Father’s Day, we wanted to share with you the video below about the impact a foster father had on his foster son. Allow this story to remind you that every child is one caring adult - regardless of that adult’s role, gender, age, etc. - from being a success story.
This week, 25 states announced that they will end the additional $300 unemployment benefit early.
Individuals who have been receiving unemployment benefits through the pandemic have received additional funds as a result of the stimulus bills passed, most recently through the American Rescue Plan. The extra $300 per week allotted by the American Rescue Plan was scheduled to end on September 6. Instead, the first of the 25 states will discontinue the benefit on June 12. Many do so with the belief that this will help end the labor shortage reported most prominently in the hospitality industry.
However, is $300 a week actually keeping potential employees at home? Experts say it’s unlikely, particularly when you take into consideration other factors like health concerns and childcare (hybrid and virtual learning remain commonplace). And there is always the probability that - when faced with more than a year without a job - potential employees looked or are looking to other industries.
But even if $300 is enough to delay an individual’s return to work, isn’t that its own cause for concern? Because yes - $300 is more than you would earn weekly working full-time, earning minimum wage in, say, Pennsylvania. How is that enough? We all know what it costs to live in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
Perhaps, then, we need to think less about an added unemployment benefit and more about how we can help individuals no matter their job be self-sufficient and financially stable in our economy.
Staying home this past year has been harder for some than others. This is particularly true for youth who identify as LGBTQ+. A recent survey by The Trevor Project found that COVID-19 made living situations more stressful for more than 80% of LGBTQ youth, with only a third of the respondents reporting that they lived in an LGBTQ-affirming home. Unsurprisingly, the survey also indicated that LGBTQ youth struggled with their mental health in 2020 - with 70% of surveyed youth stating that their mental health has been poor always or most of the time through the pandemic.
These survey results serve as a stark reminder that while our society has taken steps toward being more open and inclusive, we still have miles to go, with perhaps the most work to be done inside the homes of young people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Until every person - regardless of age - who identifies as LGBTQ+ feels safe, seen, accepted and loved in their own homes, in their families and in their communities, we as allies cannot truly take pride in our Pride Month celebrations.
I’m starting to struggle with my depression, but it’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re all going through something.
These words or variations thereof have been spoken by multiple Fellows over the past months. As the weight of 2020 and, still, 2021 bear down on them, they find that their mental health is increasingly challenged. We all do. However, they are also quick to dismiss their struggles, so often pointing to the fact that they are not alone in them.
And it’s true. Even before the pandemic, an ever increasing number of children, young adults and adults reported mental health issues. The events of 2020 simply amplified them. Yet, it’s irresponsible to allow the prevalence and, in many ways, the normalizing of mental health to minimize the experience of an individual. Depression, anxiety or any other form/symptom of mental illness should be properly addressed, properly acknowledged - regardless of whether or not your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor are also struggling.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. Let’s spend this time not only normalizing the fact that millions struggle with mental health but also normalizing the idea that everyone deserves help when needed.
This past weekend, the nation celebrated the moms in our lives. We at the R.J. Leonard Foundation are honored to know a large number of wonderful mothers, including many of our amazing Fellows, Mentors, Board Members, staff and community partners. We were thrilled to celebrate them.
However, in recognizing moms we must also remember to see them for who they truly are and who they have had to be this past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on mothers and will continue to do so even as we navigate the hopeful end. It has stretched mothers to their limits in terms of time, exhaustion, stress and mental health. In short, moms are not okay.
So, as the week after Mother’s Day stretches on and in the weeks that follow, we encourage you to reach out to the moms in your life, not with flowers and a card but with - in the words of said moms - your listening ears on. Ask them how they are, ask them how you can help, and ask them to be honest.
We’ll be doing that at the Foundation, because without RJLF’s moms, whether they are Fellows, Mentors, Board Members, staff or community partners, we would be so much less.
Young people in foster care often have no choice but to pack their belongings in a few trash bags as they are moved from their parent/guardian’s home to a placement - or as they are moved from one placement to the next. This image of children lugging their clothes in large Hefty bags to temporary homes has spawned efforts by organizations and individuals to provide duffel bags full of necessities for those in care.
However, having a bag more permanent than a trash bag is an answer for only the most visible problem. It is still a bag that a child must fill up when their time is up.
Youth in foster care are forced to become accustomed to living in the temporary as opposed to the permanent. Few, particularly those who are teenagers, are adopted or find homes that they can remain in long-term. As a result, youth in foster care often only have enough belongings to fit into a bag - trash or duffel - and that habit of minimalism by necessity can stick with them into adulthood.
May is National Foster Care Month. Let’s spend this month finding ways to help youth in foster care and the young adults who have aged out of the system put down roots, so that they can have the opportunity - and the stability - to fill more than a bag.