Over the past decade I have met with hundreds of people to talk about the Treehouse Foundation. Recently I walked into the office of a regional leader to discuss the possibility of creating a collaboration to support students whose lives have been impacted by foster care.
As he shook my hand, he smiled and said, “Congratulations on your recent Congressional award. That is quite an honor to be named a 2010 Angel in Adoption. Solid recognition by Senator Kerry for a job well done.” After that warm welcome, we sat together and began to talk.
He started off with this statement. “There are thousands of non-profits. Tell me what makes you unique. If your organization disappeared tomorrow, why would people mourn its loss? What is the Treehouse Foundation doing that no one else does ?”
It was one of the best conversations I have ever had regarding our purpose and vision. He asked me to take a few moments to write down five things that distinguish the Treehouse Foundation from other non-profits working on behalf of children who experience foster care; five ideas and approaches that make it distinct.
It was challenging to limit our unique perspective to five bullet points but after some quiet reflection this is what I wrote:
1. Most Americans believe that there are only two ways they can support a child who is experiencing foster care: to become a foster parent or adopt a child from foster care. This is too much to ask of most people. The result is that hundreds of thousands of potential resources turn and walk away from the very children who need them the most.
The Treehouse Foundation is creating a compelling new menu of engagement options so that citizens of all ages can become resources to children in their communities. We are partnering with a broad cross section of people regionally and nationally to help ensure that every child is rooted in family and community.
2. Every year in this country nearly 25,000 young people “age out” of the public foster care system without any enduring family or community connections. The result: They are at risk for homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, teen parenting, and lives of poverty.
To change this reality, the Treehouse Foundation is working to move children out of foster care and into life long families so they will not be at risk for “aging out”. Treehouse and its partners built an intergenerational Treehouse Community where families who are adopting children from foster care live with caring neighbors of all ages. Child welfare leaders in California, Oregon, Maine and Washington state are in the process of developing Treehouse inspired communities to support their children who are in the child welfare system.
3. Collaboration lies at the heart of the Treehouse Foundation approach. The power of partnership is evident in everything that we do. It enables us to build a broad coalition of resources and have a much greater impact, regionally and nationally. We have fiscal partners, Treehouse community partners, innovation partners and regional partnerships with colleges, universities, non-profits, philanthropists, businesses, educators, equestrians, foundations and others. Each and every collaboration strengthens our capacity to be effective change agents.
4. The Treehouse Foundation’s leadership has helped launch a national Re-Envisioning Foster Care Initiative designed to bring stakeholders together to leverage people, idea and funding resources. Creating a regional template for the Re-Envisioning Foster Care process has long been on the Treehouse Foundation agenda.
Before we could focus on it regionally, we had to build an intergenerational community based model and bring it to life.
Once the Treehouse neighborhood was on its way, we began to develop a Treehouse Hub of Innovation to meet the needs of children and families who live at Treehouse and those who live in other towns and cities in western Massachusetts. The idea is to partner with an array of individuals and organizations. Together we would combine our resources and expertise and invest in innovation. Then we would invite people of all ages to become active participants in the Re-Envisioning Foster Care process.
5. The Treehouse Foundation believes in citizen led change. People doing great things. It is our greatest asset. Together we are building a culture of possibility, shaping new realities, and transforming foster care. We are asking the question, “Under what conditions do our youngsters who have experienced foster care flourish ??!” What we are learning is that as people are contributing their time, treasure and talent to support children in their backyards, everyone’s well-being is enhanced.
After reading my five points this wise man nodded and looked up, eyes twinkling. Then he gave me some concrete feedback.
“The Treehouse Foundation is definitely contributing in original ways. You are providing innovative leadership in many arenas. You are transforming foster care and your perspective is unique. I applaud you for your keen understanding of the importance of collaboration. You are worthy of widespread support. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Please let us know what you can do to make us stronger and more effective.
We sincerely appreciate your support and generosity.