Category Archives: Blessings

Thank You Dr. King!

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I was a 12 year old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington and delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

On August 28, 1963, as I turned on our TV, approximately 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. The rest of us, numbering in the millions, listened on the radio and watched on television.

As a child I visited my grandmother and her husband in Oakland, California on Sundays after church. As an 8th grader, I was no stranger to outstanding preachers and beautiful gospel music. But Dr. King’s words, still so moving and relevant fifty years later, did something no other preacher had ever done before.. He not only spoke truth to power. He lifted us up – all races, genders and creeds – to the mountain top to see what we are collectively called to do in our life time. Dr. King gave the nation and it’s citizens a spiritual and moral Call to Action – one that continues to guide me to this very day.

Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech is considered to be one of the great pieces of oratory of the 20th Century. Perhaps the greatest. I remember hearing it like it was yesterday. As Dr. King spoke, I was deeply moved by his intelligence, wisdom and courage, awed by the truth and beauty in his words, and transfixed by the speech’s powerful cadence.

He was an eloquent speaker, peaceful visionary, inspirational leader, gifted storyteller and passionate preacher/teacher all rolled into one. I appreciated the way he first he painted a realistic picture of the injustices black Americans faced and the role the government played in preventing all it’s citizens from attaining freedom and equality. He reminded us that equality, opportunity and freedom are American ideals, belonging to no singular demographic.

Then he moved on to help us visualize a better America. He did it simply but with such imagery, passion and skill. He shared his dream…

When he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, I could actually see it. When he went on to say, “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York…” the picture was crystal clear. I was watching Dr. King on a black and white TV but the images he was painting with his heartfelt words came through in living color.

I am forever grateful to Dr. King. He was the greatest human rights activist of our time. His peaceful actions and powerful leadership inspired millions of us to dream.

My dream is to inspire a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, I find myself wanting to write an awe inspiring speech that acts as a catalyst and rouses all Americans to actively support our nation’s half million children in foster care. So far, I only have a rough draft:

I have a dream. That all our children in America are…

* Cherished and honored from the moment they are born.
* Rooted in healthy families and caring communities that invest in their health and well-being.
* Given equal rights and equal protection under the law as well as equal consideration in our communities.

I have a dream … That all children placed in our public foster care system will one day reside in a nation where they are given every opportunity to live healthy and productive lives.

I have a dream … That all Americans will stand together under the Banner of Shared Responsibility to reduce the number of youth who are “aging out” of our public foster care system from 25,000 annually to zero.

I have a dream … That Americans of all ages and backgrounds will dismantle the foster care pipeline that leads to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

I have a dream … That the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement will become a stellar social justice collective, like the one that Dr. King created for the Civil Rights Movement.

Thank you Dr. King. Your vision will always guide me.

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A Life Well Lived

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It is said that there are only two stories – a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Children who are removed from their families and placed in foster care are living both stories at the same time.

Take 5 year old Ali. Last week she was living at home with her mother who suffers from poor mental health. A call was made to the Department of Children and Families by a teacher citing neglect. A visit to the home was made. The next day Ali was picked up at school by a social worker and taken to a foster home.

Being removed from one’s family and placed in foster care is traumatic. This experience, even when a child is being removed from an unsafe situation, can bring grief, shock, stigma, loss and a future filled with invisibility, shame and hopelessness.

Most children aren’t doing anything special when their lives break apart – one moment they are with their family or with their peers at school, the next they are not. This is a life altering experience. Some children have the resilience to cope with the unpredictability, loss and change inherent in our chiild welfare system. Others find it completely overwhelming.

Ali is a child who found the experience completely overwhelming. She is very close to her mom. Losing her was simply too much to bear. She needed more than a foster home.She required hospitalization and round the clock support. Hopefully, she will feel better soon and be placed with a caring trauma informed family that lives in a community that understands her grief and will help her heal – people who surround her with all of the kindness and compassion she needs.

We make a promise to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety and find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family. In a timely fashion.

Somewhere along the way we, as a nation, forgot our promise and many children like Ali “bounce” through a series of homes, schools, and people.. We know that all children need to belong and be connected to loving people. They need to feel cherished. Without these basic cornerstones, children become lost souls. Imagine if Ali and her half million peers who are experiencing foster care were connected to a group of adults who value, honor, love and support them. Imagine the difference this would make. For their lives, our communities, schools, prisons and society.

The Treehouse Foundation does imagine a different life for our children in foster care. For the past decade we have been investing in widspread innovation designed to ensure that all children live healthy and productive lives. We envision every child being woven into a safety net of loving, respectful and caring relationships.

In 2006 we opened our first multigenerational Treehouse Community to pro-actively address our nation’s “aging out” crisis. Every year in this country 25,000 young Americans “age out” of our public foster care system alone. Without a family to claim them and an extended family standing beside them, they are at risk for homelessness, incarceration, teen parenting, unemployment and lives of poverty.

The Treehouse Community model invites Americans of all ages to help children. It demonstrates how we can work together to move youngsters out of foster care into permanent loving adoptive homes so they are never at risk of “aging out”. We are dissolving the foster care pipeline to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

For the past 7 years, over 100 people, ranging in age from newborn to 94, have been investing in one another’s health and well-being. Kids are moving out of the child welfare system, being adopted by caring families, consistently supported by their neighbors, succeeding in school, getting the mental health services they need, and heading off on career paths or to college where they are pursuing their interests.

In 2010, the Treehouse Foundation launched the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement to harness creative ideas and leverage resources to better serve our children and youth. In addition to planning and hosting 4 annual Re Envisioning Foster Care in America Conferences and facilitating the development of 8 regional REFCA Working Groups, the Treehouse Foundation is leading the creation of a regional REFCA Road Map and Implementation Plan Process for western Massachusetts – a template that can replicated coast to coast.

Children in foster care are homeless in the deepest sense. Many have lost their first families, their innocence and their dreams. The Treehouse Foundation is working non-stop to create a Culture of Possibility so that every child in America is given the opportunity to live a life that is valued, supported and well lived.

Ali and her peers deserve to thrive. They are worthy of our investment. Please help the Treehouse Foundation achieve widespread impact. Go to refca.net and donate $50, $100, $25) or more today. Help us Be The Change! Thank You!

Joan’s Blessing

They say when someone blesses your life both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another.

I know that lives can be blessed and strengthened in many ways:
through friendship, by kindness, by generosity, through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, and our belief in someone. In her book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen
writes beautifully about the subject, saying that “when we offer our blessings generously, the light in the world in strengthened, around us and in us.”

My friend, Joan Hastings, blessed my life. When we met in 2004, I had no idea that she was going to become such an important person in my life. It wasn’t clear to me then that I was going to develop a deep appreciation and love for this woman with the twinkle in her eye.
But it didn’t take long!

Joan was a delightful friend. She was smart, strategic, and compassionate. She had a deep and abiding love for her family and friends. She was collaborative. She brought people together in the best possible ways. One of my favorite Joan Memories is the day she introduced me to the folks at Enchanted Circle Theatre and Snow Farm. I’ll never forget the smile on her face. It lasted the entire meeting… As we sat together creating exciting new learning opportunities for children whose lives had been impacted by foster care, the positive energy in the room was palpable. Joan loved inspiring innovation. She was such a visionary!

Joan filled my life with possibility and opportunity. She acted as a sounding board for my ideas and aspirations. She offered me her wisdom and guidance. She gave me courage. As a result of knowing Joan, I now am able to stand in front of a room and invite people from all walks of life to join me in Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America.

As I spend time honoring Joan’s memory today, I find myself flipping the pages of My Grandfather’s Blessings to find one of my favorite passages.
It speaks so eloquently about the power of being blessed.

“On Friday afternoons when I would arrive at my grandfather’s house after school, the tea would already be set on the kitchen table. My grandfather had his own way of serving tea. There were no teacups or saucers or bowls of granulated sugar or honey. Instead, he would pour the tea directly from the silver samovar into a drinking glass. There had to be a teaspoon in the glass first, otherwise the glass, being thin might break.

My grandfather did not drink his tea in the same way that my parents did either. He would put a cube of sugar between his teeth and drink the hot tea straight from his glass. So would I. I much preferred drinking tea this way to the way I had to drink tea at home.

After we had finished our tea my grandfather would set two candles on the table and light them. Then he would have a word with God in Hebrew. Sometimes he would speak out loud, but often he would close his eyes and be quiet. I knew then that he was talking to God in his heart. I would sit and wait patiently because the best part of the week was coming.

When Grandpa finished talking to God, he would turn to me and say, “Come, Neshume-le.” Then I would stand in front of him and he would rest his hands lightly on the top of my head. He would begin by thanking God for me and for making him my grandpa. He would specifically mention my struggles during that week and tell God something about me that was true. Each week I would wait to find out what that was. If I had made mistakes during the week, he would mention my honesty in telling the truth. If I had failed, he would appreciate how hard I had tried. If I had taken even a short nap without my nightlight, he would celebrate my bravery in sleeping in the dark. Then he would give me his blessing and ask the long ago women I knew from his many stories – Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, and Leah – to watch over me…

My grandfather died when I was seven years old. I had never lived in a world without him before, and it was hard for me. Hr looked at me as no one else had and called me by a special name, “Neshume-le,” which means “little soul.” There was no one else left to call me this anymore. At first I was afraid that without him to see me and tell God who I was, I might disappear. But slowly over time, I came to understand that in some mysterious way, I had learned to see myself through his eyes. And that once blessed, we are blessed forever.”

Thank you Joan. I am deeply grateful to you for all of the gifts you have given me. I loved having you in my life. Your generosity, wisdom, humor and vision will always be remembered.