There are many wonderful memories I will treasure after retiring from embrella. There are three things that, for me, define what over two decades of working at FAFS has taught me:
1) Be passionate about what you do
2) The mouse that roars can make a difference
3) Always have a sense of humor
My first day at FAFS a foster parent yelled at me for not helping her. She confronted me in the hallway and accused me of not giving foster parents enough support. I replied that I was new to the job and would help her as best I could. We were both upset. She felt frustrated and not supported. I was upset because I didn’t know what she wanted from me, and how could she judge I wasn’t doing it. From that brief exchange, I learned that passion can exhibit itself in many ways – anger, frustration, confusion, etc. This was my first encounter in understanding that there is much passion in foster care. People feel deeply about everything. Resource parents, DCP&P staff, our staff, the courts and others are all part of the safety net for children. With that responsibility comes passion. When one link in that safety net is weak, the net may not be able to bear the weight of the responsibility of caring for a child who desperately needs safety, stability and permanency. So, people are passionate about foster care. That passion is critical in building and sustaining the safety net and normalizing a childhood that is experiencing something very abnormal – removal from their biological families. Children may not understand the “why” but they experience the “how”, “where”, “when” and “what” of foster care. People who are passionate will ease the “why” for them.
How is FAFS passionate? We are truly “the mouse that roared”. FAFS is a very small agency by non-profit standards. With less than 30 full time employees, we rely on our passionate volunteers to help us meet the mission. I am honored to have been mentored by Sue and Bernie Dondiego, the co-founders of FAFS. During my first meeting with Sue, she leaned across the table, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t mess this up.” Wise words that have driven the way I manage FAFS. We are the great American story of a small group of people, with not a lot of money or political influence, taking a stand for foster and adoptive parents and demanding to be heard. We roar, leaders listen and we accomplish much.
So, I’ve learned to be passionate and to roar. I’ve also learned to maintain a sense of humor through it all. Foster care lends itself to crying. Or, you can look the sadness in the eye and find something that will bring a smile to your face. For example, I could have told the foster parent who yelled at me on my first day at FAFS that I appreciated her passion, her ability to roar and smiled at her.
I’m leaving FAFS because it’s time for a new generation of leadership to take over and bring us further along in our mission. Wishing everyone who is part of our children’s safety net the courage, strength and fortitude to continue the work. Ultimately, wouldn’t it be great if this work was no longer needed?