Like most Americans, I spent today reflecting on the many blessings in my life. Not the least of which, is my family with whom I enjoyed today’s Thanksgiving feast. Yet, this is also a day where I stop to reflect on the importance of the work that we do at CCAI. Today, perhaps more than any other, I cannot help but think of the millions of children around the world who have yet to know the joy that comes with having someone on the other end of that wishbone. It is with them in my heart, that I want to share five things that I am most grateful for today.
5) For Those Who Show Us Why Family Matters: Last month, Nicholas Kristof called on President Obama and Governor Romney to take notice of research that shows a child’s early beginnings, and in particular the quality of the relationship with their parents, was at least as good a predictor as I.Q. of whether he or she would graduate from high school. He is not the first to bring this simple truth to light. Nobel prize-winning James Heckman and Harvard’s own, Dr. Jack Shonkoff have been leaders in the development of a strong scholarly basis for investments in early childhood. What’s more, Dr. Charles Zeanah, Dr. Charles Nelson and Dr. Nathan Fox have demonstrated for the world that the nurturing, consistent relationships a child needs to thrive are not found in institutions, but rather in families.
4) For Those Who Remind Us You Are Never Too Old to Need a Family: The entire U.S. Foster Care system continues to operate under the assumption that an 18 year old is a fully functioning adult who is able to live life independently of others. Until we change that, we will continue to produce young people who are unable to reach their full potential. We can no longer accept the fact that 25,000 children a year meet this fate. We also cannot be complacent as tens of thousands of children are told that long term foster care is a better option than a family. Today and every day, I am grateful for programs like Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, Extreme Recruitment, You Gotta Believe and the Wait No More campaign that are proving that there is no such thing too old. Our fellow advocates, most notably Nicole Dobbins with Voice for Adoption, are giving policymakers the information and inspiration they need to make “unadoptable” unacceptable.
3) For Those Who Remind Us That One Person Can Make A Big Difference: In September, we celebrated our 14th annual Angels in Adoption. At this year’s gala, we proudly honored Katherine Heigl, Josh Kelley, Ne- Yo and People Magazine for their extraordinary contributions on behalf of children in need of families. But the stars of the night were actually, Karen Parker and RJ Sloke, whose tearful embrace reminded us that a single act can change the trajectory of a young person’s life forever. Ms. Parker, a 9th grade computer teacher, took notice of RJ, a young man who was so let down by the system that he had to repeat 9th grade three times. She made the conscious decision to become his life-long advocate and mentor. RJ, a member of the FYI class of 2012, is due to complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at GMU this year. Karen, thank you for being a shining example for us all.
2) For Those Who Have Changed Lives: This summer we were graced to have 15 young leaders join the ranks of our Foster Youth Internship (FYI) program. I have learned a lifetime of knowledge about what it means to be a leader from these incredible young people. Their wisdom, tenacity, courage and hope are indescribable. While I could give a shout out to each and every one, my thoughts today are of Talitha James, who at the end of the summer told her Congressional audience that the key to reforming foster care lies in our remembering one thing: successful children grow into successful adults. She is so right. As Marc Parent, author of Turning Stones, put it: Children are like cups and the mistake we sometimes make is to think our job as parents is to give children the patience, love, courage, hope and insight that they need to become adults. The truth is they are already filled with every one of these things. And our role as their parents, teachers and mentors is to make sure not one drop of this potential gets spilled.
1) For Those Who Make the Work of CCAI Possible: As you may or may not know, CCAI does not have a large budget or an army of staff. We excel because of the generosity and commitment of so many incredible people it would be impossible for me to mention them each by name. I can only pray that every measure of goodness that you have brought to us or the children we serve will come back to you tenfold. I would however like to take the opportunity to single out my staff without who not only make the mission of CCAI come alive every single day, but as people make the world a much, much better place.
May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!