Brother Raymond L. Fitz Award
April 16, 2014
I am very humbled, very honored and so surprised to receive the Brother Raymond L. Fitz award. Thank you so much to the County Commissioners – Debbie and Judy and Dan, to Gerry Pegues, to Jessica Abernathy and to all of you who put this wonderful event together.
When Jessica asked me whom I would like to invite to this gathering, I thought I would be very uncomfortable in having people come to celebrate any accomplishments I may have offered to our community. Then I realized that this is the perfect opportunity to gather the people who inspire me most, who motivate me, who I can gather in order to thank for their contribution to Dayton and its suburbs- and so I do. I look at each and every one of you- I know I’ve missed people, and that will haunt me late at night- but I look at you, and I think, now there’s a person who is dedicated to their mission- I can learn a lot by that person’s motivation. Each and every one of you does something special to better our community, and I am most grateful to know you, and I thank you for what you do.
I think one of the most interesting, best things I’ve learned over the past eight years is the sense of community resource that is so strong in my beloved Dayton. Working with a population of over 5,000 children who are neglected, abused, in foster care or who are in need of community resource could be a really daunting, impossible challenge. But not when you know you can reach out to so many (you) to accomplish whatever dream is presented. That’s what I love. That’s what drives me- the fact that when a need is expressed, whether by the wonderful folks at Children’s Services for a child they serve, by an area school for a student they teach, or by a parent who is seeking aid for their son or daughter, we at FLOC have outreach resources that are just phenomenal. Give us a specific, and we can contact local businesses that are only so happy to help. Give us a wish, and we will find people who can grant it. And granting wishes is really fun. Let me tell you how we work.
First off, we have a gala every year. Many of you have been to our home, where we introduce some of the kids we work with, and highlight the current needs of our population. We serve lots of alcohol, and you bid on fabulous donations offered by generous people, and we raise money! So far, with the gala and many other fundraising events, we’ve raised over $750,000. With nominal rental fees at the Talbott Tower, and the fact that we are 100% a volunteer agency, we have money to play with, and what fun it is!
OK, so about six months ago, we were presented with a request from a dedicated caseworker through children’s services- she was working with a young man who is highly autistic. He cannot relate well to other people- he cannot communicate verbally. It was a fluke music class in his fifth grade year- the teacher put on a crazy variety of music with very high pitched, atonal notes where Ian looked up from his desk and made eye contact for the first time with his classmates. Long story short, this music was his connection with the world. He could relate to it, could respond to others by listening to it. His foster mother requested a computer that played that crazy music all the time. Our board read this request (always accompanied by a letter of recommendation from a schoolteacher or counselor or an involved adult) and jumped into action. Sherri Richardson’s husband is a computer expert. He found a specialized computer, tweaked it even more, and within a month, we had Ian’s computer. On a sunny spring afternoon, Ian’s foster mother, his birth mother, his teachers, his caseworker and our board sat around a large table. Ian opened his computer, the chaotic noise came forth, Ian looked up at us and said, “thank you”. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that miracle?
At the end of school last year, Dana wanted to go on a school field trip that took the class to Washington DC. Our board reviewed Dana’s request, along with a beautiful recommendation, and we sent Dana to DC. She came to our next board meeting and talked about her trip- her first time outside of Dayton, her first time in a pool (it was very wet and scary) her first time for so many things. You learn very quickly with FLOC the things you take for granted are simply impossible dreams for the kids we serve.
Those are two examples of what we do in our Grant a Wish Program. Moments of magic that live with you forever.
We have a Boutique downtown. It is absolutely New York fabulous, and I can say that because I had NOTHING to do with the decoration. Foster children are typically moved 5-7 times in their high school years. They don’t go to proms or homecoming- but they do go to the winter ball that Independent Living hosts through Children’s Services. They don’t have the money for fancy clothes- so years ago we started gathering new and slightly used formal wear. We have hundreds of gowns now, so many handsome suits. In the past five years, we have created Cinderella magic for over 500 kids. Now we have hairdressers, make up artists, a limo for essay winners. Doug and I always go to the Winter Ball to see the beauty that is there.
We have a Comfort a Child Program. When our present board started, children coming into care were given a plastic garbage bag and 5-7 minutes to gather their things – a horrible transition. We now have hundreds of duffel bags that we give to those hard working, brave caseworkers – and we collect donations of comfort items to put into those bags. One family of five children was taken out of their home very late at night this past Christmas. When brought into the Haines Building, a caseworker offered one of the kids – a 14 year old boy a teddy bear that was donated to our Comfort a Child. Another caseworker commented that no 14 year old boy would ever want a stuffed animal – the boy was too old, probably too cool for that. That teddy bear was in the boy’s arms as he walked into his foster home three hours later.
We have the Betsy Hoobler Skill Center, in honor of my beloved mom who, upon retiring was nominated then named Professor of the Year for Ohio and subsequently, the National Professor of the Year. Mom, the cheering will never ever stop. We have tutors and mentors and academic supplies for children in need, and for those children in our longitudinal study. We’re working with 15 children- 4th, 5th and 6th graders, academically very talented, in need of financial resource. It is the first study of its kind in our area. We meet monthly in order to determine academic or financial need, and will do so until they are graduate; at that point, they will be put into a pool of scholarship candidates.
We just wrapped up our Christmas for Kids Program. This year we sprinkled Christmas on over 1500 children- a record for us. We had over 1,000 hand-decorated stockings to give to kids who have never had one.
Theses are five of the ten programs we have in place – and I think you can see how moving, how fulfilling, how rewarding this whole thing is. Your heart grows with each and every moment you share joy with kids who have had so little of it. We may not be able to change a child’s life, but we can put beautiful color in a moment that they can remember – and that is what I cherish. Maybe that moment will give them hope for their future. I have been contacted by both Cincinnati and Columbus powers that be – both cities want to start their own FLOC, with us as a template. I’d like to see FLOC across the country, across the world – and then I’ll take on the universe.
And here is where I tell you, I am beyond lucky, beyond fortunate to work with a phenomenal group of individuals who are simply passionate about helping our kids. Carol Griesdorn, our FLOC liaison has been wonderful in her unwavering support and dedication. Our board – Sheri Aldridge, VP, Sherri Richardson, liaison to DGM&S, Jackie Stapleton, our Recording Secretary, Jenna Rigg, our Corresponding Secretary, Mike Dyer, our Marketing Director, and Doug Mann, my best friend – that is his official title. These people volunteer their hours, their hearts – the collaborative effort made by the brilliant thinking we have at our board meetings – taking myself out of this one – I just listen a lot… it’s just very hands on- and it’s fascinating to watch how quickly we can determine the need and answer the call, whatever it may be. That’s what we do at FLOC – and how lucky am I to be in the wake of a mission of so very many who want to make a difference for so many little ones. I thank you, my beloved board, for your dedication and joy in making really big things happen for small people.
I thank my own little people – my children, for giving me such a beautific and golden childhood journey. It was SO good that I want to live it over and over and over, and I get to do that with FLOC.
I thank my precious mother, who, at 86 is step by step with me. She tutors, she mentors, she is the first and last shopper at Christmas for Kids. Mom, you are an amazing inspiration to me each and every day.
I thank Dyer, Garofalo, Mann and Schultz for their unwavering support in every way possible. We could not do what we do without their daily resource, and all of us at FLOC are most grateful.
I thank my very best friend, Doug. Our nightly courtyard dates always inspire a new mission for the next day; you have my heart, you are my heart.
And finally, I thank you all. You have given me such a gift – the gift of this honor, the gift of your friendship, and the gift of sharing color and joy. I love what I’m doing- thank you for sharing in my journey.