In 2014 Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters

Happy 2014! It’s that time of year where we look forward to a fresh start or set that yearly resolution, usually involving fewer doughnuts and more vegetables!  This year, why not try a new approach and make it your goal to mentor a child or young mom. January is National Mentoring Month and here at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s we have a number of mentoring programs available. These programs include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Sisters in Support which helps young moms, a program to help children who have an incarcerated parent, and mentoring children at school.

We are also excited to have been voted the 4th charity partner for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon taking place in Grand Rapids this April. Proceeds from the marathon will benefit our Sisters in Support mentoring program and I encourage the women in our community to participate.

Research has shown that when matched through a quality mentoring program, mentors can play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible decisions, stay focused and engaged in school, and reduce or avoid risky behavior like skipping school, drug use and other negative activities. Quality mentoring relationships lead to a significant increase in a young person’s prospects for leading a healthy and productive life, strengthening families and, ultimately, our community.

As we focus on engaging more community members in volunteering as mentors, we will share a simple message: Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters. Mentoring relationships are basic human connections that let a young person know that they matter, and mentors frequently report back that their relationships make them feel like someone who matters in another person’s life.

I thank you for your support in 2013 and look forward to a successful and fulfilling 2014. And remember, this year make a difference in a young person’s life and become a mentor! 

Happy 2014!

Sharon Loughridge
Executive Director

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A Happy and Hope Filled 4th of July

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I remember distinctly the 4th of July as a child. Every year, we would pile in the car with every Radio Flyer and folding chair we could manage, head to Downtown Muskegon for the Seaway Festival fireworks, and eagerly stare up at the sky waiting for the first boom of fireworks.

The children of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s have had a very different childhood than I did. But their Holiday will be the same.

At dusk on the 4th of July, every child’s eyes will look to the sky; regardless of if they are victims of abuse or neglect.

Our children will grab their Radio Flyers, which you donated, and pile into our vans. They will stare at the sky with sparklers in their hand in a special VIP section, thanks to the amazing people at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. They will wait, just like every other child in our community, for that first burst in the sky.  We believe our children need to have these same types of life altering experiences as any other child.  Our children grow and learn from experiences, which help to form the people they will be someday.  Thank you for making these experiences happen. 

It is our goal to keep that feeling alive throughout the year.

Happy 4th of July to all of our supporters, friends, and especially the children and families we serve,

Sharon Loughridge

Summer Memories

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What’s your favorite summer memory?

I will never forget mine. For the last two weeks of July during my childhood, my grandparents rented a cottage on Campbell Lake outside of Hesperia.  I looked forward to the trip all year long.

The family memories will always stay with me. The jingle in my pockets when my Dad would hand me nickels and dimes for the candy bar machine and the soda pop machine, the rainy days we would spend at the fun house or playing board games, and the first time my Grandfather taught me how to use his boat.

Then one day, I went into town to do that classic 16 year old girl activity: look for boys. Little did I know Hesperia, MI and that sunny day would change my life. I met my husband Paul that day. In my office, I have a framed postcard from Campbell Lake that I pull down every now and then when I need a moment of peace and quiet reflection.

For many of the children D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s serves, my summer experience is a dream. Many have never seen Lake Michigan, been on a boat, or had the simple pleasure of a quiet beach and a good book.

That’s why this summer we are asking for your help.

With your support the children and families we serve can have a memorable summer like I did. Here’s a list of some of the things we would like to do:

  • Soccer and Baseball Camps
  • Whitecaps Baseball Games
  • Beach Outings
  • Camping Trips to Hoffmaster State Park
  • Horseback Riding
  • Cedar Point Trip
  • Shedd’s Aquarium
  • Fishing at Dean Lake
  • Mackinaw Island Trip

If you would like to help make this summer memorable for some pretty great kids, click here.

Summer memories can last a lifetime. Maybe, because of your help, in 45 years one of our children will place a postcard of their favorite summertime memory in their office.

Thank you for reading my summer memories. Together, we can create memories for the children of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s,

Sharon Loughridge

Executive Director, D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s

 

D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s Spring Newsletter

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This week we sent out our Spring 2013 Newsletter. In it you will find many of our annual outcomes, client successes, memories of past supporters, and event highlights. Sharing this information with you allows us to look back at our successes and ask ourselves what is the common thread?

The common thread throughout the entire newsletter is the overwhelming support that you have shown us.

Because of your support, 96% of children with a Big Brother or Big Sister avoided alcohol, drugs, and delinquent behavior. Because of your support, a ten year old girl named Marie, who has seen more suffering and loss than most of us in a lifetime, experienced the programs offered by D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s. Now she is learning to accept the love offered to her. Because of supporters like the late Norm Ginebaugh, children on our residential campus met Santa every year, and had thousands of food and goods donated over the course of 14 years. Because of your support, Bowl for Kids’ Sake was able to raise $50,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters and our special 125th Anniversary Guild Gala raised a record breaking $300,000.

Please take a moment to learn about our outcomes, Marie, Norm, and our record breaking events by reading our Spring 2013 Newsletter here.

Thank you for all that you do to help the children and families we serve.

Remembering Mr. Mike

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On April 30, 2013, Mike DeBolt passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Mike had spent his entire career working in various capacities at St. John’s Home. He began as a student intern while attending Calvin College. His positive attitude and eagerness to learn were evident to everyone who knew him. But it was his signature laugh—that long and genuine laugh right from his soul—that revealed a kind and loving heart that made Mike so special to those around him. He brought joy and kindness to hundreds of kids who had known so little in their short lives.

In those early years, the kids who knew him found an older brother they had never known. Later on, Mike became the dad they never had known—ready to take them out to shoot hoops, out to the ball field, or over to Riverside Park to go fishing. He taught them how to shoot a jump shot, throw a baseball or bait a hook. He was full of patience, wisdom, and loving support.

That support also came during a time of the day with which most of the kids at St. John’s Home struggled: the school hours. After years of frustrations, so many of the kids with whom Mike worked found the classroom to be one more reminder of their failures. At times, these kids resisted any help offered to them. It was not uncommon to see crises during the school day. As a leader of the Academic Support Team, Mike often had to take the lead in calming kids down. In all his years—through the good days and the bad—Mike never lost his temper or his focus on the kids with whom he was entrusted.

Even in the most challenging times of his life, Mike continued to keep in mind the children of St. John’s Home. He showed up, ready to work following the death of his father and when his dear son, Michael was stationed overseas in Iraq.

That never changed with Mike, even after being diagnosed with cancer two years ago. As he approached the end of his time in this world, he asked that a memorial fund be established—Mr. Mike’s Educational Fund—to help children in years to come as they struggle to fulfill their academic potential. In the years to come, his family and friends will be invited to add to this special fund to be used exclusively for the educational needs of the children on the St. John’s Home campus.

If you would like to be a part of Mike’s remarkable legacy of caring for kids, we are asking you to consider a contribution to the Mr. Mike Educational Fund. In doing so, you will help to give the kids who come to the St. John’s Home campus a fair chance at life. Like Mike DeBolt, you will know that you have left the world a better place. To donate to Mr. Mike’s Educational Fund, or DABSJ in general, please click here http://www.dabsj.org/give-now

10 Ways YOU Can Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

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All April, D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s has been focused on National Child Abuse and Prevention Month. Sometimes, preventing child abuse may seem like an insurmountable task. But there are ways, big and small, that every West Michigan resident can help. YOU can make a difference in the life of a child or a struggling family. That difference can come in many forms. Here is a list, big and small, of ways you can help.

  1. Become a foster parent. When a child is abused or neglected, foster parents are able to provide a safe and loving home until their family situation can be improved. By fostering, you can help prevent these children from experiencing ongoing abuse.
  2. Become a mentor for a young mother in need. Becoming a mother can be difficult whoever you are. Sisters-In-Support is a program where young mothers in need are matched with female mentors. Volunteer “Sisters” act as friends and role models to help these women learn to cope with parenting, school, and financial responsibilities.
  3. Become a mentor for a child with an incarcerated parent. While there are many programs that reach out to the incarcerated, very few address the needs of their children. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi Mentoring Program matches these children with compassionate and supportive mentors.
  4. Donate basic care items to families in need. Families in need often need small, everyday items to not only care for their family, but also to feel supported by their community. Families always need diapers, games, activities or gift certificates to keep families active and having fun.
  5. Be a good neighbor. Prevention can be as easy as friendship. Often, struggling families just need a listening ear. If you notice a neighbor or friend struggling with parenting, ask what you can do to help, and tell them you are there for them.
  6. Be a good example. Be a good example to all children and families you come in contact with. Sometimes life is challenging, but by setting a good example for parents and children you are helping pave the way for a new generation with less abuse and neglect.
  7. Support children leaving the foster care system. Moving out on your own for the first time is scary. Imagine not having the support, both financial and emotional, that most young adults have from their families. Through your support of these young adults, you can help them stay on a positive path.
  8. Support DABSJ’s home based services. DABSJ offers several home based services that provide preventative support to families in need. We offer our Young Delinquent Intervention Program to children under 11 that have broken the law, intensive in-home family therapy to families with a teen who exhibits out-of-control behaviors, and we are part of the Kent School Services Network that provides mental health services to children and families right at the school.  Help support these families with basic everyday care items.
  9. Donate to our Foster Care Bag Drive. When children are removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, they generally don’t have time to pack their clothing and favorite toys. Our goal is to make the transition from their family to a foster family as supportive as possible. For a list of items needed, click here.
  10. Share your interests or talents. DABSJ offers numerous ways to share your time, talent, or treasure with children. Annually, DABSJ serves thousands of children in need. Whatever your available time, whatever your interests, we have an opportunity for you! For more information on ways to get involved, click here.

If you would like more information on any of the 10 ways to help, contact us at 616.361.5227 or info@dabsj.org. Together we can help prevent child abuse and neglect!

Help us mark National Child Abuse Prevention Month

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

I wanted to share with you the billboards DABSJ has throughout Greater Grand Rapids this month.

So why this month? Why this campaign? Why these billboards?

 Preventing child abuse and neglect can seem like a daunting task. Statistics like “every day 6 children suffer from abuse or neglect in KentCounty” can seem insurmountable. But there are things the average KentCounty resident can do. There are things we can do together to lower these figures.

Why this month? Because this month serves as a reminder that there are things YOU can do to help those 6 children a day suffering.  You can become a foster parent!

Why this campaign? There are real children behind these statistics and there are very real and often simple things you can do to help them. You can spend 1 to 3 hours a week serving as a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters. You can donate diapers to a family in need so they can maintain a safe and healthy environment for their children to grow up in. You can be a good neighbor to a struggling single mother next door through our Sisters in Support mentoring program. You can listen and be a shoulder to cry on.

The statistics alone are shocking but only with the love and support of our community, can the 2,626 children that suffered abuse or neglect in KentCounty last year overcome their trauma.

We hope April can be more than just another month and that it will be the month when we rally around protecting children from abuse and neglect. To learn more about ways you can help, visit us at www.dabsj.org or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dabsj

The D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s Difference

Photo credit Terry Johnston

Photo credit Terry Johnston

D.A. Blodgett – St.   John’s is different.

My first post explained that the best response our community can give to children and families in need is love. It is this belief that helps make DABSJ different. You make us different by providing a loving mentor to a young mother, special Easter Baskets for children on our residential campus, or even a loving temporary foster home.

These are the things you make possible.

Today, however, I would like to share with you another aspect of what makes DABSJ different: our dedicated staff.

I recently heard a story I just had to share with you. It’s about a seven-year-old girl named Amber that came to our KidsFirst Emergency shelter with many undiagnosed disabilities. She was nonverbal, suffered from seizures, had to wear a diaper, required 24 hour one on one care, and through this all was just one of 15 children staying at the shelter.

This isn’t a story about Amber though. This story is about Liz, a staff member at KidsFirst.

I heard about Amber and how her disabilities required a kind of care that KidsFirst does not see very often. But what I heard more was how everyone at Kids First noticed how Liz would treat Amber.

“When her needs were met, she would smile instantly.” Liz told me.

Liz’s memories of Amber don’t focus on her disabilities. Instead, she remembers asking all staff to make sure Amber and Liz wore matching Converse sneakers.

Amber became Liz’s “little buddy” and would go everywhere with her. Liz would put Amber in her Radio Flyer wagon and bring her around campus, listen to music with her, and just interact with a child who was used to being ignored and neglected.

The above photo came across my desk the other day.

During our playground build last year there were 250 volunteers on our grounds requiring all of our attention. Yet, in the midst of it all, Liz never forgot about Amber and her needs. The radio flyer wasn’t available that day, so Liz, not wanting Amber to miss out on the fun, picked her up and carried her.

That is the D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s difference.

“Caution: This Note is Filled with Love.”

A student at the residential campus of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s recently made this Valentine’s Day Card.

I can think of no better way, or day, to publish my first blog entry.

In my recent Grand Rapids Press Guest Column, “We need Grand Rapids to love all children as if they were their own,” I challenged this great city to love all children as if they were their own. On the surface, this is an easy task. But, with a new report out seemingly every week on the dire situations facing so many West Michigan families, is love really enough?

Love seems like a flippant response to 33,438 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect.

That magic four letter word seems trivial in light of 23.1% of Kent County’s children living in poverty.

In my experience as Executive Director of the oldest child welfare agency in West Michigan, I can tell you, love is not enough. But without it we will never succeed. It must be the basis for all we do.

The challenges D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s faces are enormous. Our clients, often through no fault of their own, have educational, economic, health and safety challenges.

I recently sat down with our Sisters In Support social worker and she told me a story that unfortunately is not unique.

One of her clients is a 20 year old, single mother. This woman is trying to make a better life for her young daughter and herself. She rid her life of negative influences – even disassociating from friends and family who would lead her astray. Because of this, she has no support system.

She is trying to lift herself out of poverty. But how, in this day and age, does a young woman get a job with no college degree? If there is a job she qualifies for, how can she find it, let alone apply for it, with no internet? If she finds a job she qualifies for, somehow manages to apply for it without internet, how can she find daycare for her young child? If she finds a job she qualifies for, manages to apply for it without internet, somehow secures childcare at a reasonable rate, how can she get to that job without a car?

Every step of the way in this story, love was this woman’s answer.

She found a job because her Sisters In Support Mentor helped her search. She applied for the job because the Sisters In Support social worker stayed late to let her use her internet. She secured daycare through state assistance that a DABSJ worker helped her apply for. Finally, she got to work because a community member donated Rapid bus passes just for her.

With the love she was shown, this young mother and her child’s life is changed forever.

In the Mayor’s State of the City Address, he challenged our city to answer three questions:

  1. How do we nurture a child-and-teen friendly culture in our community where children truly feel valued?
  2. How can we demonstrate to children and teens that we will prioritize their needs?
  3. How might the community positively support parents and caregivers and raise the importance of their role within our community?

With this blog, I hope to provide some answers to these questions; but most importantly, keep this critical conversation going.

No matter the question, be sure the crux of every answer will be love.

Caution, this blog will be filled with love.

– Sharon Loughridge, Executive Director of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s