18 years ago I became a foster parent after reading a heartbreaking newspaper article about a 5-month-old baby who was kidnapped from his crib in foster care. The article was a catalyst for my family to step up to the plate and support our foster care system. My husband and I enrolled in foster parent training classes and were delighted when two beautiful little sisters were placed in our home.
I knew very little about our foster care system. I had one foot in the “Land of Opportunity” where my children by birth grew up, and where they received all of the resources they needed to live healthy, connected and fulfilling lives. My other foot was planted firmly in the “Land of Child Welfare” where resources are scarce, and every year nearly 25,000 young people “age out” of foster care and are at risk for homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, teen parenting and lives of poverty.
As a former teacher, I believe in the promise we make to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety, and to find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family. Additionally, I realized they needed passionate advocates to fight on their behalf and ensure they have everything they need to live productive and fulfilling lives.
In 2002, I established a vibrant nonprofit organization called the Treehouse Foundation. My goal: To move children out of foster care into permanent, loving families and communities that invest in their hopes, dreams, lives and futures.
The Treehouse community is a 60-home village located in Easthampton, MA, in the heart of the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. Our intergenerational approach supports families adopting children from foster care and their neighbors, older Americans (55+), who act as “honorary grandparents.”
Treehouse is a special place where all generations thrive. In our first decade, we have accomplished many milestones. Families are strong. Kids are growing up surrounded by people who love them. They are graduating from high schools, colleges and vocational programs to pursue their dreams. Elders are imparting their knowledge to the next generation and actively investing in foster care innovation.
This year, as we celebrate our 11th anniversary, the Treehouse team is preparing to share our model with states all over the U.S. Plans are in place to build two more Treehouse communities in California and Massachusetts that will benefit upwards of 250 people.
I’m thrilled that America will soon meet the wonderful children and youth, families and elders living at Treehouse when our community is featured on “The Hero Effect,” a docu-series presented by United Way that airs on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. I encourage you to tune in on May 13 at 10:00 am EDT to learn how you can get involved in the Treehouse Foundation or support youth in foster care in your community.