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Virginia’s Kids Belong Works to End the State’s Foster and Adoption Crisis

Topher Lytle, Engage Director, Area 10 Faith Community “The heart and mission to find safe and loving homes for the thousands of kids throughout Richmond and Virginia drives Virginia’s Kids Belong as they continue to make a significant impact in the lives of individuals.” This isn’t a story about any one child. Instead, this story is about the more than 5,200 children in the foster care system in Virginia who need a family to love, support and keep them safe. Without people sharing their lives, these kids feel like they don’t belong. That lack of belonging can lead to many short- and long-term problems for children, including poor academics, trouble with the law, and human trafficking. By leveraging the combined power of the state’s government (across party lines), business, faith and creative communities, Virginia’s Kids Belong (VKB) runs innovative initiatives to recruit more foster and adoptive families, engage wraparound support for at-risk, foster and adoptive families and help youth who have aged out of foster care. VKB strives to create an environment where there are more foster and adoptive families waiting for kids than there are kids waiting for families. “Community leaders often want to solve societal problems, especially those involving vulnerable children, but they often don’t have an easy on-ramp to do so,” explains former Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell. “VKB helps match the needs of children in foster care with people who have the resources to meet those needs. The end result is more families for kids who need them and more support for those families.” While this nonprofit is new to the state and its work has only just begun, other state affiliates of America’s Kids Belong have been able to grow their pool of foster families by over 40 percent [...]

Virginia’s Kids Belong Works to End the State’s Foster and Adoption Crisis2018-12-09T05:41:26+00:00

Positive Vibe Café Prepares Individuals with Disabilities for the World

Craig Evans, Singer and Bass Player in The Taters “I love what they do, and that they are very much a rubber-hits-the-road project. You can go to the restaurant and see the work they are doing, see some of the results. …The Taters, as well as other musicians in town, regularly donate performances for some of their fundraisers. Garth and all of his people are a real inspiration to what can be accomplished.” Several months after Josh completed the training program at the Positive Vibe Café, his mom called the executive director in tears. But she wasn’t upset. Instead she was overjoyed to watch her 24-year-old son, who has developmental difficulties, walk into a convenience store and buy a drink on his own ... for the very first time in his life. This seemingly small step was a major leap forward in the young man's confidence. The Positive Vibe Foundation offers hands-on training in food services—everything from bussing a table to handling kitchen utensils—to individuals with physical and developmental difficulties. While enjoying a delicious meal, diners at the Café are not only giving trainees a chance to put their new skills to work, but also financially supporting this important training. Some graduates of the program go on to work at the Café fulltime; others find jobs in different restaurants, grocery stores or other places of business. But perhaps the program’s greatest benefit is how it helps build self-esteem, conquers fears, and gives participants opportunities they and their families never thought possible. For years, Josh went straight to his room and watched TV every day after school. After completing the Positive Vibe training program, his mom reported that he was much more sociable, even chatting with people in [...]

Positive Vibe Café Prepares Individuals with Disabilities for the World2018-12-07T05:35:34+00:00

ISO Shaggy Dog: Two Are Better Than One!

While Don went to the ATM to get more cash for the second pup, I began to shop for all the puppy paraphernalia we’d need: collars, harnesses, leashes, toys, tags, treats, food, a crate and the list goes on and on! Adopting a dog in the past had meant simply passing along the stuff from the dog before him. But it seemed puppies required a distinct set of equipment, none of which I already had. Thankfully, Petsmart gifted us adoptive parents with a coupon book for some of the essentials but I could still hear the cha-ching of the cash register with each item that I dropped into the basket. The pups happily bounced around me and each other, even tumbling over the other or squeezing their whole body underneath their sibling to jack up their back legs in a pretty cool paw stand. Inside of a minute, their leashes were hopelessly tangled with each other. Maybe two puppies weren’t such a good idea after all! But then I remembered that I had walked two dogs for eight years, with only a few minor mishaps (ok, that time Alfie got excited by another dog and pulled me squarely down on my hip wasn’t all that minor but it was only once and I lived to tell about it!). In any event, I convinced myself that I was just out of practice and enlisted the help of some of the MomsVA folks to hold onto the puppies as I continued my shopping. With Christmas only days away, I tried not to go overboard, knowing full well that our families were probably buying puppy toys for them at that very moment (well, at least for Daisy as no [...]

ISO Shaggy Dog: Two Are Better Than One!2018-04-29T10:36:54+00:00

ISO Shaggy Dog: Will We Make the Cut?

Once we submitted our application to MomsVA, I hesitantly told people we were thinking about a puppy. However, I managed expectations (mine and theirs) by mentioning that there were lots of other people interested and probably not enough puppies to go around. To my great surprise, just a few days after completing the application, I received a call from the rescue organization. They wanted to do a home visit. And they asked if they could come by in 30 minutes! (I guess they don’t want to give you too much time to change your mind.) Even after receiving the call, I thought it was still a bit of a crap shoot. We live in a townhouse. That could be a strike against us. We’re weren’t what you’d call “spring chickens” anymore; they might wonder if we could handle an energetic pup. But despite all of my ruminating, the MomsVA lady told us after the home visit that she didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be approved. In fact, we had our Congratulations email by dinnertime and were scheduled to pick up our pup in just two days. I was going to be a dog Mommy again before Christmas! I could hardly contain myself! They asked us to pick a first and second choice of puppies. We chose the fluffy one we had held as number one (Larissa) and the short-haired one (Rhea) as number two. Then we went to work getting ready to bring our baby home, reading up on housetraining and collecting advice from everyone we knew who had raised puppies. We were heading into unfamiliar territory here! Before the big day, we were told that we would get our first choice, Larissa, AKA “the [...]

ISO Shaggy Dog: Will We Make the Cut?2018-04-29T10:36:54+00:00

ISO Shaggy Dog: Puppy Love?

For the next several weeks, we were hot on the trail of a new rescue dog. Almost every morning, before we even got out of bed, Don would pull up Petfinder on his iPad, and we’d browse the new rescue pups who’d been added since the day before. Even while enjoying happy hour at a neighborhood bar one Friday night, Don and I ogled dog pix while sipping our drinks. We considered a variety of pups—from a tiny guy named Little Bobby to a larger flat-coated retriever named Koda to an 8-year-old poodle mix in Northern Virginia (sorry, pup, I can't remember your name!). I was soon addicted to Petfinder, certain that the next time I opened the site the perfect pup would be staring back at me. But alas, it didn’t happen. As we approached the holidays, I decided to stop looking because adopting a new dog at that point would likely mean canceling our out-of-town plans for New Year’s. But my sweet husband, knowing how much I wanted a dog for Christmas, kept bringing new furry faces to my attention anyway. One Saturday, after learning that one of the dogs who caught our eye on Petfinder was possibly going to make an appearance at a Petco pet stand, we stopped by on the way home from the gym. That particular dog wasn’t there, and unfortunately, no one else called out to me (all hounds!). Don asked if I wanted to check out the stand at Petsmart. At first, I said “no.” If we hadn’t seen the perfect dog on the Petfinder site, chances were good that he or she wouldn’t magically appear at a pet stand since rescue organizations typically put all available animals [...]

ISO Shaggy Dog: Puppy Love?2018-04-29T10:36:54+00:00

ISO Shaggy Dog

We lost our sweet, 14-year-old girl, Ava Marie, in October. Three years before that, we had lost her brother, Alfie (AKA Alfalfa Sprout). While our cat, Sammy, was doing his best to fill the hole in my heart, the house was feeling pretty lonely by November, without a dog shadowing me. I made it my mission to have a new pup in the house by Christmas. This would give my husband, Don, who had had a complicated orthopedic surgery, time to get back on his feet. Plus, who doesn’t want a dog in the house for Christmas? (I, for one, had filled a doggie stocking for the past 30+ years, and I was bound and determined to do it again this year!) We started shopping for potential canine companions on Petfinder in early December. Putting in all of our criteria and searching the rows of cute faces felt a bit like using Match.com in my single days. But also, just like my single days, none of these pooches seemed like the perfect fit. Either they were too young or too old, didn’t like cats or had issues like separation anxiety or aggression. Not to mention, they all seemed to be hounds and labs. I have absolutely nothing against hounds and labs, mind you, but I do have a serious predilection for fluffy, scruffy terrier types (see Ava above). Finally, we found a guy who filled the bill, a shaggy, multi-colored two-year-old named Sparky. We jumped in the car and headed to the Amelia animal shelter, almost an hour away, to meet him. I was beyond excited and nervous, or as the kids call it, “nervited”! When we arrived, we found out that a family had recently [...]

ISO Shaggy Dog2018-04-29T10:36:54+00:00

Keeping Creativity Alive as Long as You Are

Keeping Creativity Alive as Long as You Are I’ve worked in and with ad agencies for much of my career, and truth be told, you just don’t see a lot of gray heads in those cubicles. The belief in this arena seems to be that the most original creations spring from young artists, writers, producers, etc., and as these right-brain innovators age past their creative prime, it becomes harder and harder for them to come with fresh ideas. But the fact of the matter is that creativity isn’t a spring that runs dry over time. In fact, as we age, a process in the brain’s frontal lobe, called demyelinization, which loosens associations and often diminishes our ability to be as precise and focused as we used to be, can conversely allow our creative ideas to flow more freely, according to Rex Jung, assistant professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico. That means that there’s a fount of creativity in many older folks just waiting to be tapped into. Here are some ways to keep your stream of ideas flowing: Don’t stop. The old adage, “Use it or lose it” also applies to creativity. When you stop reigniting that creative spark on a regular basis, the flame can start to flicker out. Even if you’re not engaging in a patently “creative” activity like painting or writing poetry each day, continue to challenge those neurons with pursuits like reading books and articles that are out of your area of interest, learning a new language, and listening to and perhaps debating opinions that differ from yours. Be mindful. Remember as a kid how you were always looking forward to Christmas and summer? Then you [...]

Keeping Creativity Alive as Long as You Are2016-09-22T12:48:42+00:00

Love Notes

Love Notes Recently, I stumbled upon two cards. One was from my father’s mother, dated 1983, the year she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The “Thank You” card (Granny was always a stickler for sending them), although not in her handwriting, obviously contained her words: “Your visit meant so much to me. It really brightened my day.” It concluded with her assurance that she was “doing fine.” In other words, “don’t worry about me, honey!” She died almost a year to the day later. The second card was written by my mother to her mother, a few days before her birthday and four years before she passed away at 94. It read: “With your 91st birthday quickly approaching, I wanted to tell you how much I admire your courage. … I can only hope that I am as brave.” (My grandmother had a hard life but weathered every storm with pure grace. Her strength lives on in my mother.) Of course, I have many pictures of both of my grandmothers. I even have jewelry, vases, and knickknacks that belonged to them. However, somehow these yellowed, handwritten notes, found sandwiched in between letters from old friends, ticket stubs from dances, playbills, and whatnot, mean so much more to me than the more conventional memorabilia. A note is like a brief glimpse of a moment in a relationship, not only reminding you of recounted events but also evoking the person’s spirit in a way that a photo or a piece of crystal simply can’t. A year ago, my mother was very sick, and my sister and I were pretty sure we were going to lose her. Because she was on a respirator, we couldn’t even communicate with her, [...]

Love Notes2018-04-29T10:36:55+00:00

Sylvester was a weird kid

Sylvester was a weird kid (fiction) Sylvester wasn’t weird like other kids in Joey’s class, the ones who were really quiet or the ones who lit fires in the back of the school. Sylvester was weird in a way that Joey had never seen before. He wore black shirts and black pants all the time, never jeans and t-shirts like the other kids, and he could make his voice sound like it was coming from the front of the room when he was sitting in the back. He had a pet bird that he carried on his shoulder to the 7-11, he ate spiders and beetles for fun, and no one had ever been inside his house. All the kids in the school called him “freak” and no one would sit next to him at the lunch table because he always said he had things like bat wings and mouse tails between his Wonder bread. But Joey liked Sylvester because if you could talk him into playing soccer at recess he always could kick the ball harder than any other kid (no one ever could block his kicks). And Sylvester could definitely tell a good story. Sylvester was always making up stories, like the time he brought a plain old gray rock for show-and-tell and said it had supernatural powers or last year when he told the teacher that his mother was a witch. So when Sylvester told Joey that he had a glass eye, Joey just laughed. Joey knew real people didn’t have glass eyes, just like real people didn’t have vampire teeth and dogs couldn’t talk. That stuff was just in the movies. Sylvester was just a weird kid. Sylvester made up this particular [...]

Sylvester was a weird kid2018-04-29T10:36:55+00:00

It’s not all about you!

It's not all about you! When you write sales or marketing for your company, the natural tendency is, of course, to talk about yourself. Whether it’s a brochure, website, blog or even talking points for your sales staff, you find yourself rhapsodizing about how many years you’ve been in business, the stellar expertise and efficiency of your staff, your robust, proprietary technology, your latest and greatest product, or a service that’s unmatched in this galaxy and beyond. But believe it or not, customers really aren’t interested in you. They’re only interested in what you can do for them. No matter how “experienced,” “respected” and “cutting edge” you claim to be, customers are ONLY going to fork over their hard-earned bucks if they think you can help them in some significant way (reduce their wrinkles/melt their fat/put money in their pocket/improve their love life/make their life easier). That’s why you have to turn your sales and marketing copy paradigm on its head. Rather than telling prospective clients how many awards you’ve won for your financial advice, tell them how many of your past clients have retired to Rio because of it. When you’re tempted to talk about catering that party at the Governor’s Mansion, instead tell potential hosts how they can throw a great party in just two weeks or they’ll enjoy their events as much as their guests (better yet, have past clients tell them!). When you want someone to like you, it’s easy to go on and on about how great you are. No matter what the context, that strategy doesn’t often work. However, once you understand customers (and people in general) and are poised to fill their needs and wants, you’ll find them needing [...]

It’s not all about you!2018-04-29T10:36:55+00:00