We’ve all heard the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Nowhere is this adage more true than with foster care. When a child needs a temporary home, a new permanent home, or is at risk for “aging out of the system,” this village plays a crucial role in supporting that child.
Sometimes we don’t consider the many people it takes to make the village happen. Amber Donovan is one such person. Donovan has created communities to surround foster kids who are aging out of the system — a population where helpful, cohesive villages rarely exist.
According to Donovan, “each year in Cleveland there are about 120 youth leaving foster care on their own.” Many young people emancipated from foster care end up living in extreme poverty and cope with serious trauma. With lack of supportive family members or a personal safety net, these youth are at risk for a lifetime of adversity.
That is where Donovan’s organization, Community of Hope, has stepped in.
In 2014, Community of Hope adopted the Open Table Initiative, a framework to create a supportive community for older foster kids and young adults. OpenTable involved surrounding a young person with six to eight committed people from the community who would help for one hour a week for a year. None of the volunteers were mandated to be there; nobody was getting paid — they were there because they wanted to be. Group members followed the lead of the teen/young adult; they would ask the person their goals/dreams/aspirations and figure out ways to support them and be of service.
Now, a new program called the HOPE program has taken shape.
“The Open Table model was our beginning, but we have evolved into a more trauma-informed, youth-led organization,” says Donovan. “We launched our own program called the HOPE program this year — still team mentoring, but with training that better reflects the experiences of our youth and volunteers, and it is Cleveland-based and Cleveland supported.”
Donavan explains that as a nonprofit in Arizona, Open Table is licensed, with fees that are returned to the Arizona organization. “We wanted our resources to be focused in our city,” Donovan clarifies.
In a press release for the new program, Donovan explains, “Our core belief from the start was that every youth leaving foster care deserves permanent supportive people in their lives. Our new HOPE Program — which is a team mentoring program focused on serving former/current foster youth — is filled with trauma-informed training for both youth and volunteers, and ongoing/continuous ‘just in time’ support for youth/volunteers. Youth never ‘age out’ of Community of Hope. Once they are a part of our family, we are here to support them and celebrate life’s milestones with them.”
The new program will also include a monthly peer-to-peer club. This is where people like you can make a major positive difference in a young person’s life.
Can you spare an hour a week to help improve a young person’s life? Join Community of Hope on Tue 10/15 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for their Information Night and find out how important one hour a week of your time can be. The event will be held at YWCA Greater Cleveland at 4019 Prospect Ave. East.
Like Anthony DiPiero, who first grew his family through foster care, you can be part of a community that offers hope.
DiPiero says that “simply telling people that we are foster parents has invited others to share with us that they were foster kids, or that they were adopted. It has ignited personal connections with people — through the shared tie of foster care — that, otherwise, wouldn’t have been made.”
One significant connection was Pam Martin, who introduced him to Community of Hope: “We learned that Community of Hope is dedicated to mentoring youth who ‘age out’ of foster care when they reach 18 years of age.”
DiPiero, an engineering teacher at Design Lab Early College High School, now includes projects in his classes to help older foster children. His decision to include his engineering students in building furniture to benefit youth involved with Community of Hope resulted in an award from the Awesome Foundation Cleveland, which helped fund the project.
The furniture building project stemmed from his “belief that student learning is maximized through thinking, problem-solving, and making.” In addition, the student projects must all functionally benefit either the school or the greater community: “To date, we have built outdoor benches for the school, little free libraries that were donated to the Cleveland Housing Network, and tables, chairs, and bookcases for our school library.”
Last summer, DiPiero was searching for a student project that would impact the community. Then a couple of students suggested making beds and giving them to people who need them. DiPiero agreed. His design plans started with a bed frame. When he couldn’t decide where the furniture should be given, his wife suggested Community of Hope.
They called the furniture set “My First Apartment: An Open Table Graduation Gift.” DePiero and his wife developed schematics for a set that eventually included a twin bed frame, a nightstand, and a small kitchen table with two chairs. After successfully presenting the idea to his school, DiPiero turned to The Awesome Foundation, which awarded him a $1000 grant.
DiPiero finds that his students, some of whom have experience with foster care, are enthusiastic about such projects, adding that “they see this as an opportunity to make a positive change in the lives of other youth in the Cleveland community.” It’s important, he believes, for the students see that “they can make a difference for good if they get together and work for it. I want my students to appreciate that they must be part of the solution if they want to see any change in their communities.”
DiPiero is especially happy about receiving help from Shlana Sims and the ninth grade students from Rhodes College and Career Academy, who crocheted blankets for the beds. Says DiPiero, “I’m really excited that we were able to unite students from different schools on this project.”
Anthony DiPiero, his students, Amber Donovan, Community of Hope, Shlana Sims, and the ninth graders from Rhodes College and Career Academy: all are part of a village that supports teens and young adults who must leave foster care.
You can join that village. Learn more at Community of Hope’s informational session on October 15.
You can also support DiPiero’s project through donations for his wish list: 5 new twin XL mattresses for the bed frames (no box spring needed as the bed frame is designed to support the mattress on its own); 5 new bedding sets for those mattresses; 5 dinnerware sets (plates, cups, utensils, etc.) for the kitchen tables.
To donate, you can contact DiPiero directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can also contact Design Lab Early College High School, 1740 E. 32nd Street, Cleveland, telephone 216-838-8150.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then let that village be all of Cleveland!