DePaul Expressions Vol. XIX Num. 2

A publication from DePaul Community Resources expressions Volume XIX • Number 2 • Summer 2021

IN THIS ISSUE: Growing A Family Through Love and Faith

Building A Space for Independence

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Opening Doors To Hope & Belonging Since 1977

Seeing with New Eyes

Sometimes we think of innovation as an activity reserved for the creative, or the big visionaries, or the young; or we think it is only possible in big tech companies or revolutionary start-ups. We sometimes limit our definition of it to big, disruptive inventions. I disagree with all of that. Innovation is as inclusive as it gets. It’s for everyone. It’s necessary—in every industry, in every relationship, and in our own mindsets. It is about renewal more than invention and happens when we see with new eyes. It’s the discipline of holding a vision for a future while facing reality as it is. Innovation is on every page of this newsletter. The people who loved Mathew (page 7) imagined a different future for him, one where he was at ease in his environment and exploring new territory in his communication, a future so safe he would assertively claim his own space in the man cave. Those same people, at the very same moment they imagined this future, loved Mathew right where he was. Meanwhile, the Elam family imagined a life where their love expanded to include people with disabilities in their own home. They took one small step at a time, going through the inquiry, training, home study, and certification processes, then opened their doors. These two families saw the familiar with new eyes and risked their comfort to move toward it. Serendipitously, they found one another. These innovators created something new. You won’t see it on the evening news or read about it in a fancy magazine article. But you’ll find it here, at DePaul. We imagine a future where everyone has a no-matter-what family, no matter what. Even with the incredible work we and so many other agencies do, that vision is a long way off in Virginia where waiting lists are the norm. So where do we start? Right where we are. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider these possibilities: ◊ Make a financial gift. Giving to our general fund fuels our culture of innovation. You can give to our Bridge to Hope fund (see more on the next page) which fuels new possibilities for the people we serve, with immediate impact. ◊ Share our story. Share this newsletter to another hope-bearer. Send a link to our Facebook page to your friends. Some say innovation looks a lot like fancy new things. I say innovation looks a lot like hope. Thank you for joining us in it.

Amanda Stanley

Have you heard about DePaul’s Bridge to Hope Fund?

At the end of 2020, the Hughes Philanthropic Society recognized the barriers children, teens, and families face accessing the essential services and support they need to heal and thrive and generously donated $15,000 to help us say yes when everyone else has said no. Now, months later, the fund is nearly depleted. Its impact has been life changing. You can help us continue to say “YES” by donating to help bridge the financial gap for children, teens, families, and individuals with disabilities who are at a crossroads in their lives. Please consider a gift today to the Bridge to Hope Fund to help us reach our $90,000 goal and ensure we can say “YES” all year long.

A Gap Worth Bridging

Leah is in desperate need of specialized hearing

equipment. She is blind and her hearing decreases more and more each year. Leah’s family is deeply concerned that without help she will lose all ability to communicate. Due to her unique condition, Leah requires specialized hearing aids which will cost close to $10,000. The family’s insurance has denied their request, so they are forced to find the money elsewhere. Financial support from the Bridge to Hope Fund could be life-changing for Leah and her family.

Your Bridge to Hope Fund Support So Far

Donations $7,978

Goal $90,000

Growing A Family Through Love

and Faith Story by Alison Wickline | Photos by Nick Brown

Nick and Tessa Brown believe in the power of foster parenting and adopting. That belief has carried them through challenges and changes and made them a family of seven. “If you open your home, you will be blessed just as much as you are blessing that child,” said Tessa. Years ago, Nick’s father and stepmother became foster parents with DePaul. They were prepared to foster only, not adopt. One of their early placements was Owen, a young boy looking for a forever family. At the time, Nick and Tessa had two children close in age to Owen. After countless play dates and conversations, Nick and Tessa felt called to bring Owen into their home, to be his forever family. “It didn't take long for my wife and I to decide that Owen was meant to be in our family, and we began the process to become foster parents through DePaul,” said Nick. Owen was adopted in February 2013. The Browns then closed their home, but that was not the end of their foster- to-adopt journey. Nick and Tessa had Grayson, Lillee, Owen, and then a happy surprise…a daughter Evy. As Evy grew older, Tessa felt her heart being called back to foster care and adoption. She had seen the way Owen had changed their family in the best ways and the strong bonds built by adoption. She was ready to open their home, but Nick was not quite there. Then, after a chance encounter with a Department

of Social Services worker at a wedding, Nick felt his heart being called too. They sat each of their children down and asked how they felt about it. That is something they stress the importance of—open communication with the children already in your home, involving them in the process from start to finish. “We talked with our kids and that was really when I became completely on board with the possibility of fostering to adopt again,” said Nick. In March 2021, they welcomed 8-year-old Makinzy into their home. Soon, Evy and Makinzy were attached at the hip, doing everything together. But that is not to say those early days were without challenges. The family had to work through an adjustment period; Tessa and Nick had to learn how to be parents to Makinzy. One of their earliest discoveries in the parenting process was learning that Makinzy believed she had to lie to protect herself. That required some time and patience to address. “The biggest thing was consistency, positive praise, and making her feel safe enough to tell the truth,” said Tessa. The Browns are hoping to adopt Makinzy. They can’t imagine their family without her. And that’s what they tell people all the time in grocery stores, on sidewalks, in the park: their family has grown in so many ways because they opened their hearts and home. Their family has changed forever for the better because of their foster care and adoption journey.

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“ If you open your home, you will be blessed just as much as you are blessing that child. ” TESSA BROWN

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“ The best part is taking him out and letting him meet people

and interact and be involved. ” CONNIE ELAM

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Building A Space for Independence Story by Alison Wickline | Photos by Kylie Hinson Photography

Mathew’s days are filled with things he loves to do— swinging outside, attending a day support program, and dancing to his favorite music from Luther Vandross and Maroon 5. His compassionate caregivers, Connie and Archie Elam, describe the 27-year-old as fun and sweet. Mathew has autism and communicates through laughs, sign language, and an iPad he recently received that allows him to express his needs and interests through pictures. Just two years ago, Mathew’s life looked a lot different. Mathew was living in a group home and struggling. “There were issues with hygiene, especially shaving and cutting his hair, clothes on inside out, and lunches that were inadequate and not nutritious,” said Vicki Hardy-Murrell, Mathew’s legal guardian. “I also received weekly updates from the group home, but they were cold, clinical and generic—they were just ‘checking a box’ without providing any insight as to how he was really doing—was he happy, was he cared for, etc.” Connie and her husband Archie had become sponsored residential providers through DePaul in 2017. Connie felt called to be a provider, or compassionate caregiver as we like to say, after seeing the difference that love, care, and independence made in the life of her aunt who had a disability. “Peoplewouldbe surprisedwhat individuals with disabilities can do if you just give them a chance,” said Connie. Mathew’s caseworker at that time two years ago thought the Elams would be a good match for him. After Mathew’s guardian Vicki visited the Elams, she agreed. Mathew’s

thoughts about the transition were a bit harder to gauge at first, but the life he was living was not sustainable for him. “He was kind of quiet and withdrawn and he stayed in his room,” said Connie. Connie and Archie had been warned by the group home that Mathew would act out and possibly be violent. But they never saw that. Instead, they saw a young man move quickly from being quiet and unsure to comfortable and certain that their home was his home. Soon he had a new haircut, new clothes he picked out and purchased with his own bank card, and much-needed dental work for that beautiful, bright smile he had been missing. “It was important that we let him do as much as possible on his own,” said Connie. Mathew is part of the Elam family now. It is his family. He is cared for and loved. He looks forward to time with Connie’s children and grandchildren and they look forward to that time too. He is connected to his community. “The best part is taking himout and letting himmeet people and interact and be involved,” said Connie. Perhaps the biggest sign that Mathew has settled into his new home and family is his space in Archie’s “man cave.” Mathew has his own recliner, his own collection of snacks, and retreats to that space whenever he wants. He signs, “Excuse me,” very politely when someone sits there just so they know it’s his chair. This may sound small or insignificant, but it is not. Mathew, who struggled to find himself and live the life he deserved, has planted roots in that space and that is huge. It is his space, a safe space where he, on his own, can find peace and independence.

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Welcome to the Heart and Home Society at DePaul!

In Virginia, too many children, families, and individuals with disabilities lack hope and belonging. They reside in institutions, nursing homes, or residential treatment facilities-away from home cooked meals and a family to call their own. DePaul’s Heart and Home Society seeks to address this need, and your far- reaching investment in our organization allows us to continue to transform the lives of children, teens, and families in the child welfare system and individuals with developmental disabilities. With charitable gift planning, you can leave a legacy that will continue to impact children, families, and individuals with disabilities for years to come. You can structure your gift to maximize its benefits in a way that is most meaningful to you, your loved ones, and DePaul. The Heart and Home Society recognizes individuals who have made provisions for DePaul through their estate plans. As a member you can tell your story and become a role model to others thinking about leaving a legacy gift to DePaul, or if you prefer, you can remain anonymous.

Learn more about ways to give at or contact Jamie Snead at 540.269.0878.

“Members of the Heart and Home Society choose to make this meaningful commitment as a way to sustain DePaul’s programs beyond their lifetimes and provide a better future for our neighbors.” – Gordon Ewald, DePaul Honorary Lifetime Board Member, Heart and Home Society Member

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