Category Archives: Partners for Promise

“Opening Doors” for families

Guest post by Robin Murchison, director of organizational advancement and YMCA of the Palms. The YMCA is a valued DCF Partner for Promise.

Right now more than 16 million kids in the U.S. are living in poverty – the most since 1962. The problem is worse where construction industries have struggled. Last year, in Collier County alone, there were more than 1,400 homeless children. 

While the Y can’t tackle the collapse of the housing industry, we can provide a place for homeless children and their families to come together to feel safe, secure and connected. 

In January, the Greater Naples YMCA began partnering with the Collier County school district to provide short-term family memberships and select youth programs to homeless kids at no cost. We’re calling this our Open Doors program. 

Families for the program are identified and referred by the school district. The Y provides these families with a free three-month family membership and their kids can sign up for youth sports, swim lessons, etc – basically any youth program except for child care. 

The Smith family became members of the Y in early February through its Open Doors program. The two boys, ages 9 and 12, both became quickly involved in Y programs, including youth sports and camps. The youngest says being in youth sports was the first time he’d ever had a chance to make friends. Both boys are gaining not only physical strength and skills, but also self-confidence. Their teachers have commented on the positive improvement in both boys. 

The grandmother knew she needed to make exercise a more routine part of her life, but she was incredibly intimidated and didn’t know where to start. She was so nervous before her first orientation that she bit her nails down to the quick. Our Y staff worked with her to overcome her fears and she’s now trying new classes and exercising regularly. 

We are proud to be a part of DCF’s Partners for Promise program so we can connect the Y to the community even more. It is stories like the Smith’s that make these efforts worthwhile. Just one gesture can make all the difference in the lives of an entire family.

Keeping little bellies full

Guest post by Kimberly Kutch, DCF Community Development Administrator for Circuit 20 (serving Charlotte, Glades, Lee Hendry and Collier counties)

Jolene Mowry knew that, sadly, many children go to bed hungry. She was sure that wasn’t the case in Charlotte County where she lived.

Jolene was in North Carolina speaking to a friend about the number of kids in school who often go hungry.  The friend told Jolene she may be surprised if she spoke with local schools back home.

What Jolene found was frightening. Approximately 455 students in Charlotte County Public School district are homeless.  She decided to do something about it.

Jolene Mowry, Director of The Back Pack Kidz; Angela Kirshy, Back Pack Kidz Volunteer.

Jolene founded the The Yah Yah Girls Inc. Their mission: “Help children in Charlotte County who are homeless, near homeless or who are living in dire financial need.” In November 2010, after much research, planning and fundraising, the Yah Yahs began their Back Pack Kidz Program at Sallie Jones Elementary  School.  By Fall 2011 the Back Pack Kidz program expanded to five elementary schools and hope to continue to grow.

Delivering backpacks to a school

Here’s how Back Pack Kidz works: On Fridays, the Yah Yahs deliver backpacks of healthy, nonperishable, child-friendly food to the schools to distribute to the identified children so they will not go hungry over the weekend. The empty backpacks are picked up early the next week and the process begins again.

Volunteers packing back packs with food.

For the 2012/2013 school year, there are 4,762 students eligible for free and reduced breakfast/lunch in the area. These are children who often do not have access to regular meals outside of schools. In the 2011/2012 school year, about 22,000 backpacks were delivered. Weekly, $107,250 was spent on food for the backpacks.

The Yah Yahs have now become a part of DCF’s Partner for Promise program and will be providing backpacks of food for any elementary school child that may go hungry without additional help.

The power of just one individual is amazing. The power of groups is empowering. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference in your community.


If you know a child under age 19 who needs food during the summer months, please visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Summer BreakSpot. The program offers free healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks all summer long.  

Does your business have a service or product that could help needy families in your community? Check out DCF’s Partners for Promise to see how you can help.

There are angels among us

Guest post by Amy Larson, who was helped through DCF Central Region’s Homeless 2 Home program

The Larson family in their new home

My family recently went through one of the worst experiences of our lives: Homelessness. We lost our apartment due to the loss of employment and serious illness. This landed us in a motel. Never knowing what was coming next to how to keep even that roof over our heads.

This is when we were introduced to Ms. Anna O’Brien, coordinator of Homeless 2 Home in DCF’s Central Region. I consider her my angel. She immediately got to work finding donations for clothes and personal items we desperately needed. And she got me connected with some organizations that helped me find a full-time job at a very good company. And we were relocated to a wonderful three-bedroom apartment.

Life is still a bit of an adjustment, but at least now my family has a life to be proud of.

Thank you to Anna and all of the angels that helped her along the way.


Organizations that helped the Larson family include Southern Affordable Services and Westgate Resorts Foundation, who are DCF Partners for Promise. In addition, A Child at Heart offered services.

I Am Proud of Myself

Guest post by former Ready for Life youth Jasmine Randles. Ready for Life is a valued DCF Partner for Promise whose mission is to engage foster care youth, private citizens and public resources to assist Pinellas County foster youth in a successful transition to adulthood. Story provided by Ready for Life. 

I am 19 years old with a daughter who is almost 3 years old.  My life changed a lot when I was 14. Back then I would have said it was for the worst, but now looking back I can see it may have been a blessing in disguise.

The teenage years are usually when kids are entering high school, hitting puberty, learning about themselves and their place in the world – exactly when you would need a strong family support system the most. But for me things were different.  I was taken from my family and placed in foster care; it was an extremely hard transition for me.

I had a sister and two brothers who I loved with all my heart. I dearly loved my parents as well, even when their choices weren’t the best for us.  My family had always been very important to me and when I went into foster care I didn’t know how to define myself or my values.

My first two years in care I went through about six different placements, both foster homes and group homes.  Then when I was 16 my life underwent yet another drastic change when I found out I was pregnant.

After I found out I was going to have a baby, I moved to a group home called Alpha House.  I was able to live there among other young girls who were in the same situation as me and I was able to keep my baby in my care while I was still in foster care.  Being in that group home my last two years really prepared me for the real world. I also enjoyed this home because it allowed us to have more independence and freedom and also taught us responsibility, hard work and how to be good, strong mothers.

When my birthday came around I felt I was ready to be on my own, but living by myself at first was nerve-wracking and scary.  I wasn’t used to it at all, but luckily Alpha House gave us practice in life skills and budgeting.  It was a little different actually doing it, but I always made sure all my bills were paid first before I ever spent money on anything else. I still make sure my bills are paid first and then my household needs and child’s needs are met.  I’ve never gotten evicted, received late rent notice, got noise complaints, had any house parties or drugs and the utilities have always been connected.

Growing up the way I did taught me a lot about how things should and shouldn’t be, especially since I have a child in the house.  I’m proud of myself, as a young adult and as a young mother, that my daughter won’t have to experience the things I did as a child.

The main difference between being in care and on my own is
that someone is responsible for you and you’re constantly being watched and your needs are being met for you.  Being on your own, you’re responsible for your own actions and taking care of yourself.  If I mess up no one is going to come save me.  Before, I would still have a roof over my head, now I would have to figure it out on my own.

Since I aged out of foster care, I have finished another year of college and will be graduating with my Associate in Arts degree in January 2013. Right now I am working part-time and still going to school full-time.  Soon I am going to be going to the University of South Florida and majoring in business and minoring in vet technology.  In about three years I hope to be starting my career and really getting established in the community. I am proud of myself.


For more information about how you can help foster kids like Jasmine, check out DCF’s Partners for Promise program.