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Blake’s anxiety fades when he realizes he’s found his forever home

February 16, 2015

Blake and Nicole

Blake and Nicole

Blake came into state custody in 2008 due to sexual and physical abuse, abandonment and neglect issues and a history of drug exposure.

He spent time at Youth Villages’ Boys Center for Intensive Residential Treatment when he disrupted from previous foster homes. His struggle with severe anxiety caused him to initially oppose any discussion of adoption.

Theresa and Wyatt began fostering Blake two years ago. His Youth Villages team worked patiently to stabilize his anxiety and behavior. With creative interventions, he has learned to cope with his anxiety and transition into a permanent home.

“Blake has always struggled with anxiety,” said Nicole Shepherd, Youth Villages foster care counselor. “But realizing that Theresa and Wyatt are never going to leave him caused his anxiety to fade more each day.”

With time and counsel invested in him by his foster parents and YV staff, Blake experienced a change of heart. He expressed the strong desire to be adopted and reflected that God had intended for his journey to lead him to this family.

“Blake told me that after 2,615 days in custody,” Nicole said, “he would go through it all again to be with this family.”

His family adopted another young boy from Youth Villages two years ago and felt that Blake made a perfect addition to their family.

“This home couldn’t have been more perfect for Blake if we would have designed it ourselves,” said Joli LaRoche, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “They want to make the lifetime commitment to him.”

Blake’s adoption was a joyful event celebrated on National Adoption Day. It was attended by his adoptive family, friends from church and his Youth Villages and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services teams. They celebrated with brunch and special appearances by Blake’s favorite Disney characters.

When the judge asked Blake if he were ready to be adopted into a permanent family, he answered, “I’ve been waiting my whole life.”

Blake told his counselor that he would like to be an inspirational speaker when he grows up. He wants to encourage others in the foster care system and let them know there is hope for finding a forever home.

At the adoption finalization, Ian could hardly contain himself

February 10, 2015

Ian H finalization

When Ian attended another youth’s adoption party, he felt left out.

Tara Shepherd, Youth Villages counselor, pulled Ian aside to talk.

“He told me he was thinking about all of the places he had lived,” Tara said, “and how everyone just gives him away.”

Tara’s heart ached for Ian. In his 10 short years, he had endured much loss, abuse and neglect. Ian needed a forever home.

“I knew then that no matter what it took, I would see him adopted,” Tara said.

A few months later, Ian was introduced to Jonathan and Leah. The couple instantly knew Ian was meant to be a member of their family. Ian was with Jonathan and Leah for only seven months before they finalized his adoption.

Friends, family and Ian’s Youth Villages team attended his adoption finalization. Two YV staff members even left in the middle of the night to arrive in time to witness it.

“I had never seen a more excited and happy young man than Ian was that day,” said Jenna Fulcher-Thompson, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “Watching Jonathan and Leah approach the judge, Ian could not contain himself as he smiled and waved his hands in the air.”

Thanks to everyone who worked closely with Ian through his adoption process, he is now surrounded by the love and support of a permanent family. Youth Villages staff consider Ian’s placement to be a perfect match.

“I am so overjoyed for Ian and his forever family,” Tara said. “He will forever be in my heart.”

Youth Villages’ families, youth and staff thank this year’s Holiday Heroes in New England

February 5, 2015



Thanks to the generosity of our Holiday Heroes in New England, Youth Villages fulfilled the holiday wishes of more than 390 children and young adults served by community-based programs and our Youth Villages-Germaine Lawrence Campus in Arlington, Massachusetts.

View a photo gallery featuring event photos, volunteer testimonials and thank-you notes from our children and families.


Two members of Youth Villages’ staff shared their heartwarming stories about the delivery of Holiday Heroes gifts:

“Oh, MY GOODNESS! Thank you! It’s hard to express how excited I was about walking into the Santa Workshop this afternoon. This was the first year that I have been helping two young people with children during the holidays. They are participating in our transitional living program for young people who have aged out of foster care or state services without family or other support. Their lives are so challenging. I help them gain employment, learn money management and increase their independent living skills. Growing up is often a daunting task for young adults with strong support systems, but the young people – the young families – we work with start so far behind. My young parents work low-income jobs which make meeting even their children’s basic needs a challenge. Of course, they still want Christmas to be special for their kids. I almost wanted to cry when I saw how the gifts I would be able to deliver to them through your generosity! Most recently, I was working on meal planning with one mom to help her reduce spending and minimize nightly meal preparation. I was so excited to see a Crock-Pot there for her family! This was not only a great gift for her but it was exactly what her family needs.

I cannot begin to express my gratitude to both the individuals and companies that donated with such enthusiasm and compassion! I can’t wait to see the faces when I am able to help these young parents give their children presents to open Christmas morning. I am even more excited that these young adults, who are so focused on providing for their children, will also be able to experience opening something for themselves. They often go without. Today, I was reminded why I do this work. People like you care about the many obstacles our young people face and want them to succeed! Our work matters, and I thank you for helping bring some sunshine their way! Thank You!”

– Jessica Kincman, Transitional Living Specialist

“I don’t know how to properly express, in words, just how much your kindness was appreciated by all of our families. The gifts we were able to deliver to these children made all the difference for them this Christmas! Their expressions were truly priceless, and it would not have been possible without your help. One of the teens I work with lives in a foster home, and he is now able to play new board games with his family when he visits them. A 7-year-old girl I am helping has a bike of her own to ride. Your contributions truly mean the world to these children.”

– Lauren Cardoso, Intercept Family Intervention Specialist

After years in custody, Andrew experiences the joy of a forever family

February 5, 2015

Dawson, Tracy, Andrew and David

Dawson, Tracy, Andrew and David

Andrew’s father passed away when he was 9 years old. He was placed into state custody due to his mother’s drug abuse. After his older sister attempted to parent him, he was readmitted into custody at age 15.

Andrew spent two years with foster parents who were not willing to adopt him. Although Andrew seemed indifferent to their refusal, he hadn’t yet experienced the committed support of a forever family.

When Tracy and David came to Youth Villages to adopt their second child, they were looking for a son younger than their first. After seeing a photo of Andrew and reading part of his story during adoption orientation, they decided to take Andrew under their wing despite his older age.

“When Andrew met Tracy and David,” said Youth Villages Adoption Specialist Melinda Wilbanks, “he was so excited that they still wanted to adopt him even after hearing his story.”

Andrew was placed in Tracy and David’s home in April. It took only three months of fostering for them to sign an intent to adopt. In another three months, the adoption was finalized.

Youth Villages’ adoption staff thoroughly prepared Tracy and David for Andrew’s unique needs. Andrew’s Department of Children’s Services team joined the YV staff and Andrew’s loved ones at the adoption finalization celebration.

“This is truly a story of unconditional love and commitment,” Melinda said. “Not many people are open to adopting an older teen boy but Tracy and David were. They kept telling me that it is all for Andrew.”

Finally experiencing the joy of a forever family opened Andrew’s eyes. He flourished with the consistent support of Tracy and David. His grades have improved and he has taken on a part-time job. He has learned to save his money and organize his time.

“It is never too late to adopt a child,” Melinda said. “He will be 18 in February.”

Long, difficult journey ends in the comfort of a safe place for Marcquis

February 4, 2015

Johnny, Marcquis and Bobbie

Johnny, Marcquis and Bobbie

Both Marcquis and his adoptive parents could not wait for his adoption to be finalized.

Bobbie and Johnny had been Marcquis’ foster parents from the time he entered state custody until he started a trial home visit with his biological mother two years later.

Marcquis’ journey through custody was challenging. He expressed his negative feelings with problematic behavior, which worsened when his trial home visit with his mother failed.

Marcquis expected to return to the comfort of Bobbie and Johnny’s home, but his sense of belonging was upended again. He was placed in another home until he could be welcomed back by Bobbie and Johnny. Even then, complications of his past still lingered.

The termination of his parents’ rights was a long and difficult process, but during the process, Bobbie and Johnny’s home was Marcquis’ safe place.

As soon as the complications cleared, the adoption took place. The finalization was a joyful celebration, attended by his adoptive parents, three new siblings, the Youth Villages team and the Department of Children’s Services team. When the judge asked both Marcquis and his new parents if they wanted the adoption to take place, there was no hesitation. They were eager for it to happen as soon as possible.

Having a permanent home has given Marcquis a sense of relief. Now that he can experience the consistency of a forever home, his behavioral issues continue to improve.

“Now, Marcquis can relax,” said Elena Tanase, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “He is officially Bobbie and Johnny’s son and will not have to worry about being moved again.”

The judge gave Marcquis a University of Tennessee mascot doll and Youth Villages gave him an MP3 player with a large cupcake on the side.

“He was a happy boy,” Elena said. “We were all happy to see his difficult journey through custody end in such a great way.”

“A Path Appears” PBS series begins Monday, Preview tonight on Nightline

January 23, 2015
Check out the film premiere on Monday on PBS. Tune in tonight for Diane Sawyer’s preview, and watch the official trailer below to learn more.

A Path Appears

Related post:
New book by renowned journalists recognizes Youth Villages’ work

Youth Villages was one of the nonprofit organizations highlighted in journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “A Path Appears.” Monday PBS will debut a four-hour video series showcasing stories from the book.

Tonight Diane Sawyer will give ABC Nightline viewers a preview of the series in an interview with Kristof.

Kristof mentions Youth Villages during his book tours.

“Youth Villages is just a wonderful example of the kind of evidence that has emerged,” he said. “Here you have a program that helps at-risk teenagers that was built on evidence and carefully trying different approaches, seeing what works and bringing that into the model. Youth Villages is spreading across the country because local and state governments have realized that they can save a ton of money. It turns lives around, but the thing that is equally striking about it is that it works, and it saves money as well.

“A basic maxim of the 21st century is that talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” the author said. “Youth Villages is one of those that are helping make that a little less true by spreading opportunity.”

“We look at these monumental problems, and they seem so daunting, Sheryl WuDunn said. “But we can change the course of history. We can set these young children onto a much more promising path.”

The PBS series has the same goal of revealing societal injustice and highlighting successful initiatives. The series follows Kristof, WuDunn and a group of celebrity activists on a journey across the country and around the world as they uncover human rights violations and gender-based oppression. The celebrities include Malin Akerman, Mia Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Judd, Blake Lively, Eva Longoria and others.

“The title is from Lu Xun, a prominent Chinese writer, who said that hope is like a path in the countryside,” WuDunn said. “At first, there is no path but as more and more people walk again and again, a path appears. A solution appears. It is about innovative strategies for making a difference.”

Brett makes room for younger brother

January 6, 2015
Family counselor Ashley Snedeger (left) with Brett (center) and Cole.

Family counselor Ashley Snedeger (left) with Brett (center) and Cole.

Brett was living on his own when he was forced to make a quick decision about Cole, his younger brother.

Cole was put into a group home after repeated negative behaviors at home and at school. Cole’s parents were out of the picture. Defiant and physically aggressive, Cole had run out of placement options. After breaking a table in the school lunchroom, he was put on probation.
Brett, 23, wasn’t real close to Cole, but they were family.

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“I guess it just happened,” Brett said. “Cole was living with a lady and she couldn’t handle him and he was dropped off at social services to be put into foster care.”

At the time, Brett was a preacher and had living quarters provided by his church.

“I wasn’t going to let my brother go into foster care,” he said. “So I moved out of the parsonage and found a place.”
Ashley Snedeger was the counselor for the family. When Ashley visited, her first priorities were to assist Cole and Brett in establishing more structure and routine in the home.

“At first it was hard because Cole wouldn’t listen and I wasn’t teaching him well,” Brett said. “Then over the winter Cole missed his community service and violated the terms of his probation from breaking that table at the school.”

Ashley found that Cole’s aggression stemmed more from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and being impulsive rather than from emotional issues. She showed Cole how to take perspective and see how his actions affected others.

“They’ve been so great to work with,” Ashley said of Brett and Cole. “Once we established the structure at home and helped Brett with other parenting skills, we then focused on the school environment.”

Dealing with a school was a challenge. Brett and Cole are from a small, tightly knit community. And while that has its benefits, it can also be a hindrance.

“Cole had messed up some in the past … well, a lot,” Brett said. “But in their mind at the school, they’re not going to put up with it. I had those teachers not too long ago, and I’ve preached in their churches.”

Brett took Cole back to the school and spoke with his old teachers. Cole explained himself and his actions. They both explained how to make the school environment more productive.

“Brett stepped in right away,” Ashley said. “He was prepared every time he went to the school to meet with the teachers and administrators. He also called the school a few times a week to check in.”

By the beginning of the spring semester, the groundwork began producing real results. Cole’s grades and behavior improved. He tried out for his school’s football team and auditioned for a play at the community theater.

“When I first started preaching, I didn’t know much,” Brett said. “But I learned. I was questioned about my ability as a parent, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure. But I learned. When Ashley came in she really helped me a lot. Cole and I learned about structure and rewards and consequences. She showed me how to stick to my guns and be that consistency that Cole needs. In return, Cole has improved immensely in so many ways.”


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