Do you believe in destiny? I realize this is a personal question from someone you likely have never met, but occasionally I ask myself this question when I consider my work as a Permanency Specialist at Ampersand Families. I was introduced to the work of Ampersand when I attended the CASA National Conference in Chicago three years ago as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for Ramsey County. Of all the workshops I attended that weekend, the session that stood out most in my mind was led by Ampersand’s co-executive officers and founders, Jen Braun and Michelle Chalmers, who challenged us to remember teens in care and their need for permanency. Despite my years as a G.A.L., their distinctive message provided me with an ‘aha moment’ that changed my destiny. I went home that weekend knowing that this was work I wanted to do; and here I am – three years later – on staff at Ampersand.
I’ve been thinking about these things lately because Ampersand Families will soon have another chance to provide many more ‘aha moments’ to a national audience. For the 8th year in a row, our directors have been invited to lead a workshop at the CASA National Conference – this year in Texas on June 12th. This year, Jen Braun will be the presenter, and trust me; she will be providing a renewed and memorable challenge to CASA volunteers on Advocating for Permanency: Keeping our Promise to Teens. Both funny and fierce, the unique message to be delivered by this gifted woman never loses its relevance; never eases in urgency. Her passion is born from a sense of destiny. Let me explain.
Both Jen and Michelle are relentless in their message that as a society, we should not accept the destinies that seem to be laid out in the bleak statistics that follow teens who age out of foster care; facts and figures that point to destinies of homelessness, pregnancy, incarceration, and loneliness. As a G.A.L., I work with kids on a case-by-case basis, always seeking the best possible outcome in their lives. But on that day in Chicago when I listened to Michelle and Jen speak to the CASA audience of seasoned child advocates, it was like they reached out and lifted our chins higher; asking us to look up, see broader horizons, and expand our vision of how we could change the destinies of teens in care.
So, do I truly believe in destiny? As far as my own…if you meet me someday out in the community, ask me; we’ll talk. For now, my focus remains on another kind of destiny. In the notice for her CASA workshop, Jen writes, CASA volunteers change lives when they push for permanency, even if others decide a teen is “too old.” The same holds true for everyone involved in the work of Ampersand Families: our determined staff, the amazing families who adopt teens, our valuable volunteers, and our generous financial supporters. Through the vision established in the founding of Ampersand Families, we are all reminded that we have a promise to keep. The hard work of permanency for teens changes lives and steers destinies.