Why Are We Called Ampersand Families?
The ampersand — & — is a symbol with which we’re all familiar. In writing it connects words and ideas. For us, the & is a constant reminder that our role is to be connectors in partnership with youth. We bring together people, resources and ideas that help young people to keep and build life-long relationships. We make more room at the table for youth to be part of decisions made about their lives. People & Resources & Ideas & Youth Voice & New Relationship & Past Relationships come together at Ampersand Families to restore belonging, dignity and hope.
How We Began
Ampersand Families was founded in 2008 to fill a gap in existing adoption efforts: Teens that had been removed from their parents’ care due to abuse and neglect had a slim chance of joining an adoptive family before aging out of foster care, because few programs existed to help bring teens to permanency. Most programs for teens were developed to help them age out of care.
Ampersand Families emerged from the pioneering work of co-founders Michelle Chalmers (current executive director) and Jen Braun (former co-executive officer) in The Homecoming Project. From 2003 to 2008, Chalmers led the federally-funded demonstration project that showed that permanent families can be found for teenagers labeled “hard to place” in Minnesota’s child welfare system.
Working with some of the state’s oldest and longest-waiting foster teens (not those selected for ease of placement), the Homecoming Project succeeded in connecting 57% of the youth with permanent families. By contrast, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) had estimated prior to the project start that only 4% of Minnesota teens awaiting adoption at age 15 would enter a family.
You can read more about The Homecoming Project (PDF) or listen to the national, award-winning American RadioWorks documentary, Wanted: Parents, that followed Jen Braun and her work to bring a teen brother and sister into an adoptive family.
Since opening in 2008, Ampersand Families has grown from a staff of 3 with a budget of about $300,000 to 10 people and almost $1 million in FY 2016. Our success has been made possible because of the dedicated leadership of the 24 people who have served on our board of directors and the unwavering support of more than 20 foundations and close to 1,000 individual donors.
We have also been in three different offices spaces to accommodate our growing staff. As of October 2015 we are settled into sunny Suite 150 in the Wabash Building near Hwy 280 and I-94 in St. Paul.
Everyone who speaks or acts on behalf of Ampersand Families is expected to uphold these values:
We nurture the sense of hope that youth, families and professionals have to feel in order to make permanency happen. We recognize the incredible resiliency in the youth with whom we work. Over and over we see them grow and bloom when adults provide the relationships and trauma-informed resources required for healing. The rapid development happening in the brain during adolescence makes this period of life a hopeful time for building relationships with stable, nurturing, safe adults.
We behave with honesty and professionalism, and hold ourselves accountable for the outcomes of our work. We are committed to the highest ethical and performance standards. We appreciate and take seriously the public trust conferred upon us as a nonprofit organization, and are ethical and transparent in our financial activities.
We do our work in ways that intentionally demonstrate honor for people’s fundamental right to self-efficacy and engagement in their own lives. We believe that it is the birthright of every human being to have supportive relationships with other people. We will challenge systemic barriers that put young people in the position of having to earn the right to build or access the relationships that bring meaning to human existence.
Ampersand Families plays a critical role in the development and implementation of best practices in achieving permanency for older youth. We are a learning organization that embraces innovation and freely shares our findings with others.