Archive for December 23, 2013

Young Adults Aging Out of the “System” -Diakon’s Flight Program

From Rob Kivlan, former Flight Program Manager, Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries 

In the early part of the 20th century, one of the orphanages in the history of Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries created a banking system—to help the children the home served learned how to function in the world.


Decades later, adoption services now part of Diakon became a national model because they focused exclusively on the placement of children with special needs, abandoning “traditional” adoption.

Such innovation is a hallmark of the Diakon legacy.

Five years ago, Diakon turned its attention to a problem its staff saw firsthand as they worked to change the lives of adjudicated delinquent and dependent teenagers—there was very little help for these young people the minute they “aged out” of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

A birthday rolled around and, essentially, the youths were on their own. The support that was edging these young people closer to a productive path to success quite frequently disappeared—and the road back to old habits was an easy one.

In response, Diakon created the Flight Program.

For many of its participants, Flight was a lifeline. For others, it became an amazing vehicle through which they soared to newfound success.

Initially partly funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Flight Program is a mentoring and training program designed to help youths no longer eligible for traditional assistance to become contributing members of society. Typically, they have histories of poverty, addictions, and delinquent behaviors. Quite frequently, because they had not been adopted or their foster care services ended, they lacked the needed resources and support to achieve success at work, at home, and in school—in life.

Yet they recognized that they wanted better for themselves—and so they voluntarily committed to take part in Flight.

Based at the Diakon Wilderness School near Boiling Springs, Pa., the Flight Program has seen the majority of its participants successfully obtain meaningful employment, enroll in college or trade school, and achieve the ability to live independently without need for further assistance or government support.

How has Flight achieved this? 

Beyond its emphasis on voluntary commitment to self-motivation and peer support, Flight emphasizes relationship-based delivery of services.  Because those it serves have already been exposed to traditional programs and interventions, Flight focuses on becoming a long-term, consistent presence in participants’ lives, guiding them through their steps toward adulthood much the way a stable, supportive family would shepherd a son or daughter through the next phases of life.

Flight participants are assured they will receive a year of consistent, meaningful support.  Rather than depending on various service providers and programs, Flight’s skilled staff members take a lead role in personally teaching lacking life-skills, as well as guiding participants in achieving positive, independent living.

By aligning each young adult with a staff member committed to making the sometimes-difficult journey alongside the youth, gaps in service disappear.

Plus, the voluntary nature of Flight encourages success. When Diakon team members explain we’re here to help the youths succeed and applaud their reaching out for help, a connection is made. Moreover, former Flight participants remain committed to the program, regularly mentoring current participants from the perspective of someone “who has been there.” This consistent peer support, feedback and encouragement are invaluable.

Every other week, participants and graduates gather to share successes and struggles with one another, as well as participate in activities, community service, and field trips to new and positive environments. Combining the consistent presence of a trusted staff member with this fraternal element underscores the hope Flight offers.

In fact, for some, Flight has been the last hope. 

Chris, now 22, gainfully employed, married, and a father, attempted suicide at 18. Only his awareness of the hope possible in Flight prompted his last-ditch call for help—help that in this case literally saved his life.

Today, he remains a force in Flight.

“I want to show [other youths] that they can make it,” he says. “I know personally how hard it can be, but I can also tell them anything is achievable if they work at it and seek guidance and help along the way … I don’t know what my life would have looked like without [Flight].”

Perhaps, for Chris, there might not even have been life without Flight.


To Read More About Diakon’s Flight Program…Click Here

Jennifer Faustman, CEO of Belmont & Belmont Academy Charter Schools

Belmont Charter School– Meeting the Needs of Its Community

12 years ago Belmont Elementary School was the 7th worst performing public elementary school in the city of Philadelphia with only 2.5% of students scoring Proficient on the PSSA in math and 6.3% scoring proficient in Reading. One walk through the neighborhood of Belmont and you could visibly see the effect poverty was having on its landscape – dilapidated homes, broken glass littering the streets, and people struggling to make ends meet.Belmont Charter

Facing a seemingly hopeless situation, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission decided to shut down Belmont Elementary School and reopen it as a charter school in partnership with the Community Education Alliance of West Philadelphia (CEAWP), a nonprofit social services organization created in direct response to the needs of the Belmont community. Belmont Charter School (BCS) became the first school district converted charter to serve a definitive catchment area. Instead of an application process which would bring in students from many different communities, all students who resided in the neighborhood of Belmont were automatically enrolled in the school. This was monumental because it truly made the school a representation of the community.

BCS has strived to become a focal point of the community – a place where children and their families can come together to receive the resources they need to improve the quality of their lives. BCS and CEAWP began developing and implementing a variety of new programs and social services at the school such as Head Start, Afterschool and Summer programming, and even opened a Wellness Clinic within the school. Additionally, through a partnership with the Department of Human Services, CEAWP staffed 4 full time social workers in the school to provide case management services to Belmont families.  These initiatives enabled BCS to address the academic, social, and emotional needs of every student and family.

Over the course of the last 12 years, BCS has seen a 50.8% increase in students performing proficient in Math and a 42.1% increase in students performing proficient in Reading on the PSSA. More importantly, this once failing school has decreased student violent incidents by 95% and increased parent participation in the school by 90%.  This, in turn, has begun to alter the landscape of Belmont as more families have moved in to the area and student enrollment has increased.

What we have learned at the Belmont Charter School is that every child, no matter what their socioeconomic background, has the potential to succeed. In order to do so, however, the student needs their social and emotional needs addressed.  It is important for schools to form strong relationships with their communities, to acknowledge that each student has a specific set of needs, and to provide ways to meet those needs.


-Jennifer Faustman

Newsworks-WHYY Article On Initiative

After closeup look at poverty, Pa. lawmaker to begin work on policy

By Holly Otterbein

December 6, 2013

A Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker has finished the first part of his mission to learn more about the nearly 1.8 million people in the state living in poverty.

Indiana County state Rep. Dave Reed and other Republican legislators spent the last five months crisscrossing the state, traveling everywhere from the Poconos to North Philadelphia, and talking to low-income residents, government officials and advocates for the poor.

Reed said he has learned that there is near-unanimous consent among those people that the government and nonprofit sector’s current efforts to combat poverty are insufficient. He expected at least some advocates to defend the status quo.

“Probably the most eye-opening component to me was the recognition by so many folks at the grassroots level that the system was broken,” he said, as well as the “frustration that a lot of folks held that they didn’t feel like there was any hope of actually changing the system for the better.”

Reed explored education, homelessness, financial literacy, public assistance programs and hunger. On the latter issue, he expressed concerns about the across-the-board cuts to the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, that went into effect last month.

“It’s a little frustrating to hear folks always focus on cutting benefits in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Perhaps if they look at the integrity of the [food stamps] program, and some common-sense changes with the program and give the states a little bit more flexibility, we could actually make those dollars go further and serve the truly needy in a more effective manner than just arbitrarily cutting benefits across the board.”



To Read More of the Article…Click Here



Unionville Times on Chester County Roundtable

Until there is a collective will to really address poverty, things won’t get better

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

COATESVILLE — With wealth bordering on abundance t times in Chester County, it can be difficult to confront the truth that for many here — arguably far too many — poverty remains a stark reality and a reality that in recent years has gotten worse.

This past week, six state representatives — five from Chester County — held a free-wheeling discussion with groups from around the county to look at what could be done. The discussion was led by State Rep. Dave Reed — majority chair of the House Policy Committee. Reed has been traveling the state, looking closely at the issue of poverty and its related symptoms from crime to hunger.

Reed, a Republican from Indiana County, admits that not everyone has been supportive of his study of poverty. He notes that some of his fellow Republicans don’t see poverty as a serious issue or at least one that needs so much attention, while Democrats don’t seem to think he’s serious.

“Both parties want to stick to their talking points,” Reed said.



To read more of the article…Click Here

Rep. Brown on Event in the Poconos

I applaud Chairman Dave Reed and the members of the Policy Committee for taking the initiative to look further into povReed110613PolicyOnPoverty04erty in our state and specifically in Monroe County, a portion of my district.  It is a tremendous effort that this committee has taken on to look deeper into the poverty issue, which is often a very emotional and difficult issue to address. Poverty  is judged and  it’s  causes, circumstances and solutions are often assumed. The Empowering Opportunities Initiative is needed so we have the most updated, realistic, and  accurate information on the issue.  The legislative body must always research and understand what is happening at the grass roots level, to effectively understand any  situation or issue and how to best improve it.


This initiative approached  the many organizations and associations  that work daily to help people in poverty , allowing them to communicate  the obstacles they encounter .  The information we received was tremendous and honest. It was evident that in Monroe county some of the largest struggles are affordable housing and quality, affordable child care . These two issues were common ground across the state in the fight against increased poverty. Another strong point uncovered was the need for transitional benefits to ensure that opportunities to progress out of the poverty cycle were not missed due to a financial hole that could not be avoided if benefits were immediately lost.  The discussion of long term solutions to improve quality of life and financial stability were strong and evident.

I thank all of the committee members for their efforts and hard work on the poverty issue.

I look forward to continuing to work with fellow legislators as we look further into our current state systems that support individuals in poverty and utilizing the information we gathered to make them work more effectively. The goal is to help move individuals out of poverty into long- term, independent, financially stabile environments enhancing their quality of life.


-Rep. Rosemary Brown