“I’m so happy that I’m able to give the gift of tranquility,” said Angelina Vescio, Family & Children’s Agency Community Connections Center Relief Worker. This “gift of tranquility” is something so simple, yet significant, to clients experiencing homelessness: crocheting.
This past June, Angelina was speaking to a woman at the Community Connections Center of her love for crocheting and she had expressed an interest in learning about the craft. Quickly after, a weekly crocheting class evolved with the number of attendees increasing each week. Angelina plays calming, classical music during the classes and makes the environment as therapeutic as possible.
The Community Connections Center allows men and women experiencing homelessness to receive case management, vocational counseling and support during daytime hours. For many, the ability to focus their energy on crocheting is incredibly beneficial and relaxing.
“The people in this group have found a new passion in life,” said Angelina. “It’s amazing how something as simple as crocheting has impacted their lives and allowed them to have a better outlook on life and experience calmness.”
Many clients have spoken to Angelina about the benefits they’ve experienced with this class. Individuals with insomnia and depression have found that this exercise helps them relax and feel rewarded by creating something with their own two hands.
To donate crochet needles and yarn to the Community Connections Center, please contact Chris Jachino, Director of Homeless Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (203) 855-8765.
The Summer Enrichment Program, a component of the After School Program at Family & Children’s Agency (FCA), has received a $20,000 grant from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF). The Summer Enrichment Program serves Norwalk youth four days per week over the course of six weeks during the summer break.
Students and high school volunteers from FCA’s Summer Enrichment Program this past summer took a virtual trip around the world participating in cross-curriculum learning while strengthening their character.
“Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has been a longtime supporter of Family & Children’s Agency, in particular our services for youth,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “Last year, the Summer Enrichment Program expanded to serve 30 middle school youth. Funding for this program is critical to ensure the Program’s continuation and growth.”
The Summer Enrichment Program provides students with ongoing opportunities for daily reading and learning during the summer months. The Program offers educational, hands-on activities for students to explore interests, develop new skills and participate in learning not typically offered in a classroom setting. The Summer Enrichment Program is a component of the After School Program, which helps provide a successful transition into high school for 50 Norwalk middle school youth.
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation promotes philanthropy as a means to create change in Fairfield County, focusing on innovative and collaborative solutions to critical issues impacting the community. Individuals, families, corporations and organizations can establish charitable funds or contribute to existing funds. The Community Foundation is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards, and has awarded $180 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. For more information, visit www.fccfoundation.org.
January is National Mentoring Month. Mentoring has been a core component of Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Youth Development program for over 40 years. FCA offers site-based mentoring services to students in the After School Program, a program for 50 Norwalk middle school youth on the Norwalk Community College campus. Mentoring programs have the proven ability to increase positive academic outcomes, self-efficacy and social skills, while also decreasing engagement in negative behaviors. For this reason, pairing a mentor with youth in the After School Program will further strengthen their positive development. Utilizing NCC as a home-base allows each student’s academic progress to be tracked, FCA staff to maintain regular supervision with each match, and enhance the experience for both the mentors and mentees through the variety of academic, cultural, recreational and career resources available.
This is the story of Monica, and how a mentor has radically impacted her transition into high school.
Within moments of meeting, it was evident that Monica was unique from most 14-year-old girls who have just entered high school. She wasn’t boy crazy, giggly or fawning over teenage fashions. While sitting across a table at Norwalk Community College (NCC) from her mentor, Elizabeth, Monica exuded an introspective, wise-beyond-her-years demeanor, thoughtfully answering questions and reflecting on her experiences in the After School Program at Family & Children’s Agency.
Monica, right, sits across from her mentor, Elizabeth.
“It’s unusual for someone at her age, or any age, to have so much insight into their feelings,” said Elizabeth, a volunteer with the After School Program and a member of FCA’s Junior Board. Elizabeth began mentoring Monica in October of 2013, when Monica was in eighth grade.
Although calm and composed on the outside, Monica abounds with creativity. Her imagination manifests itself in her well-worn sketchbook with packed pages of drawings. These aren’t just any cartoons, however. She creates complete characters with personalities and plotlines, such as the Halloween “Spook Crew” or the friendly dragon with a penchant for hoarding snacks. Even a question as simple as, “What’s your favorite animal?” led to a whirlwind discussion of the fascinating distinctions between mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates—a species most adults haven’t given thought to since grade school. (After a careful process of elimination, however, she did declare the alpaca to be her favorite.)
This pensive, imaginative manner, however, has often made Monica feel like an outsider among her peers. Although she’s enjoyed her years in the FCA After School Program and has made many friends, she still struggled with self-confidence.
This began to change, however, when Monica met Elizabeth last fall. The mentoring relationship began organically as Elizabeth started helping Monica with homework. It wasn’t long after that they were fully integrated in the mentoring component of the After School Program, meeting once a week on the NCC campus. The two worked on academics, participated in planned activities and often just talked about anything and everything going on in Monica’s life.
According to Monica, she connects with adults more easily than her peers.
“I’m more comfortable talking to an adult with life experiences than some of my friends that don’t actually understand what I’m going through,” said Monica.
The mentoring partnership has continued for the last year as Monica entered high school in Norwalk. Although she admits she had a great deal of anxiety about the first day of high school, she quickly found a group of friends with similar interests and passions, such as art. In addition to joining an anime club, she is part of the Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA), a six-year program that allows Norwalk high school students to also take courses to earn an associate degree through NCC. Monica remains part of the Alumni component of the After School Program, as well.
The core mission of the After School Program is to ensure students have a successful transition into high school. The staff of the Program, however, recognizes that a successful transition entails far more than academics. The Program fosters an environment that provides creative outlets and identifies students, such as Monica, who would benefit from one-on-one attention from a mentor. FCA Mentoring Coordinator Anne Schneider said that Monica has flourished emotionally and socially since she’s been matched with Elizabeth.
“‘Confident’ was a word I would have never used to describe myself before,” said Monica.
Although Monica remains connected to FCA through the high school component, Anne strongly believes Elizabeth and Monica will remain connected for many, many years to come.
Family & Children’s Agency wishes you health and happiness in the New Year! Here is a look back on 2014–from holiday parties to graduations, from summer picnics to Halloween, this year has been a great success. Thank you for your continued support in helping us to build better lives.
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Family & Children’s Agency would like to thank everyone who donated to this year’s Thanksgiving meal basket collection drive. More than 175 meal baskets with grocery store gift certificates were collected and distributed to FCA families for the holidays. In addition, thank you to those who provided food for a wonderful Thanksgiving meal for Homeless Services clients.
Students from St. Patrick’s of Redding Religious Education program donate Thanksgiving Meal baskets.
As you gather around your table this Thanksgiving, know that others are enjoying a meal because of your generosity!
“Adoption is more than a moment in time,” says Natalie Jackson, Assistant Director of Adoption at Family & Children’s Agency (FCA). Families formed through adoption or guardianship sometimes face unique challenges later in life, such as talking to your child about adoption, child development, or transitioning from foster care to a permanent home. In addition to offering domestic and international adoption services, FCA offers the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), a grant funded program through the University of Connecticut Health Center, which provides comprehensive assessments, education, brief counseling and referral services to adoptive families free of charge.
“Adoption is a lifelong journey that brings both joys and personal growth,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “The Adoption Assistance Program is an incredible resource to families facing unique challenges to receive the support they need.”
The range of services provided by the Adoption Assistance Program vary greatly from minor questions to more complicated challenges, such as behavioral issues derived from abuse or neglect a child experienced with their birth family. A social worker provides a comprehensive assessment to determine how to best meet the needs of both the child and family. All inquiries are confidential.
National Adoption Month has been recognized throughout the month of November for 19 years. Each year, events are held around the country to celebrate adoptive families, finalize adoptions and raise awareness. This year’s theme is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections,” which encourages states to make a reasonable effort to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship guardianship or adoptive placement to provide ongoing interaction between siblings.
FCA offers domestic, international and post-placement adoption services. FCA is one of only two Hague Accredited international adoption agencies in the state of Connecticut. Free informational seminars are offered each month at FCA’s Hartford and Norwalk offices.
National Adoption Month has been recognized in the United States for over 30 years. Each year, events are held around the country to celebrate adoptive families. This year, the Administration for Children & Families of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has declared “Supporting and Promoting Sibling Connections” as the theme of National Adoption Month. As the Administration notes, siblings have a unique bond. Research has shown the critical nature of sibling bonds and their importance for children’s development and emotional well-being.
FCA’s 2013 Annual Report highlighted a unique adoption story, in which two daughters from the same birth mother were adopted by different families, but raised as sisters. In honor of National Adoption Month and its unique theme, we would like to again share their inspiring story.
“Families come in different shapes and sizes.” This is what Kelly Moore has told her daughter, Caroline, whom she and her husband, Jim, adopted domestically through Family & Children’s Agency’s Adoption services seven years ago.
From left to right: Aislyn, Siobhan, and Caroline.
While families do come in different packages, the story of the Moores is particularly unique. When Caroline was four years old, Jim and Kelly’s caseworker at FCA informed them that Caroline’s birth mother had another daughter who was also adopted. Caroline not only had a sister, but a sister in Fairfield County.
It was then that the couple met John and Lisa Reilly who had adopted their daughter, Aislyn, also through FCA. After one dinner together, both couples knew they wanted their daughter to grow up knowing her sister. The girls met for the first time when Aislyn was just 7 months old at the Maritime Aquarium on Oct. 17, 2009. Four years later, Aislyn, now 4, and Caroline, now 8, are practically inseparable.
“We celebrate all birthdays and family parties together, and never miss a Christmas,” said Lisa. “It’s very important to us to establish traditions for them.”
Two years ago, John and Lisa welcomed another daughter by birth, Siobhan, who—if you ask Caroline—is also her sister. Although raised in separate households, the girls are growing up sharing a bond that many children of adoption yearn for throughout their whole life. This past year, John and Lisa have even moved to Redding so their daughters may grow up in the same school system.
The questions children may have surrounding their adoption may change as they grow and develop mentally. Aislyn, however, who has since birth regarded Caroline as her sister, seems content with her family’s extension.
“I asked Aislyn once what she would like to tell her cousins about her sister, Caroline,” said Lisa. “She looked at me and said, ‘I’ll just tell them that we come from the same woman’s belly, Mommy’.”
Brian Vendig, President and Managing Executive at MJP Associates, a wealth advisory firm, is the newest addition to Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Board of Directors. Brian has been an active member of FCA’s Junior Board since its inception in 2013. A resident of Fairfield, where he lives with his wife, Michele, and two children, Brian brings with him over 15 years of financial management experience, as well as an inherent drive to raise awareness of FCA’s work.
Brian Vendig, President and Managing Executive at MJP Associates, a wealth advisory firm, is the newest addition to Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Board of Directors.
Brian is a graduate of Bucknell University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a major in accounting and a minor in economics. Prior to joining MJP Associates, Brian spent over eight years with Xerox Corporation, a venture capital firm and a “Big 4” public accounting firm.
He first joined the Junior Board of Directors when the group was founded in 2013. In its first year, the Junior Board focused its fundraising efforts on FCA’s Homeless Services programs, hosting a number of activities including a barbecue for clients and A Taste of Fairfield County, held at Aitoro in Norwalk. This year, the group has focused its efforts on FCA’s After School Program, hosting an ice cream social for students, book drive and sponsoring the second annual A Taste of Fairfield County, to be held November 13.
“My involvement with Family & Children’s Agency has been an extremely enriching experience,” said Brian. “I have a greater appreciation for members of our local Connecticut community that deserve and need additional support to overcome life’s challenges. My involvement with FCA to date has spanned from interacting with clients to fundraising events, and I am looking forward to expanding my connection.”
“Brian has shown a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and commitment since his involvement with FCA began, and we are thrilled to have him join our Board of Directors,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA.
The Connection, Inc. was awarded the 2014 Family Strengthening Award by Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) on Oct. 21 at FCA’s annual meeting, held at Silvermine Golf Club in Norwalk. For more than 40 years, The Connection, Inc. has been one of Connecticut’s leading
Peter Nucci, Jr., President and CEO of The Connection, Inc. (third from left) accepts the FCA Family Strengthening Award with The Connection, Inc. staff and FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel (far left).
private, nonprofit human service and community development agencies. Each month, thousands of people throughout Connecticut are assisted by The Connection, Inc.’s diverse behavioral health, family support and community justice programs. These programs reunite families, break the generational cycles of abuse, create safer communities, and assist with mental illness and addiction issues.
Since 2004, FCA has partnered with The Connection, Inc. to provide a Supportive Housing program through FCA’s Family Support and Intervention services for families referred by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). Services provide families with case management and other support that helps them access and retain appropriate housing that is safe, affordable and promotes family stability. During this partnership, which spans over a decade, over $3 million has been allocated to FCA for these support services.
“One of the hallmarks of the Supportive Housing program has been the close working relationship between the staff of The Connection, Inc. and FCA,” said FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel. “Throughout our relationship, staff from both agencies have worked together to provide appropriate housing and support for families.”
The Family Strengthening Award at FCA recognizes and celebrates individuals or organizations in the community whose outstanding contributions have dramatically impacted FCA’s ability to strengthen and stabilize families and offer help in all phases of life.