A winter storm added three extra hours of hazardous driving to the usual five from New York City but didn’t chill the enthusiasm at this year’s Race For Kids in Stowe, Vermont in January. It was the 24th time the Financial Communications Society hosted the event, which has raised over $3 million for three charities: Hope for Heroes, Make a Wish and Downey Side.  


Despite the weather, Downey Side’s leadership showed up in full force— Sister Liz Engel, our Executive Director,  Kimberly Frink, Director of Operations, and Dawn Rusinko, Director of Family Services— accompanied by the Scull Family. Lesli, Brett and their two daughters, Jada and Shannun (adopted at 14 and 17 respectively). 

At the big dinner held in the octagonal Great Room of the Spruce Base Camp Lodge beneath its vaulted ceiling of wooden beams, Shannun and Jada told a large crowd about how their lives changed for the better once they became part of a permanent family. Shannon recounted that she is now studying criminal law at Stockton College with the desire to help abused children, something she can personally relate to. She noted that she is the first member of her biological family to attend college as well as breaking the cycle of early pregnancy.  Her sister, Jada, who was Shannon’s best friend in foster care, is completing high school with an eye on a career in cosmetology. 


The success of the two young women as they begin their adult journeys is a marked contrast to the many unfortunate youngsters who never leave foster care until they age out. As I pointed out to the audience, the outcomes for those teenagers who stay in the system are often not good. Rates of homelessness, early pregnancy, and incarceration are considerably higher than the general population. Attending college is rare. 

Adopting school-aged kids

For Lesli and Brett, their adoption journey began when they were in their 50’s so bringing mature children into their family made a lot more sense than toddlers and infants. Downey Side with 50 years of experience getting school-aged kids out of foster care was the perfect fit for them, helping them navigate the complicated process twice in rapid succession. 


For the audience, witnessing the Sculls tell their stories had a profound impact. Over the three-day event, I was approached by several attendees from major media organizations and offered free advertising and publicity for the agency. (I can’t let the cat out of the bag yet, as we’re currently creating the ads and will announce the campaigns when they start to run.) 

It’s impossible to overstate how helpful this will be for Downey Side. One of the unique things about the agency is how laser-focused on its mission it has been for over 50 years. So much so that compared to most other charities it spends very little time and money on publicity. 


Of course, you can help simply by spreading the word yourself and sending your friends, family and associates to Downey Side’s website: www.downeyside.org. And you don’t need to drive through a snowstorm to do that! 

Help support Downey Side’s mission of finding homes for kids in foster care by purchasing a Christmas ornament. You can keep it as a keepsake or give it as a gift.

Click here to purchase.

Summer officially started with the Downey Side Gala on June 22. While the weather wasn’t especially warm, the atmosphere inside Spring Lake Manor in New Jersey certainly was. Over 180 people came to our 20th annual event celebrating our mission of building forever families. The volunteer gala committee, led by Sr. Liz Engel, went above and beyond this year to create a wonderful night that was a success in so many ways. 


Firstly, we enjoyed the company of several Downey Side families, the McCorys, McQuades, Perones, and Santanas.  The Laguerras, who joined our New Jersey Director, Dawn Rusinko, on stage told their story about adopting two boys, Brent (13 yrs old) and Bentley (11 yrs old). Later in the evening, Tyler McCory, who is now 29 years old, spoke about how his adoption almost 20 years ago completely changed his life.


Thanks to the generosity of so many local businesses, the prizes donated for the evening’s raffle and silent auction lined the walls of the large function room. At the end of the night, it seemed like almost everyone went home a winner.  Together with gambling, book sales, a silent auction, and other contributions, the event raised over $40,000 — a very significant boost to Downey Side’s financial health, which in turn helps us keep costs down for adoptive families.


Family and community together are vitally important. Children in foster care are deprived of both. Shuffled from home to home they can’t make the attachments needed to be successful in life. When they are placed in a permanent family, their roots spread out beyond the nuclear family, to extended family, and into the community. Their experience broadens and their lives become balanced. It’s true for the parents, too. Raising kids in isolation, as we’ve seen through the pandemic, is incredibly tough. 


The love that the community shows at our gala is powerful. Beyond the 119 names of businesses and individuals listed in the program who contributed to the event, it reveals there are numerous ways to help; the choice isn’t just “Should I adopt or not?” It’s whether or not to turn a blind eye to a national problem. Understanding how foster care affects children, hearing their stories and becoming part of the solution by joining forces with organizations like Downey Side is how things change. 


All the adoptive families present at the event expressed a deep appreciation of the work the agency does because they know firsthand the process of adoption is too complex to navigate on their own. That Downey Side has been able to provide assistance for over half a century is due to the tremendous support we receive from the community. 


The gala demonstrates the faith people have in our organization while cherishing the love that binds us all.


-Ian Keldoulis- Downey Side Board Member

The foster care system is hiding in plain sight all around you. That almost 500,000 children are without permanent, loving families isn’t a secret but how they live and what must be done to help them remains a mystery to most Americans. Written for people unfamiliar with children’s services, this book brings to light the experiences of families who have undertaken the journey of adoption. When you read America’s Youngest Hostages, you’ll understand the motivation that’s driven the Downey Side community for half a century, and hopefully, be inspired to become part of the solution for the future.


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