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! 

Broadening teenagers’ horizons through extended family

It’s National Adoption Month and this year the focus is on teens. Teenagers make up almost one quarter of the children in the foster care system

Many teens in foster care develop a sense of hopelessness. They see themselves aging out of the system without good prospects—and the stats aren’t in their favor, 29% experience homelessness, 20% are likely to be incarcerated and 23% will become parents before turning 21 years-old. College enrollment is only 50% of the rate of the general population.

What’s missing is not only the love and stability of being in a family but the connections stemming from kinship that bring involvement in wider society. Sadly, for children over the age of 16 in foster care, less than half will leave by going into a family. This situation is actually worse than it was five years ago.

Downey Side started with a single teenage adoption. Father Paul Engel, placed sixteen-year-old Brian Champoux with one of his parishioners, Margaret Downey, in 1967 in Springfield, Massachusettes. The agency has steadfastly centered its attention on placing school-aged children into permanent loving homes ever since.

This year, Downey Side has already finalized 6 adoptions—2 boys and 4 girls—aged between 9 and 17 years old and we hope to add another 13-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl soon. This is typical for us. The average age of our adoptees is 11 ½ years old, twice the national average.

At the Downey Side barbecue for our families in Point Pleasant NJ at the tail end of summer, it was especially moving to hear the stories of grandparents in attendance. It brought home how families are a gateway to supportive relationships.

The grandparents all shared a keen interest in their grandchildren’s development, helping in all kinds of ways from simply giving parents a break or showing up for local team sports to using their social network to solicit opportunities such as getting part-time employment. Greater socialization is such a natural part of being in a family it’s easy to take for granted. And, it’s particularly important for teens, without it they are poorly equipped for adulthood.  

You can hear some Downey Side grandparents share their experiences along with other family members in this video.

How can you help Downey Side during National Adoption Month? 

When families adopt school-aged children, Downey Side charges them a fee, one that is much lower than most other adoption agencies. We can do this for two reasons, firstly, we keep all our overheads to the barest minimum, and secondly, through the generous financial support of people like you.

To donate to Downey Side click here

You can also help by spreading the word and sharing this blog post or encouraging your friends to follow us on social media.

-Ian Keldoulis,

Writer & Downey Side Board Member

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

Getting school-age kids out of foster care

May is National Foster Care Month, a good time to reflect on Downey Side’s long relationship with foster care. After all, foster care is where our kids come from and that’s true for around two-thirds of all adoptions in the US


It’s never a child’s fault that he or she winds up in foster care. However, after spending some time in the system, a child often starts to feel there’s something wrong with them if they’re not adopted. The longer they stay in the system, the less chance they have of being adopted out. 17-year-olds make up only 2% of adoptions from foster care. So, it’s hardly surprising they feel that way and develop coping mechanisms to convince themselves that family life is not for them. 


What’s important to understand is that family is about lifelong support and connections, not simply having adults telling kids what to do. This is evident in the long-term outcomes for youth who age out of the system. Homelessness is an immediate impact for 20%. For young women, 70% become pregnant before reaching 21 years old. And less than 3% earn a college degree


In 2021, the most recent year with data, there were nearly 400,000 kids in foster care. The majority of children in foster care are returned to their parents or other kinfolk, although that typically takes 1 to 2 years. But there were 114,000 kids waiting to be adopted. The average age of a child in care is between 7 and 8 years old. However, when you ask potential adoptive parents what age range of children are they interested in, infants and toddlers are most desirable — a mere 3% are looking for kids aged 13 or older.  Tragically this fits with the general societal view that teenagers are unadoptable. 


People only need to look at Downey Side to side that is absolutely untrue school-aged kids aren’t adoptable. Getting school-aged kids out of foster care is what we do. We’ve been doing it for over 50 years and we’re very good at it. How do we know? Because when we put families together they stay together. Yes, very occasionally things don’t work out. But our track record of retention of children is demonstrably higher than most agencies— 95% of our placements stick. 


Which is why we’ve been extremely busy. This year we’ve already placed five girls between the ages of 8 and 17, (from Michigan, Georgia, South Dakota and Texas) plus eight boys, ranging from 8 to 16 (from Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas). And of course, the work continues. 


In future blog posts, we’ll be sharing the stories of parents who’ve adopted school-aged children and discussing why they decided to do it and what it’s been like. These are stories children in foster care desperately need to be told. They need to realize there is hope. 


So, please spread the word. Share this blog with your friends. You’d be surprised who might be considering adoption but hasn’t told you. And it’s very possible they’ve never considered school-aged children but perhaps they should. 


Yours for children,


Ian Keldoulis 

— Author of  America’s Youngest Hostages, and board member of Downey Side. 


Remembering Father Paul Engel

Wake: Thursday, May 26, 2022

3:00 – 8:00 PM

Whalen and Ball Funeral Home, Yonkers, NY


Funeral: Friday, May 27, 2022

11:00 AM

Sacred Heart Church, Yonkers, NY

His funeral on Friday May 27 will be Live Streamed


Memorial Mass: Saturday, June 11, 2022

11:00 AM

Sacred Heart Church, Bay Head, NJ



You can share a memory or upload a favorite picture here:



You can share his obituary with friends here:


We saw this wonderful article from the Oregonian Newspaper and received permission to share!




Visibility for Foster Youth 

Dear Annie: Something not spoken about regarding oppression, disadvantages and privilege is the privilege people have when they have family. 

I grew up in foster care, and I see nearly zero percent representation of former foster youth anywhere in the media or in stories or headlines, unless, of course, it is about someone who entered foster care as a small child and then was adopted into a family, 

The problem is that this is a misrepresentation of former foster youth. The vast majority of foster youth never get adopted. 

Here are a few alarming statistics: Our homeless population across the country is nearly 50% made up of former foster youth; 7 out of 10 girls in foster care have a child before the age of 21; and half of all babies born to foster youth are taken and placed into foster care. 

We have high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and early death. Our rate of post traumatic stress disorder rivals that of war veterans by twice as much. We graduate with a high school degree at nearly 30% of the population, and only 3% graduate from a four-year college. 

Every single social justice issue brought forth is about issues that never look at the most pressing and concerning parts of our country and world. With these outcomes, you’d think I would have died by now. Nobody adopted me, and I was kicked out of every single foster home I lived in. And I’m here gaining a degree and raising my own babies. 

But every foster youth story is about someone who gets adopted. It’s never about the outcomes we actually face

There is nothing about that in public discussions of oppression and privilege

It is a privilege that people seem to think everyone is afforded — to have a family. 

I think your readers need to understand that, especially when I see stories about people who were adopted and then get reunited with their biological parent(s) in later years. 

The entire point of these issues is never discussed, and quite frankly, it makes me extremely sad to see. — Family Privilege 







Dear Family Privilege: What an important point you make! Very often the media gets on a bandwagon of exploring one group of victims or another, and I understand your frustration at being left out. Lets hope there is more coverage about the trials and tribulations of foster youth. You sound like an amazing mother, and your children are fortunate to have you. Thank you so much for your letter. 


. 11. PI

Dear Annie: People often write to you complaining about social media posts, and you suggest they block or unfriend the poster

Another option is to “unfollow the person. I have quite a few friends and relatives who have strong opinions that are different from mine. Their brash, crude and sometimes untrue memes popped up on my page all the time

By “unfollowing” them, I can still go to their pages and see their social activities when I want to, but their political memes and name-calling aren’t in my face every time I log on. Unfollow 

Dear Unfollow: Thank you for your great suggestion, based on your success at staying in touch without being offended or getting riled up. 

“How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?” is out now! Annie Lane’s second anthology — featuring favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com. 


“By permission  of Annie Lane and Creators Syndicate Inc.”

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