Cold Weather. Warm Hearts


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: And you don’t need to drive through a snowstorm to do that!