At FosterAdopt Connect, we have the privilege of being led by a female executive leadership team. They would be the first to tell you that they stand on the shoulders of countless women before them who have paved the way and laid a strong foundation for the work we do as an organization. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we wanted to give them a chance to share a bit about themselves, why they show up for the youth in our community, and what they see as our duty as an organization.
Lori Ross – Founder/CEO
My husband and I started as foster parents in August of 1985 in Wyandotte County, KS. We maintained our foster care/relative/kinship license almost consistently until six years ago. We formally adopted 23 children (two as adults) and fostered over 400 children. We also fostered three of our grandchildren for a year. Of our 28 forever kids, which include five biological kids, we have raised 25 to adulthood (still working on the last three).
I started attending a support group with other fostering families, and together, in 1998, we developed the idea that ultimately became FosterAdopt Connect. I volunteered part-time through 1999 helping to grow the idea into an organization. And starting in 2000 when I wrote our original 501c3 application, I worked for the first five years almost entirely as a full-time volunteer and then began paid employment in 2005.
Though my responsibilities have shifted over the years, I am now responsible for the administration of the organization. I answer to our Board of Directors and therefore oversee all aspects of the organization’s functioning, including programs, finance, development, and all of the other aspects of agency administration.
I am also responsible for the vision casting and strategic planning for the organization. In this role, I “drive the ship” in the directions we will go in all of the areas previously described. This is my favorite role, in that it allows us to be creative and responsive to the changing needs of the kids and families we serve.
Finally, I am responsible for the funding of the organization. In this role, I work to obtain county/state/federal contracts, assure adequate fundraisers, create earned income opportunities, engage with donors and potential donors, represent the agency in the community via outreach and making friends, and engage in policy and legislative advocacy that impacts our programs (fulfilling our mission) and that impacts our finances.
I believe in the inherent value of every child. I believe we are all obliged to do everything in our power to make sure they have what they need to thrive. And I believe that children can only thrive within the context of a family to which they belong, and in which they are loved unconditionally. I only have one life to live, and I love that I have the opportunity to get up each day and do everything I can to make the world I live in a better place.
I wish people understood how much poverty impacts all of the other issues that plague families who are struggling. Housing, transportation, access to health and mental health care, etc. should be viewed by all of us as a human right. If those basic needs were met, child abuse/neglect would be a much smaller issue. We need to actually address poverty as a country.
I hope that we continue to do everything we can do to hold up our kids and families, in any way that we can effectively do that. I hope that our staff continues to feel valued and supported. And I hope that this organization will continue to thrive well beyond when I am no longer leading it, and maybe someday will work itself right out of business.
Jennifer Johnson – Chief Operations Officer
My husband and I started as group home house parents in 1994, the weekend after our honeymoon. We immensely enjoyed our experience and I never left the world of child welfare. Following that, I spent time working in a residential center for children ages 4-12 and then spent an additional eight years working for a nonprofit in the Northland of Kansas City, MO.
I had worked in residential and group home services for nine years before making the decision to stay home with our children. As my children transitioned to elementary school, I had the desire to return to the workforce. I applied to FAC for a part-time licensing worker position in 2010. Our CEO, Lori Ross, reviewed my previous experience and asked if I would consider accepting a leadership role. I was motivated by the mission of FAC and excited to have the opportunity to join an agency that was parent-friendly with flexibility. I have now been here for 13 years.
I am responsible for the operations of the agency. This definition evolves because I do whatever is needed. For example, this can include examining outcomes and brainstorming how to serve clients better, strategizing how best to use agency funding, focusing on work culture and infrastructure, mentoring and inspiring leaders, assisting HR, ensuring policies are consistently implemented no matter the specific branch office, creating and implementing new program ideas, responding to new grant opportunities, completing research projects, or ensuring the finance department has the data needed to support the agency. To put it in simple terms, as we create our vision and long-term strategic plan, I help turn that into reality alongside all our wonderful leaders.
The fact that our CEO believes in the inherent value of every child allows us to do amazing work. I am so inspired to know that if I see a problem, I am empowered to find the solution. I am motivated to use that platform to change the trajectory of lives, to be a force “behind the curtain” that no one sees but is a relentless force in the pursuit of changing the future for every single child we serve. That is so powerful!
When it comes to common misconceptions within our field, I think birth parents are greatly misunderstood. People hear the term “foster care” and immediately villainize parents. We do a poor job of understanding the root causes of what families are lacking and instead of providing real help, we make snap judgments and separate families. We need to do better at providing housing, transportation, fair wages, and access to health and mental health care. These resources are the solution that could potentially end the need for a formalized child welfare system.
My hope is that FAC never loses sight of our mission. When we truly see the person in front of us and go beyond to meet the need, we have just changed the world for that person, in that moment. And because we do the work right, I hope we can continue to expand to reach more people in need. What we do matters.
Bridgett Myers – Chief Development Officer
I began my nonprofit career in 1994 with the American Cancer Society. I began as the Senior Director for the Springfield, MO chapter. As the lead staff member for the office, I was responsible for executing all fundraising events and supervising only six staff in our small local office. After 18 months, I was promoted to Area Director and assumed added responsibility for the St. Louis and Southeast areas of Missouri. After several other regional positions, I was promoted to the Kansas City Office as Regional Vice President in 2013 until my retirement in July 2017. In December 2017, I interviewed with Lori Ross and her executive team, for the position of Chief Development Officer, and began with FosterAdopt Connect in January 2018. I have not had the experience of being a foster/adoptive parent, but have raised three sons with my husband Tom, and have two wonderful grandchildren.
In the last five years, I have had the privilege of creating strategy and growing community and foundation income through the supervision of a talented Advancement team. Community income is essential to support the programs and services that FAC staff provide to the children and families we serve. Another focus of my role is to oversee the Marketing team, which is also another essential part of the Advancement team. Our primary goal in marketing is to further raise public awareness of the work that we do to fulfill the mission of the organization.
My biggest motivation in the work I do is the children and families we serve. Every month our program staff share success stories directly related to the innovative programs that FAC has created out of the need to fill gaps in the child welfare system. Not only do we need to keep kids safe, but we also have to be committed to supporting both biological and foster families through parenting successes. So many children and parents walk through our doors every day to find guidance, support, encouragement, advice, and so much more. The staff, who do the hard work of walking alongside the kids and families, also motivate me to do my best as a part of the leadership of the organization.
I think one of the biggest needs in all of the communities we serve is just knowing that everyone can do something to end child abuse and neglect. You may not have the capacity to foster or adopt, but communities can support those who can by volunteering their time and by financially supporting FAC and other similar organizations that do the work. Communities can donate essential needs through clothing closets and food pantries or just spread the word that kids are coming into care every day and need our help.
My hope and/or true vision for FAC is that someday our society will be able to break the generational cycle of child abuse and there won’t be a need for the services we provide. I believe families will always need support and advocacy, but breaking that cycle will benefit generations to come!
Lori, Jennifer, and Bridgett are just three of the incredible women at FosterAdopt Connect, and across the country, working to ensure the safety and health of children and families in their communities. Women past, present, and future have and will continue to forge better futures for these youth. Thanks to each of you for your sacrifice and dedication as we all pursue a common cause!