Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tis the Season for Giving

This week, my company, which is a very big supporter of giving back to the community, kicked off its firm-wide United Way pledge campaign. The Partners have made it fun to participate by initiating competitions by floor and offering daily drawing for prizes to people who've donated. So far, my floor is in the lead for the tricycle relay race time and all I can say is....the 9th floor rules. Woo hoo!

Representatives from the United Way also came into the story to share the sad tale of a young man growing up under the care of a crack-addicted mother, then bounced around the foster care system, finally landing with his ailing grandmother on a fixed income, failing at school and ultimately turning it all around to become a self-sustaining member of society, thanks to the United Way. Yay to the United Way. Here's my check.

I know I sound a little sarcastic there but as a former foster mom and now adoptive mom, the story really kind of pissed me off. Why? It pissed me off for a couple of reasons: The first is that the foster care system is just broken in so many ways. This child should have been removed from his mother's care when he was born and (most likely) tested for drugs right after birth. There are SO many people out there who want to adopt and this woman was clearly an unfit mother. Yet the state kept taking this child away for a period of time, then giving him back, only to have to take him away again. This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: Do you know what the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Under this definition, our state child protection agency is acting totally insane. Scary thought, right?

There are so many people who would be thrilled to adopt a baby from foster care and who would give that child a safe, happy, healthy home. Why does the state continuously give kids back to parents who cannot for whatever reason care for them? We really need to set the bar higher here.

The United Way presentation also bothered me because they were asking me for money for stuff that should already be paid for by my tax dollars. I'm all for donating to kids in need but not if I'm going to be throwing my money away into some dark black hole.

For example, the United Way wants to raise funds for this accomplished young man to go to college, so they came to my firm and asked us all to donate towards that goal. That sounds admirable unless you know that this young man, who has spent time in the MA foster care system, can already go to any MA state university or college free of charge. Here in Massachusetts the program is called: The DCF Foster Child Tuition Waiver and Fee Assistance Program. Many other states offer similar programs and many colleges will provide scholarships to foster kids. There is also Federal funding available. So basically this kid could go to Harvard free of charge, if he so chooses. Why am I giving money to the United Way then?

Also the United Way's story talked about how this young man didn't have enough food because his grandmother was on a fixed income and she couldn't afford to feed him. And that would be why he had to drop out of he could get a job that allowed him to eat. Once again, here in MA there are programs available to this young man through our tax dollars so why are we double paying through donations to the United Way. This grandmother should be getting a daily stipend from the state if she's legally caring for her grandson. Also, she could apply for food stamps and free housing. It won't be glamorous housing but it will be a roof over their heads and they will be warm and dry. Lastly, the city of Boston has recently started offering free lunches to all kids attending public school so all grandma has to do is feed her son breakfast and dinner. Lunch is paid for courtesy of our tax dollars. That's on top of the aid grandma already qualifies for as a legal foster care guardian.

One of the reasons I love living in Massachusetts is because there are so many services available to foster parents and to adoptive foster parents. I get free MassHealth for my son and I will now re-apply for my stipend again because we have a medical diagnosis and I will most likely qualify for state funding because of it. Through MassHealth I can get Christopher weekly therapy, a therapeutic mentor, care at one of the nation's top children's hospitals for his ADHD (Boston Children's Hospital), medication and dental care. I just took Christopher to the dentist, got four cavities filled, all for free. It was great. (Well great for me. Christopher screamed at the top of his lungs the entire time.) With rising health insurance costs, this all comes in very handy and allows me to get my kiddo the help he needs to heal from his history of trauma.

Bah Humbug?

Just so you know, I'm not all bah humbug about donating to charity. If the United Way can funnel my donations to an agency of my choosing, I'm happy to donate. If not I will just find a charity on my own because I know there is LOTS of need out there. The people of the Philippines for example are in dire need after a hurricane came through and decimated much of the country. I just want to make sure that my donations are going to a cause that will truly help those in need, as opposed to just throwing money at people that just need to make a little bit of effort to help themselves. I'm all for a hand UP...not a hand OUT.

So I guess what I'm saying is, this holiday season, it's important to remember those around you who are in need. Be thankful for what you have and donate freely. But first, make sure to perform your due diligence and make sure the agency receiving your money is worthy of the funds. I don't know about you but I don't have a ton of money and I want to make sure that the money I donate really is going towards a good cause

A great place to check out how well your charities measure in giving the money you donate to those who could actually benefit from it is The Better Business Bureau.

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