Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in suburban Ft. Lauderdale. In 2004, I relocated to Ponte Vedra Beach with my family. My family had vacationed in St. Augustine for several years prior to relocating. I am a graduate of Allen D. Nease High School. In 2012, I graduated from Flagler College with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I earned a master of science in pre-K/primary education in 2014. I taught for three years in public, charter and private schools in St. Johns County. I taught preschool, kindergarten and reading intervention teacher in primarily Title 1 schools.
During my time teaching, I saw that there were gaps in services for students and their families. In my classroom, I had students who needed mentors and tutoring and many young parents who wanted parenting classes. These resources were not available for my students and their families. I wanted to do more to help local families, so I began volunteering in the community to learn more about services available for families and ways I could give support. I began volunteering and raising funds for numerous local nonprofit organizations. Through my volunteer work with numerous nonprofit organizations, I developed a passion for nonprofit work. In 2017, I became a board member of Kids Bridge Family Visitation Center, a local nonprofit supervised family visitation center that offers on-site supervised visits, parent exchange services and several programs and courses to help strengthen families. I began a career transition from education to the nonprofit sector.
Through my involvement with Kids Bridge, I learned more about our local foster care system and the gaps in services for children in foster care. There was no local nonprofit focused on filling in the gaps in services for children in foster care of all ages. I got together with some friends who also share a passion for helping children in foster care, and we started Fostering Connections St. Johns in February 2019. Fostering Connections St. Johns started as an all-volunteer nonprofit and has grown tremendously in the last two years. I am now the CEO of Fostering Connections St. Johns, and we serve children in foster care ages birth through age 23 and their families in St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.
In addition to my work with Fostering Connections St. Johns, I serve as a St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce ambassador and a board member of the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy many things about being CEO of Fostering Connections St. Johns; helping fill in the gaps in services for foster families, meeting community members who want to support children in care and sharing community awareness about foster care with the community. Through Fostering Connections St. Johns, I have been able to work with clients and donors from all around St. Johns County. What I enjoy most about my role as CEO is working with our Career Readiness Academy students. Career Readiness Academy is a job-skills training program for teens in the foster care system ages 14 to 18 in partnership with The Kookaburra Coffee in which teens learn job skills, are placed in a paid internship, and receive support through job coaching and monthly soft skills classes. It is so rewarding to see the students grow in their career skills, develop a passion for their chosen field, and build their confidence.
What are some of the challenges that your industry/company is facing?
There are many challenges the nonprofit sector is facing during COVID-19; connecting with our clients and supporters during social distancing, the cancellation of in-person fundraisers and programming, a shortage of volunteers and suspension of some grant funding applications. Nonprofits are all about building community connections. In 2020, the nonprofit sector had to pivot and adapt programming.
Fostering Connections St. Johns has found creative ways to connect with both our clients and supporters during this time. Currently, we have no-contact delivery of essential items for foster families. Our programming now has a hybrid approach to best service our clients; some in-person programming with social distancing in place, in-person hybrid programming with virtual attendance options, and all virtual programming. We have many flexible opportunities for volunteers to serve including virtual volunteering. We have been able to stay connected with our donors and supporters through social media, our monthly newsletter, and virtual networking events. During 2020, we were able to connect with new donors and build partnerships. The number of children in foster care has continued to increase during the pandemic. We are thankful for our board members, council members, our supporters, and local businesses who continue to give and help us fill in the gaps in services for children in foster care.
This year, we look forward to resuming in-person events and fundraisers with social-distancing precautions in place. We have been able to stay connected with our donors and supporters through social media, our monthly newsletter, and virtual networking events. During 2020, we were able to connect with new donors and build partnerships. The number of children in foster care has continued to increase during the pandemic. We are thankful for our board members, council members, our supporters, and local businesses who continue to give and help us fill in the gaps in services for children in foster care.
What are your primary roles/responsibilities?
My role as CEO of Fostering Connections St. Johns is to work in partnership with our board of directors to plan and execute the goals of Fostering Connections St. Johns. I manage and develop programming for foster youth and their families, advise the board on the annual budget and build relationships and partnerships with individuals, businesses, civic organizations, foundations and social service agencies around St. Johns County and the surrounding counties we serve to raise awareness and funds for Fostering Connections St. Johns. I represent Fostering Connections St. Johns attending Chamber events, ambassador events, BNI meetings and other networking meetings around the county each week. We are a part of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce and BNI.
I am currently the only employee of Fostering Connections St. Johns, so I also oversee our social media accounts, write our monthly newsletter, as well as recruit and train volunteers. I stay busy. I love serving our community as CEO of Fostering Connections St. Johns.
What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?
I love the community feel, natural beauty, history and culture of North Florida. There is a strong sense of community here. You know your neighbors and local businesses are involved in the community. Our community is always looking for ways to help one another. There is so much to do in North Florida; going to the beach, exploring historical sites and enjoying the local culinary scene.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I love reading, going on nature walks, dining and traveling. My husband Steve and I live minutes from St. Augustine’s historic district. On the weekends, you can find us having brunch downtown at PK’s Roosevelt Room, having coffee at The Kookaburra, and on nature walks at the beach or the GTM Reserve.