Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Celebrating the Season: Aspiranet's Holiday Gift Drive

Michelle is Aspiranet's Online Marketing Manager. Since last December, she's been the person behind our social media. In this post, she's sharing her thoughts on Aspiranet's Holiday Gift Drive with Starbucks Coffee Company. 

It's that time of year again.

I don't know about you, but the big "C" (and by that, I mean consumerism) at this time of year makes me feel uncomfortable. It desensitizes me to the joys of the holidays, leaving me scrambling to buy gifts and forgetting the best parts of the season.

I forget messy kitchens, standing by my mother's side rolling out pie crust and creaming butter and sugar for the perfect holiday cookie.

I forget crisp winter walks with the newest additions to the family cozy in their strollers, the smells of wood-burning fireplaces in the air.

I forget laughing at my dad trying to trim the Christmas tree with his tiny Walmart saw.

I forget about family and the unique opportunity the holidays present to celebrate it.

Working at Aspiranet, I am constantly reminded that a healthy, happy family is not guaranteed. The holiday memories for nearly 60,000 children in foster care in California this season will be drastically different than my own. They may wake up Christmas morning apart from their siblings for the first time in their lives. Perhaps they'll celebrate with a wonderful foster family, all the time thinking of what their mom or dad is doing that day.

60,000 is an enormous number. It's the population of a small city. Just imagine for a week: every single person you come across at the grocery store, at the post office, at work, in the airport represents a foster youth in California. Every person is a life you can impact this holiday.

This year I challenged myself to step away from my computer and do something for Aspiranet foster youth through our Annual Holiday Gift drive with Starbucks Coffee Company.

What an experience!

I carefully selected my ornament (eggnog latte in hand).

I shuffled over to Target and agonized over the perfect gifts. Obviously, Thomas the Tank is the perfect train, but I wasn't sure if Eduardo wanted only a train or the tracks to accompany. In the end, the starter set won.

Learning toys? I wanted something that would keep Eduardo occupied longer than a few minutes. I remembered my love for coloring books as a child and continued my commercial vehicle theme with a Tonka activity book and twistable crayons.

A stop at checkout for some batteries and my experience was complete.

Back at the office, I struggled with writing a personal note to Eduardo. What could I say to a four-year-old to tell him how much I care about him? How should I say that I come to work every day so that children like him can create happy memories of the holidays?

I pause, think of my two-year-old nephew and his infatuation with trains. I know exactly what to say:

Purchasing a gift for Eduardo was just what I needed to refocus on what's important this season. I'd be willing to wager that it will do the same for you.

If you'd like to participate in Aspiranet's Gift Drive with Starbucks, please visit

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet an Aspiranet Foster Family: Robin and Robert

Robin and Robert are currently fostering four children, ranging from 12 years to 16 years old. They have been a foster family with Aspiranet for over 25 years and have fostered more than 35 children with us.
Please read the Q&A below to learn more about their experience in foster care. It is very inspiring!

Why did you decide to become a foster family?

Robert’s sister-in-law was a foster child. She disclosed her life as a foster child to Robert and Robin, which was not good at the time. Robert and Robin decided that when they were able they would be foster children and make a better life for foster child(ren). When they started fostering they haven’t stopped. They felt that they couldn’t change the system but they could help a least in their own way by fostering a child at a time.

What’s your most memorable moment as a foster family?

There are a lot but the one that stands out in their minds is when a foster girl grew up and asked Robert to walk her down the aisle at her wedding and Robin made her wedding dress.

What is the best part of being a foster family?

The best part is the feeling that you made a difference in a child’s life.

How is your foster child a hero to you?

There have been many heroes in this home. One was a boy who came into the foster home very disconnected with people and his environment. He made no eye contact with anyone. He was very withdrawn and isolated. He spent a year and a half in their home. By the end of that time he would come home from school smiling, laughing, look people directly in the eye, and appeared happy to be alive. He became very sociable, open and connected to his environment. Robert and Robin have seen and experienced the work that this child went through to change. They saw the struggle he went through to reconnect with the world around him and it was amazing and unforgettable.

What would you tell another family who is considering becoming a foster family?

Robert and Robin would tell another family that it is the most challenging “job” anyone could get into but it is the most rewarding. Becoming a foster parent will teach you to become a better parent to your own children. A foster parent will learn to have a lot of patience, and force themselves to learn to laugh at the small things. Being a foster parent has been a very rewarding experience to Robert and Robin and this is why they continue to be foster parents.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Aspiranet Program Spotlight: Family Focused Support Network

Did you know Aspiranet has more than 35 programs across California working toward our vision of taking collective action to support communities and families as they love and care for children? Our diverse programs range from foster care and afterschool programs to encore career opportunities for retiring professionals. 

To introduce our supporters to the life-changing work of our Aspiranet programs, we have created the Aspiranet Program Spotlight. Today, we speak with Sheri Reynolds, Director of the Aspiranet Family Focused Support Network for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. April is National Autism Awareness Month and Sheri has been busy raising her voice as an autism expert. Read on to see what the Family Focused Support Network has in the works...

What does the Family Focused Support Network do?

Family Focused Support Network (FFSN) provides intensive case management and in home behavioral services to families and children challenged by developmental disabilities. Youth referred to the program have severe behavioral issues, such as aggression, hygiene issues, bolting, rigidity and communication issues. 

What led you to begin the Family Focused Support Network?

We initially started FFSN to help keep families together and prevent out of home placement.  While the program still works with families on this goal, we are now also helping family relationships from deteriorating. We are also focused on helping younger children to learn skills earlier in age that they can use throughout their life.

When you look back on your work, is there an individual story that stands out to you as embodying the success of your program?  

I have so many stories that involve youth coming to us while living in their home, disconnected from their family.  With our help, the family gains connection, learns skills and increases their relationship harmony. Often, the youth gain social skills that allow them to make friendships. Seeing these success stories time and again makes me a firm believer in the importance and need for our Family Focused Support Network. 

What does the Family Focused Support Network have on the horizon?

We're working on many different projects right now! Soon, we'll be offering psychotherapy services to families and individuals. We're also getting ready to launch social skills groups in the Greater Bay Area. Lastly, I'm hosting a free public webinar titled "Decoding Autism" Saturday, April 23 at 10am in support of National Autism Awareness month. I'm going to discuss treatment strategies, including the use of the iPad as a component of a comprehensive treatment plan. To register or learn more, please visit the Aspiranet website

How can we learn more about the Aspiranet Family Focused Support Network?

Visit us on the web or send me an email at, I'd be happy to speak with you about the work we do and discuss ways the Family Focused Support Network can help you. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Aspiranet Program Spotlight: Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center

Did you know Aspiranet has more than 35 programs across California working toward our vision of taking collective action to support communities and families as they love and care for children? Our diverse programs range from foster care and afterschool programs to encore career opportunities for retiring professionals. 

In the coming months, we will introduce our readers to the life-changing work of our Aspiranet programs. For the first installment of the Aspiranet Program Spotlight, Michael Funk of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center took a moment from his jam-packed schedule as the Director of Afterschool, Community, and Youth Development at Aspiranet to participate in a Q&A with us. Please enjoy and ask anything we missed in the comments! 

What does the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center do? 

SNBC’s mission is to provide support and opportunities to ensure the healthy development of children, youth, and adults in the Sunset District of San Francisco.

In response to a dearth of community-based services for Sunset families, I decided to start a grassroots effort to address issues facing the Sunset community, out of which SNBC was born. Now in its 15th year of operation, SNBC is still one of the few family-focused agencies in the neighborhood.  SNBC continues its focus on improving the life outcomes of local youth, families, and seniors.  

SNBC's vision is to connect people to their passion, potential, and community here on San Francisco's West Side. Through our myriad programs, we support the healthy development of Sunset community members and families. Programs include: daily afterschool programs at five public schools and two community-based locations, serving more than 900 students daily with academic support and enrichment activities; technology classes in English and Cantonese for adults; digital arts and media programs for youth and young adults; case management services for at-risk youth; enrichment and skill-building evening classes for adults, and the Sunset Family Resource Collaborative, led by SNBC, which provides support services for families with young children. All programs and services offered by SNBC are known for their exceptional quality and are free of charge.

 When you look back on your work, is there an individual story that stands out to you as embodying the success of SNBC?

This past fall, SNBC was selected as one of only 18 national finalists (out of more than 300 applicants!) for the prestigious MetLife Foundation Afterschool Innovator Award.  Our afterschool programs at A.P. Giannini Middle School is a national model for afterschool programming—right here in the Sunset! 

What does SNBC need to better serve families?

Like many nonprofits in this difficult economy, our needs are largely financial. To continue serving Sunset families, we need ongoing financial support for our programming. SNBC currently serves more Sunset community members than ever before -- each day of the school year, more than 900 youth attend our afterschool programs, and every week, more than 300 adults participate in our evening programs. While our efforts are supporting more youth and adults than ever, we still have waiting lists! Our programs are more popular than ever and we have grown to meet demand, but we must raise funds to support our future programs. In 2011, we must raise an additional $50,000. Every donation, no matter the size, will propel us towards our goal and is greatly appreciated!

What does SNBC have on the horizon? 

On Saturday, April 9th, SNBC will host A Victorian Evening, a benefit and fundraiser. The event is also a celebration of SNBC's 15 years and 15,000 youth served. You can support SNBC by joining us at A Victorian Evening for beer and wine, hors d'oeuvres, live entertainment, door prizes, poker and blackjack, and a silent auction! Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here. You can learn more about SNBC's A Victorian Evening by visiting our website

We're excited to welcome the following special guests: San Francisco Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza, Senator Leland Yee, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Speaker Pro Tempore, Phil Ting, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder, and Hydra Mendoza, San Francisco Board of Education President.

Wine and wine cocktails will be served, courtesy of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly. 
The menu for the evening includes:

Gourmet Sliders
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rolls
Shrimp Cocktail
Fruit Tartlets 

The silent auction includes:
Russian River Getaway - vacation home rental
Private Sunset Flight for two over the San Francisco Bay
Round-trip flights on Southwest Airlines
Tickets to "Uncorked" Wine Events
San Francisco 49ers tickets plus parking pass
San Francisco Giants tickets
Lunch and Capitol Tour with Assemblywoman Fiona Ma
San Francisco Ballet tickets
Sunset Sail on the San Francisco Bay
Lunch for five with bestselling author John Lescroart
VIP Barrel Tasting for six at Peju Winery
Wine from Grieve Family Winery, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Kermit Lynch Wines, and more!
If you cannot attend A Victorian Evening but still want to support Sunset children and families, you can make a gift to SNBC at

How can we learn more about SNBC?

Visit our website at and follow SNBC on twitter and facebook. We update our twitter and facebook often. We're currently running giveaways on facebook for people purchasing and/or promoting our A Victorian Evening event tickets, so be sure to head over and show your support. 

Thank you, Michael, for talking with us about the exciting activities over at SNBC. We're happy to feature the great work of SNBC in the first edition of the Aspiranet Program Spotlight. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ventura Aspiranet in the News

Do you want to learn more about foster care from the perspective of a current parent?

Check out the following links to interviews conducted with staff and families in our Aspiranet Ventura office:

KCLU Radio

Ventura Breeze - page 14

CapsTV - Episode 43

You can always contact us to speak with our recruitment team about becoming a foster parent. In just a few months, you could welcome a child into your home and help them find their inner hero. Take the first step today by contacting us or giving us a call at (877) 380-HERO.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Your Advocacy Saves THP-Plus

Throughout the month of February, we put out numerous calls to all of our followers on facebook, twitter, and email to raise their voices on behalf of THP-Plus programs. We asked you to call and write letters to your representatives in California Congress, including Governor Jerry Brown. The response we received was overwhelming. We had many people call us and email us to let us know that they were doing everything in their power to let California leadership know that THP-Plus programs work for former foster youth by giving them the opportunity to live a successful, independent life.

At Aspiranet, we wrote hundreds of letters and visited Sacramento alongside current and former THP-Plus youth to testify before the Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees on Health and Human Services against the proposed $19 million cuts to THP-Plus.

We are so excited to share that your advocacy saved THP-Plus from a $19 million dollar proposed budget cut. 

On behalf of THP-Plus youth, we cannot thank you enough for your support throughout the month of February. We know you understand that THP-Plus is a proven program that provides a safe living environment while helping youth achieve self-sufficiency. Thank you for using your voice to communicate the importance of THP-Plus to California leadership.

Are you interested in joining Aspiranet's advocacy efforts? Please contact us to learn more. With 35 programs across the state, we are constantly working to raise awareness of our activities in support of communities and families as they love and care for children.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Aspiranet Advocacy in Action

This week Aspiranet traveled to the State Capitol in Sacramento on behalf of a program near and dear to our hearts: Transitional Housing Program Plus. THP-Plus provides support and affordable housing to emancipated probation and foster youth who have aged out of foster care between ages of 18 to 24. 

Lately you may have noticed our advocacy appeals on behalf of THP-Plus on our website, twitter, and facebook pages asking you to raise your voice in support of THP-Plus by calling and writing letters to legislators. Governor Jerry Brown proposed a $19 million reduction to THP-Plus and we are committed to advocating to preserve the funding to this program. 

We arrived at the capitol Tuesday afternoon to an auditorium full of current and former foster youth, social workers, and legislative advocates ready to testify on behalf of THP-Plus to the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. 

The goal of the afternoon was to have California State Senators Mark DeSaulnier, Elaine K. Alquist, and Bill Emmerson put forth a recommendation to reject Governor Jerry Brown's proposed reduction to THP-Plus. More than 50 passionate individuals shared emotional stories of the success of the program, with the line to testify reaching the back of the crowded auditorium for close to an hour. 

Much of the testimony returned to one simple point again and again: THP-Plus works by giving foster youth the opportunities and resources they need and deserve to be successful. 

Aspiranet's own Caryn Romero, THP-Plus Program Manager in Stockton CA shared powerful stories of the success of THP-Plus in her office. Visit our youtube channel to view a live recording. 

"I am here in support of THP-Plus funding and want to impress upon you that the former foster youth we are talking about are more than those three words depict. They are individuals with names, a history, goals, dreams and desires...just like my own teenagers.  
You will receive a lot of information including statistics demonstrating how supporting these young people has positive outcomes. But I don't need to read those reports because I see those positive results in my office everyday: 
Sheila came to us two years ago having dropped out of a four year state university during her freshman year, overwhelmed. She just left our THP-Plus program last week with a degree in audio engineering from Pinnacle college and got to work at the Carried Underwood concert in Stockton this past summer. 
Carlos was living at the Salvation Army homeless shelter for men at the age of 19 when he applied to our program. He exited after close to two years working for a window installation company, making almost as much as the case managers that helped him get on his feet..."
The Senate Subcommittee on Health and Human Services decided to bring the issue of THP-Plus funding before the full Senate Budget Committee instead of rejecting Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to reduce funding to THP-Plus. We are confident that the testimony provided Tuesday will help inform our legislature's decision regarding the program in the coming months.

We thank all of Aspiranet's supporters for your advocacy efforts for THP-Plus. In the future, be sure to follow our blog, facebook, and twitter for opportunities to advocate with us. The California families, children, and communities we serve always need your voice.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lisa Project Comes to Kern County

Are you looking for something to do this weekend?

Head over to The Lisa Project in Bakersfield!

The Lisa Project is an interactive multi-media exhibit allowing visitors to experience the life of an abused or neglected child.  A powerful 20-minute audio tour narrated from a child's perspective guides visitors through a room-by-room open house depicting the reality of child abuse and neglect.

The Lisa Project is free and open to the public every weekend in February:

Thursday and Friday: 5pm to 9pm
Saturday: 9am to 5pm
Sunday: 1pm to 5pm

Location: Bakersfield Heart Hospital (link to map) at 3001 Sillect Avenue, Bakerfield CA 93308

Aspiranet staff, including our Chief Executive Officer, Vernon Brown previewed the exhibit last week. All attendees said that The Lisa Project is a sobering reminder of our collective responsibility to report abuse and do whatever we can to protect children and strengthen families.

We look forward to seeing you at The Lisa Project this month!

If you have any questions, leave us a comment on this post or call Jana Davis at (661) 859-2135.

The Lisa Project is sponsored by Aspiranet and collaborative partners in Kern County, including the Kern County Department of Human Services, Kern County Network for Children, First 5 of Kern, the Bakersfield Police Department and other community partners. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Third Annual Holiday Toy Drive Results

Over the past few weeks, Aspiranet foster families, children, and social workers have shared touching stories with us about our 3rd annual Holiday Toy Drive in partnership with Starbucks. From November to December, 168 Starbucks stores throughout California collected 3,500 gifts for California children in foster care. 

While the number itself is impressive, the stories behind that number inspire us to continue toward our vision of "taking collective action to support communities and families as they love and care for children": 
  • In Bakersfield, one woman fulfilled the gift wishes of 19 foster children
  • In San Bernadino, a former foster child reached out and cheered on a child currently in foster care with the donation of a special toy horse
  • In Visalia, a man saw a wish ornament bearing the same first name as that of his late father and purchased a skateboard and carrying case for the young boy in his father's memory. The child had been wishing for a skateboard of his own for a long time
  • In San Bernadino, a man donated his own clarinet along with an offer to provide lessons to a child who wished for the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument
Although we cannot adequately communicate in writing the heartfelt joy, smiles and tears that our foster children and families shared with their social workers upon receiving their Starbucks wish gifts, we'd like to take this opportunity to thank our individual donors and Starbucks partners for their outpouring of generous support.

Are you an organization or individual looking to use your unique voice and talents to benefit children and families in need of support? Please contact us. We'd love to have you join us in our service to the community.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Carrie Ontiveros named AdoptUsKids caseworker of the month

Carrie Ontiveros of the Aspiranet Bakersfield office has been recognized as AdoptUsKids’ January caseworker of the month.  We are proud to have her excellent work recognized by an organization raises public awareness of the need for foster and adoptive families on a national level.

“I had read the caseworker of the month stories on the AdoptUsKids website before but had never imagined that I would be nominated one day,” Aspiranet Adoption Supervising Social Worker Carrie Ontiveros said. “I am honored by my nomination by the Gills family and glad that I was able to help them successfully navigate the path toward adoption.”
Has an Aspiranet social worker positively influenced your life? We are currently planning our activities for National Social Work Month in March and would love to share your story! Please email our Online Marketing Manager, Michelle at to learn more.