Monday, April 23, 2012

Grass Roots Advocacy Day in Sacramento

We headed to the State Capitol last week to participate in the Association of Regional Center Agencies' (ARCA) Grass Roots Day on April 18. 

We descended on the Capitol Building in downtown Sacramento bright and early, ready to advocate for key issues affecting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, across the state. We started the day with a briefing from ARCA and got to know our meeting groups. 

We reviewed our talking points and briefed ourselves on background information for our State Legislator meetings. We distributed piles of letters and petitions written by concerned Californians who want to ensure that our most vulnerable populations are protected and provided with the care they need. 

Then, we whisked ourselves away to countless meetings around the capitol building. At every meeting, we shared personal stories about how budget cuts have affected individuals from the Developmental Services system. We urged our legislators to "stop the bleeding" and do whatever they can to protect against additional cuts. 

Sharing stories in the office of Senate Majority Leader, Ellen M. Corbett

Words from Representative Paul Fong: I want to represent the most vulnerable. I'm a social justice and civil rights advocate. That's why I'm here in Sacramento. 

Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr. Chair of the Human Services Committee.

"Quilt" of artwork in Jim Beall's office, provided by special needs students in his district.  

We were pleased to work with the Community Membership and Media Program at Hope Services, conducting participant interviews, taking photos and recording the day via ustream

Hope Services Community Membership and Media Program interview between Toby Ames and David Forsderer. 
We had a wonderful and informative day in Sacramento advocating alongside ARCA. We take our role as a provider of services for families with autism and other developmental disabilities through our Family Focused Support Network in the Silicon Valley very seriously. We aim to provide the highest quality care possible. Sometimes that means we step away from our day-to-day responsibilities to travel to Sacramento and beyond to lend our voices in support of our clients.

A huge thank you to Sheri Reynolds, Director of the Family Focused Support Network at Aspiranet for welcoming our digital media team to her advocacy activities in Sacramento. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Favorites: April 13 2012

Happy Friday everyone! Here are some of our favorite finds from around the web this week in the world of child welfare, foster care and more.

Favorite Share: People Passing the Pinwheel. You guys made our month with your enthusiastic response to our Pass the Pinwheel effort in support of Child Abuse Awareness month. This image made its way around the web this week at lightning speed. If you haven't shared it yet, what are you waiting for?

Favorite Foster Parent: Foster Parenting at Midlife. When your nest is empty, why not fill it up again? That's what Jude Cockerton did and she doesn't regret it for a moment.  

Favorite Person: Samantha LaGrasse. She's a social worker, a blogger, and as of this week, a television news personality. She amazes us with her advocacy and her willingness to take on additional responsibilities to get the word out about her work with emancipated foster youth

Favorite Words: Robin Campbell talks about working with Dave Thomas. Can you imagine how awesome it was to work with Dave Thomas? What's that you say? You don't spend your free time wishing you could've worked with child welfare legends like we do?

That's strange. 

Anyway, you have to read this blog post from Ms. Campbell about her fondest memories working with Dave Thomas for more than 15 years. Sigh.

Favorite Forecast: Sunny and 70 degrees in Northern California this weekend? You know where to find us! (Hint: it begins with Farmer's and ends with Market.)

Have a great weekend everyone!

PS - If you have any links you think we should include in Friday Favorites, send 'em our way

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Try this: Autism Screening Quiz

80% of internet users use the web to look for health/medical info*.

Big number, huh?

We thought so too.

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, we created a new online tool designed to help parents screen their children for behaviors associated with autism. Our goal was to meet concerned parents online and give them a reliable tool to quickly assess concerning behaviors. Based on their responses to our age-related true/false questions, we connect parents to resources and provide direction for their next steps.

Click here to take Aspiranet's Online Autism Self-help Screening Quiz.

Our Family Focused Support Network (FFSN) provides intensive case management, in-home behavioral services and counseling to assist families and children who are challenged by autism and other developmental disabilities. The quiz was developed by Sheri Reynolds, the Director of FFSN and one of the country's leading youth autism therapy experts.

You can always contact us with your questions or concerns.

Disclaimer: While the Autism Screening Quiz can help you identify behaviors that could suggest a child has autism, it is not a diagnosis tool or a treatment for autism. If you are concerned about your child’s development, please contact us

*Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project trend data for online activities.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Upcoming Fresno Events Highlight the Needs of Foster Youth

About the author: My name is Samantha and I am Aspiranet’s Program Manager for THP-Plus and HPRPin Fresno. For the last 1 ½ years, I have helped youth emancipating from foster care successfully transition to adulthood. I have spent my career as a social worker (15 years!), working with children and families who need help in healing, even though the task often seems giant and the hurt is incredible. Seeing a child get the chance for a better life makes the challenges seem small and the hard work well-worth it. You can connect with me on facebook or twitter.

One of the most powerful teaching tools I have encountered in providing services to youth has been listening to their experiences and learning from their journeys.  Nothing is as impactful as hearing former foster youth recount their stories from foster care and the incredible lengths they’ve gone to overcome their personal hardships.  

Many times, the emotions evident in stories shared have a way of touching the heart and bringing tears to your eyes.  For me as a parent, it often reminds me of how protective I am of my own child, and how hard it is to hear of a child who has had to experience unnecessary trauma. 

I encourage everyone providing direct services or care to foster youth to come experience first-hand the power that story-telling has in shaping the work we do with foster youth.  

We have two events coming up in the next couple of months in Fresno where you can hear directly from emancipated foster youth, as well as experts in the field of foster youth transitions to adulthood. Former foster youth will conduct panels and recount their stories, helping us to more clearly see the obstacles they have faced related to obtaining higher education and becoming independent.  Each event will explore the need for ongoing support into adulthood and the importance of permanency for foster youth.

Beyond Surviving to Thriving  

The first event, “Beyond Surviving to Thriving:  FosteringConnections to Success – AB12” will be held at the University Square Hotel, April 27, 2012, from 8 am to 4:45 pm. This 13th annual Child Welfare Symposium is sponsored by California State University, Fresno’s Title IV-E Child Welfare Program, and Department of Social Work Education. There is a $75 registration fee, and a $10 fee if CEU credit is desired.

Keynote speakers include Nan Henderson, who will discuss resiliency and positive youth development; Mark Courtney, affiliate scholar from the University of Chicago, discussing his work surrounding the adult functioning of former foster children;  and Angie Schwartz, director of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, to speak on AB12 legislation.  Visit the CSU Fresno Social Work website for additional information.  

Permanency for Older Youth

The second event is hosted by Aspiranet, in partnership with the California Department of Social Services, and will be held at the Wedgewood Wedding & Banquet Center (formerly Grand Occasions) June 21, 2012, from 9 am to 3 pm  This 5th annual youth event, “Partners in Permanency: Walking the Journey Together” will focus on permanency for older youth. Registration is free, with a $25 fee for those interested in earning CEU credit.

Keynote speaker Deborah Gray, clinical social worker and renowned author, will discuss how trauma affects children’s attachment, and share practical methods for parents and professionals to help make the connection with youth. Alfonzo Tucker, a former foster youth and author, will lead a break out session for youth, and share his experience in foster care and how he was able to build support systems on his journey.  Visit or contact Kathy Steele at 559-222-4969 for further information.

Please join us at one or both of these events.  If you do plan on attending, be sure to let us know on facebook and recommend the event to your colleagues and friends. 

These courageous youth are models to us all. They show us that there is hope in some of the darkest places, and we can accomplish so much when we dig deep. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday everyone! Here are some of our favorite finds from around the web this week in the world of child welfare, foster care and more.

Favorite Article: Mentoring program helps former foster youth thrive. This SF Gate article paints a great picture of the realities former foster youth face when they go to college and highlights a fabulous scholarship program. This quote made us cry: "Guardian scholars are the ones dropped off on the curb by a taxi or a social worker," Sanchez-Zarama said. "Maybe they get a handshake or a pat on the back, and they are carrying what little they have in a Hefty bag or cardboard box, while everyone else is hugging their parents and waving goodbye." Come on, we can do better than this for our youth! Let's get them permanent connections before they go to college.

Favorite Fundraiser: SNBC's Sunset Soiree. A silent auction with a baseball autographed by San Francisco Giants star Pablo Sandoval, two hosted bars with wine from Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, a tasting from Social Kitchen & Brewery all in support of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center? Sign us up quick! We're pretty sure those 25 dollar tickets aren't going to last long.

Favorite Idea: Making Prom Happen for Foster Girls. We've told you before how difficult it is for some foster teens to go to prom because the expense is not provided for in their government reimbursement. Glamour Gowns Giveaway from CASA in L.A. is a deluxe, two-day event that treats girls in foster care like queens as they shop for a free gown to wear to prom. Love it!

Favorite University Program: Youth in Foster Care Get a Chance at University Education.Way to go, University of Winnipeg! Full scholarships and living expenses provided for foster youth. Yes, please!

Favorite Funny: Raise your hand if you can relate to this dog duo.

Have a great weekend, all. We'll catch up with you next week. We have something HUGE to share with you on Monday.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creating great fishermen, one teacher at a time

About the author: My name is Samantha and I am Aspiranet’s Program Manager for THP-Plus and HPRP in Fresno. For the last 1 ½ years, I have helped youth emancipating from foster care successfully transition to adulthood. I have spent my career as a social worker (15 years!), working with children and families who need help in healing, even though the task often seems giant and the hurt is incredible. Seeing a child get the chance for a better life makes the challenges seem small and the hard work well-worth it. You can connect with me on facebook or twitter.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” 

In the last 1 ½ years, I have been able to experience social work from a different view, working with young adults who have now left the foster care system and are now trying to make a life for themselves on their own in THP-Plus

The youth in our program are great!  They each have their own personalities, dreams, interests.  As social workers, our roles with these young adults are now more about guiding them in their newfound (sometimes daunting) freedom to make choices and decisions for themselves.  If you’re a parent or caregiver that has raised children and sent them out into the world, you understand what it’s like to watch them stumble and make mistakes, but come back to you for help.

I’m glad that we are starting to recognize that these former foster youth still need our help just like any other young adult learning and growing. We finally have programs like THP-Plus in place to assist.

Youth in the THP-Plus Program

Back to My Fish Story

Every day in this program, our youth face the same challenges in reaching their goal of self-sufficiency: 
  • Assistance in obtaining and maintaining stable housing. 
  • Learning the ins-and-outs of getting a job and then keeping that job. 
  •  Encouragement to further their education and get specialized job training
Do you recognize your own adult children yet?

Sometimes we feel frustrated when we encounter resistance or complacency with our youth. Truth is, we want to see them succeed in life just like we want to see our own children accomplish great things. 

When one of my team members presents me with the dilemma of how to get a youth motivated, engaged, and on a path to progress....and nothing seems to be working, I generally offer this advice: 

Sometimes a person wants to help himself, but he doesn’t know how to do it. 

He may feel scared, or alone, or hopeless.  When we want to help a young person to learn to help himself, we have to let that person know that we are here to walk right alongside him.  That means walking up and down the aisles of a grocery store and helping that youth to budget and spend his allotted amount of money for the month.  Or taking a youth down to an apartment, and sitting with him as he negotiates his rental lease. Then, getting on the computer together and helping that youth find cheap (or better yet FREE) furniture for his apartment. 

It takes extra work on our part to walk with youth in their transition from childhood dependency to the world of independent adulthood, teaching them how to “fish”.  But, when you show someone you care, an amazing thing happens…they begin to care more, too.  Because they know that they are not alone, they are not helpless, and even if they’re scared, someone’s there to support them. 

I encourage all of you reading this to lend your support to a young person making that transition to adulthood.  You can do that by visiting our THP-Plus website to learn about our opportunities to get involved as a mentor, volunteer or donor.

There are so many ways to help a youth learn how to fish. We just need more teachers. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Aspiranet Foster Family receives exterior paint job from Lancaster Painting

The Bakers have welcomed 70 children into their home over the last fifteen years. They are giving, patient, kind and forgiving. They accept youth the way they are and help them believe in the limitless possibilities of the future. They give every foster youth tools they need to be their best and prepare them for the twists and turns that life always presents.

Great people like the Bakers deserve recognition for all they've done as foster parents. Thanks to Lancaster Painting of Turlock, that well-deserved recognition came in the form of an exterior paint job valued at $6,000. The Bakers were nominated as recipients of Lancaster Painting's Paint it Forward contest by Aspiranet social workers Sharon Salaiz and Sandra Genova.

Forty community volunteers showed up at the Baker's home Saturday, Feb. 25th ready to paint. In just a few hours, the work was complete. The Baker's home now matches the beauty found inside as they care for foster youth.

Thank you, Lancaster Painting, Light House Communications, Paul's Paint Company and Sherwin-Williams making Paint it Forward a reality.

Please check out the photos from Paint it Forward below:


lunch time!

Taking a water break

Priming the Exterior

Bobbie Baker

Aspiranet Social Workers Sharon and Gina

If you'd like to partner with Aspiranet, please contact us

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Baskets for Bakersfield Wraparound Families

Aspiranet's Wraparound program is a true gem. The name perfectly describes the focus of what we do in this community-based in-home program:

Wrap at-risk families with support to give them tools to stay together and be their best. 

At Wraparound, our facilitators, parent partners and youth support counselors help families become strong, joyful and healthy. We do whatever it takes to give our families the support they need to overcome their challenges and thrive. 

Aspiranet's former employee Gary Simmons appreciates the work we do at Wraparound. During the 2011 holiday season, he approached our Bakersfield office to see how he could provide a donation that would brighten the lives of our families during the often-stressful holiday season. 

Our Wraparound staff had a perfect solution. They met the Simmons family at Wal-mart and loaded up several shopping carts with goodies to help ten Wraparound families. Every basket included a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, other food and snacks, family-themed games and toys, blankets and hygiene and household items.

The Simmons Family

Gary Simmons Jr and Sr

Aspiranet staff with their shopping carts

The baskets brightened the lives of ten families working very hard to build a healthy home. We're incredibly grateful for the Simmons family for their $2,000 donation to our Wraparound families. We'll never forget your generosity.