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If you’re able to offer help, do you heed the call or do you step up to make the call yourself?
It’s a tough choice to make for any situation. How much more when your choice will impact the lives of children in foster care?
Leslie Lacy, JD, Executive Director of Fostering Hope Louisiana (FHL), found herself at this very crossroads years ago. Her choice ultimately led to the creation of a nonprofit organization that aims to connect foster children to quality dental and mental health services.
Tell us about Fostering Hope Louisiana.
Fostering Hope Louisiana is a nonprofit organization created to address trauma by putting braces on every eligible child in foster care in Louisiana and providing access to quality mental health treatment.
What inspired the need to create the organization?
Fostering Hope Louisiana was inspired by the scores of children I represented in my role as a children’s attorney who did not qualify for braces because neither Medicaid nor the state would pay for it.
One client in particular, Brittany, needed braces so badly that without them, her teeth were 10mm from breaking off.
Brittany was on the verge of aging out of the foster care system with approval for her braces still pending, when my husband and I paid for her treatment. We were able to do so because the orthodontist, Dr. James Fruge, charged us a discounted rate, given that Brittany’s parents were deceased, and she had no one else to support her.
Brittany’s story happened in 2014. Four years later, she completed her treatment and graduated from Spelman College, her dream institution. Leslie shares how Brittany’s journey was such a success that it served as a springboard for them to continue providing braces to the youth in foster care one at a time.
The next child attended his first appointment then we never saw him again. At that point, Dr. Fruge insisted that I seek community support for braces instead of paying for them myself.
He went so far as to say that if I did not find community support, he would no longer put braces on my clients. With that, I researched and counseled trusted colleagues all of whom suggested that I would be the one to start the nonprofit.
I denied the suggestion for as long as I could until it became clear that the person I was waiting for to rise to support these young people was me.
So, on September 12, 2020, I initiated Fostering Hope Louisiana.
Your mission statement underlines the aim to address oral and mental health needs. Why focus on these two areas?
By providing braces and quality mental health treatment to young people with lived experiences, Fostering Hope Louisiana seeks to improve their self-esteem and promote resiliency which are two areas that are not prioritized.
The physical and mental well-being of a young person dictates how well they adjust and adapt to change. The healthier they are, the better equipped they will be to properly address life’s challenges that inevitably arise.
For example, Brittany readily admits that she would have benefited greatly from therapy and peer-to-peer support while in foster care, but braces gave her the confidence to speak up in class. She was no longer ashamed to express herself for fear of being ridiculed or mocked.
Fostering Hope Louisiana wants foster youth to experience the same freedom of expression that Brittany now enjoys.
What risks do foster youth face when these needs are not addressed?
When the mental health needs of youth in foster care go unmet, the trends of past generations tend to repeat, creating adults who mask and medicate their unresolved traumas, never finding relief or fulfillment.
One major component of Fostering Hope Louisiana is its Oral Health Life Skills Training Series. The 2-hour, 4-part workshop is designed to provide oral care recommendations during and after braces. The organization wants every eligible child in foster care in Louisiana to receive braces, and training participation is a prerequisite for eligibility.
Oral Heath/Life Skills Training sessions ensure that young people are knowledgeable about why it is important to maintain good oral health and how to do so. Life skills like communication skills, financial literacy (taught by Chase Bank bankers) and teen dating violence are incorporated in the training to ensure that when our children flash those amazing, healthy smiles, they do so with confidence and practical tools for everyday living.
Leslie adds that even everyday citizens have been instrumental in building a thriving support network for the organization’s projects.
She thanks Daphne James, Director of Admissions at LSU Law Center, Valerie Saba of NAMI St. Tammany, and the bankers of Chase Bank who generously offer their time and expertise to teach critical life skills to foster youth in the region who are eager to learn.
FHL also recognizes the support of the Legacy League who Leslie describes as “a special group of retired individuals who give their time and wisdom to ensure that understanding is passed on to future generations.”
Tell us more about your programs. Who can avail it and what’s the process for securing support from FHL?
In order to avail themselves of the services offered by Fostering Hope Louisiana, the case manager for the Department of Children and Family Services or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer completes an online application or refers the foster child through the Unite Us Network.
Let’s talk about wins and challenges. What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of your work and what have been the most challenging aspects of it?
The most rewarding part is seeing the countenance of foster youth change as they engage in the Oral Health/LifeSkills Training Series in anticipation of beginning treatment. There is joyfulness and hopefulness about them.
The biggest challenge thus far is raising money. There are approximately 4,000 youth in foster care in Louisiana. Of those, 400 have reached the age of oral maturity to receive braces. Half of those, however, require dental procedures and/or better oral hygiene skills before treatment may commence.
Another challenge is identifying orthodontists so that foster parents do not have to travel great distances to be treated.
Owing largely to Leslie’s efforts in establishing community partnerships, she was able to tap professional connections who offer discounts and special payment arrangements.
Orthodontists who partner with FHL have agreed to charge a discounted fee and treat our youth no matter the length or complexity of treatment in exchange for payment in full at the time treatment begins and maintaining confidentiality of the child’s identity in foster care.
Most orthodontists are willing to charge no more than $4K, so we need to raise $800K for the youth who are currently eligible to receive braces.
Watch: Fostering Hope Louisiana pays tribute to the bankers of Chase Bank for their volunteer work.
The NextDayFlyers Experience
Fostering Hope Louisiana shares the struggle of many nonprofits: raising money for their advocacies.
And like most nonprofits, it is vital for their program’s continuity to spread awareness for their cause. With the help of marketing and signage tools, they’re able to cultivate conversations and lead foster youth to their services.
Underlining the importance of visibility, Leslie shares the importance of having signs,
Recently, a child registered for the Oral Health/Life Skills Training was a no-show, so when I called to find out why, she explained that she walked around the building but did not see where to enter.
At that moment I knew signage was needed so no other foster child would be in doubt where to find their smile. That’s when I sought NextDayFlyers for a sandwich board sign. I was more concerned about quality than speed, but when the beautiful, sturdy sign arrived as quickly as it did, I was elated. It looked so good and was exactly what I wanted.
For those who are interested in helping FHL’s mission, the organization would appreciate donations, volunteers, and recommendations of orthodontists.