Neighbor to Family keeping siblings together

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— For seven years, Gordon Johnson served as head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. And for seven years, Johnson witnessed the horrors and agony of children being removed from their home and parents, and then torn from their siblings and placed into foster care.

Understanding that the child welfare system should help troubled children and families not by making their situation worse, but by making sure they would eventually reunite drove Johnson to start Neighbor to Family Inc., a nonprofit with a mission to revolutionize foster care by keeping siblings together while building healthier families and stronger communities.

Since 1994, Johnson has introduced Neighbor to Family in a number of cities, including Baltimore 13 years ago where the program has flourished.

“We are very important to the Baltimore area because we are the only program in the region that focuses on keeping siblings together,” said Donna McCarter, the executive director of Neighbor to Family Baltimore. “We all know the importance of keeping siblings together and although it might seem like a no-brainer, other factors such as economics often trumps the value of the sibling bond.”

The organization continues to grow and in September it will hand out its annual “Siblings of the Year” award to the Maddox siblings, a Baltimore family that for decades has run a successful printing business.

Former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Coats Jessamy will be the keynote speaker at the annual awards dinner and fundraiser to be held on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at The Forum Caterers on Primrose Avenue in Baltimore at 6 p.m.

The event is part of the group’s mission to present and honor sibling groups who have made an impact on their family and community.

Jessamy served as the elected State’s Attorney for the City of Baltimore from February 1995 to December 31, 2010. She attributes much of her success to her mother who earned her GED after all eight of her children reached adulthood.

“My mother instilled in me a civic responsibility and an unwavering integrity,” Jessamy said. “Being State’s Attorney was definitely professionally fulfilling, but being a wife, parent and grandparent are the most important roles I have played in life.”

The essential ingredients of the “Neighbor” program include placing siblings together in a single home; holding birth parents accountable for the long-term well-being of the children; making sure that the role of the foster parent is professionalized and that the planning for permanency is a consistent, purposeful team effort.

“The program works. It does make a difference and it will save states not only money but the harm they are perpetrating on our children and families,” Johnson said in a statement.

McCarter says there are many things that have been accomplished that make everyone associated with the organization proud.

“When we see families together enjoying each other in spite of the foster care label or barriers it gives us an incredible sense of satisfaction,” McCarter said. “This is one of the reasons why fundraisers such as the dinner are important because it gives us unrestricted funds to do more activities for the children and their families.”

Some of the children who have been assisted by the program have gone on to graduate and attend college while others who were functioning below grade level in school have begun to flourish, McCarter said.

“We believe remaining with your siblings is a contributing factor to all of the youth successes,” she said.

Proceeds from the annual dinner will help provide activities for Baltimore area foster children. Limited sponsorship and advertising opportunities remain available. For more information call 410-496-8151 or visit: www.NTF.org/Baltimore.