Tag Archives: foster care

Weaving the Safety Net

September 6, 2014 by and

It’s just depressing, to be honest.

Every hour or so, another email comes. Sometimes, it’s every 45 minutes.
A child has been removed from their home. He isn’t safe there. She’s been
neglected. Sometimes it’s several children, and their caregiver was arrested or is
too drunk to care for them. Sometimes their adults are fighting and the children
are in the crossfire.

The children need a place to stay. Right Now. It doesn’t matter that it’s 2:00 am.

Jessyca Vandercoy oversees Permanency and Well-Being Programs for Children
at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS). She sees the emails come in. It breaks
her heart. Because far too often, there’s no good place for the child to stay.

“We have 61 licensed foster families and another 10 more waiting for final approval. Our families are always fostering children,” Vandercoy says. “Sometimes they can take another child. Often they simply can’t because there are no more beds. And it’s just wrenching to see the lists of kids with nowhere to go.”

So what happens to those children when there’s no foster home available for them? It varies. Local foster care providers like LFS regularly receive a status report on children and teenagers still needing placement who have no or limited options. On the one summer day that we looked, there were 23 children on the list. Many were teenagers living in emergency shelters. Others were under 10, living in group homes. One was only three years old. The hope is always that a child will be able to move into a foster home near his or her school, but once that option is exhausted, the next step is changing schools.  And probably not for the first time. Many children lose count of how many schools they’ve attended.

Despite caring social workers, case managers, and well-intentioned care givers, this is no way for a child to live, especially a child who has been removed from the home by no fault of his or her own.  Children generally end up as wards of the state because, in some way, their adults have failed them.

“It’s traumatic enough for the child to go through the experience of being removed from their home,” Vandercoy says. “But then to compound that trauma by then not having anyone willing to take them in….” Her voice trails off as she shakes her head. “It’s just rough.”

Vandercoy would know. She was once in foster care herself and is now the mother of children adopted from foster care. “These children matter,” she says. “They are part of our community and deserve to be safe and loved. One day they will be adults, and we need
to do everything we can to help them be well-adjusted and happy.”

 

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent through
Lutheran Family Services, call 402-661-7100.  Or email the foster care team at LFS at
fostercare@lfsneb.org.  A new foster parent licensing class begins in September

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What happens when a child ages out of foster care?

February 16, 2014 by

Being a child in the foster care system can be lonely and confusing. Just ask Tabitha. Shuffled from one home to another, one town to another—by the time she was in high school, she was an entire year behind in her studies. She lost track of the number of foster homes and families that she left behind. It wasn’t until she was 17—nearly out of the system—that she became part of a family.

While foster care is not ideal, there are a few people who provide some stability and support while you are part of the “system.” Your caseworker. Maybe your therapist. But once you turn 19, those connections are usually lost. There may not be one single, caring adult who asks if you are doing okay. If you have enough to eat or just need a little help. If you have a place to stay or a way to get to work—if you even have a job. Or a way to go to college.

Just one caring person can make all the difference for a young adult who ages out of foster care. On their own, many are simply lost. Without connections, the statistics are grim for these older teens and young adults. Within two years, half are essentially homeless. They may be couch-surfing just to have a warm place to sleep. They have no network to find a job. Few can afford a car or even know how to drive, since the State of Nebraska doesn’t take on the liability of state wards learning those skills. They are easy targets for pimps and human traffickers. Many become pregnant.

Now, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) has adopted the national “Family Finding” model. This model recognizes the urgency of helping these young people establish meaningful, supportive, permanent relationships with loving adults—simply as a matter of safety, to start.

LFS is currently the only Nebraska agency providing these types of permanency services to 19-26 year-olds previously in foster care. In July 2013, LFS’ Permanent Connections program began working to build bridges for young adults to biological family members, former foster parents, siblings, former case workers, or group home staff. Most recently, LFS began expanding this support to young adults in Fremont and surrounding areas.

The program starts by identifying 40 people who have somehow been involved in the life of the young person. From this group, a smaller team is chosen. This team includes those willing to make a long-term commitment to this young adult and be an active, stable part of their lives. It’s not as formal as adoption; more like a vow to be a friend.

Many youth who grow up in foster care or spend significant time in foster homes transition into adulthood alone. They lose contact with all the people in their lives who were once in a caring role. Permanent Connections helps these youth create ties with caring and supportive adults who can give them some stability and support.

Lutheran Family Services

October 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lutheran Family Services President and CEO Ruth Henrichs remembers meeting a young man a year ago who had a tattoo on his lower arm that read “Born to Lose.” When she asked him about it, he told her that life had always been against him—that he had been “born to lose.” That was, of course, until he came to LFS, he said.

“There are lots of people who come to LFS on a daily basis who have this sort of invisible tattoo on their hearts that says ‘Born to Lose,’” Henrichs says. “I want them to leave here after receiving help with a different invisible tattoo.”

Strengthening the individual, the family, and the community is how LFS intends to change those heart tattoos. And that’s exactly the mission the organization has followed since its humble beginnings in 1892.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work.” —Ruth Henrichs

Over its many years within the Omaha community, LFS has grown into a faith-based nonprofit providing multiple services in over 30 locations across Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas to over 35,000 individuals annually regardless of age, race, religion, or income. In other words, just because it’s called Lutheran Family Services doesn’t mean you have to be Lutheran to receive aid.

Mental health counseling, sexual abuse treatment, substance abuse treatment, foster care, adoption, pregnancy counseling, family support services, immigrant and refugee services—they do it all and more for people 
in need.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work,” says Henrichs, who worked as a pregnancy and adoption counselor, a marriage and family therapist, and Interim CEO with LFS before she became its leader in 1985.

She believes LFS’ work is part of the fabric of the community. For many years, nonprofits used to work alone, focusing only on their own work. Now, however, many organizations, including LFS, embrace the idea of uniting their limited resources with other organizations’ limited resources to provide a bigger impact.

“There’s a rich diversity of nonprofits in the Omaha community, and we all offer difference services. Together, we have a collective impact. It’s important that we all work cooperatively so that our community can be strong. Communities are only as strong as their weakest link. Everyone has problems in life. Sometimes, those problems are so great that people need the help of the community. When the community helps those people, it strengthens the community as a whole.”

Nancy K. Johnson, volunteer and president of LFS’ Forever Families Guild, agrees. “Children are the future, as cliché as it sounds,” she says. “If, for example, we can get in there and help a single parent learn to be a better parent, that trickles down into our community to make it stronger.”

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education.” —Nellie Beyan

Johnson, who also works in real estate as the senior vice president of CBRE-MEGA, was introduced to LFS about 15 years ago through Adoption Links Worldwide, which later aligned with LFS. She began attending fundraising events for the organization and met Cheryl Murray, who was the executive director of Adoption Links at that time. “I really admire Cheryl a lot. She’s passionate and dedicated to the cause of helping young women and children. She’s one of those kinds of gals that you can’t say no to,” she laughs.

Clearly, Johnson couldn’t say no to Murray, now a development officer and guild liaison for LFS, because she was drawn into more volunteer work with LFS. “I started volunteering more for them, and I became the president for LFS’ Forever Families [Guild].”

As the guild president, Johnson works to increase fundraising and gain more exposure through other organizations. “There’s an organization called CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) that I’ve been involved with before through my real estate work. So I mentioned the Forever Families Guild to them, and they’ve picked the guild up as their philanthropy of choice for the next year.

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple…LFS can do a lot on limited funds and time because the group is so passionate.”

One such passionate supporter is Nellie Beyan, who works as a Family Support Liaison with LFS in the Omaha community and the Omaha Public Schools district.

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education,” Beyan says. “OPS has a large population of Burmese refugees [the Karen] that we work with, too.”

Working with refugees and immigrants comes easily for Beyan because she, herself, is an Omaha transplant. She moved in April 2000 from her home country of Liberia to work as an international volunteer with LFS. Later, she enrolled at University of Nebraska-Omaha to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work with the help of sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hawks and Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Alseth.

“I underwent a similar experience and hardships that most non-Americans undergo when they first come to America…I can put myself in their shoes because I know exactly what it’s like to come into a country with a new culture and new way of life, leaving family behind. It’s a difficult thing, the assimilation process. It’s very gradual, but it’s made easier by the available resources.”

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple.” —Nancy K. Johnson

Beyan likes working with LFS because she feels that the organization is everywhere in the community. “Imagine what Omaha would be like without LFS,” she muses. “I can’t even picture that. Without all that they have to offer, especially for all of the immigrants and refugees, people would be totally lost.”

Understanding just how many people in the community rely on LFS, Henrichs and the Board of Directors are taking major steps to improve LFS’ outreach and work in Omaha.

“Whether we’re talking children’s needs or refugee and immigrant needs, we’ve recently decided our focus in the program development should be primarily on prevention and early intervention,” she explains. “Many services are ‘fire truck’ in that they respond when a crisis happens. We need to become ‘smoke detectors’ and catch issues before they become bigger problems.”

Another improvement? They’ve been at their 24th & Dodge location for more than a decade, and they’ve slowly been acquiring the city block between Dodge and Douglas streets in order to renovate and build more space. “Many that we serve are in the heart of the city,” Henrichs says. “We’re going to stay right here.”

And here is exactly where the community wants them to stay.

Lutheran Family Services will host their annual Wicker & Wine® Basket Auction fundraiser on Nov. 7 at Mid-America Center (One Arena Way) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from 5-7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit lfsneb.org or call 402-342-7038.

Family Success Story: The Goertzes

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Have you ever seen that family that carts around tons of kids and wondered, “How in the world do they do it?” Look no further than the Goertz family of Bennington.

Larry and Heather Goertz have four kids: Tayler, 20, Zachary, 16, Kassidy, 14, and Amber, 10. That might already sound like a crazy brood, but it gets crazier. You see, the Goertzes are also foster parents to two different sets of kids. There are the four “little ones”—siblings ages 15 mos., 3, 4, and 5—who don’t live with them, but whom they see every few weeks from morning until night. And then there are the “five”—siblings ages 2½, 8, 10, 12, and 15—who are with them full-time. Sound crazy yet?

“There are hard days,” says Heather, who’s an occupational therapist. “But when we’re all together, that’s when it’s the greatest.” She says that getting the okay from their kids was very important to her and Larry when they made the decision to get involved with foster care. “We’re a foster family, not foster parents.”

Their foster care adventure began in 2011 after their oldest daughter, Tayler, graduated from high school. “It was hard letting go of her,” Heather explains. “[But] we looked around and thought, ‘You know what? We’ve got happy, healthy kids. We’re good at this thing. We have a lot to offer.’”

Larry and Heather Goertz

Larry and Heather Goertz

It started with a boy from Latvia. “Unfortunately, we had more bad days than good with him,” she says. He only stayed 28 days with the family before they all realized it wasn’t the right fit. But then the “little ones” found them; the “five,” too. They fit with the Goertzes much better. “Even with 13 kids in the house at times, it kind of comes easily when you’re doing what you love.”

Although the Goertzes’ youngest daughter, Amber, had to learn quickly that she was no longer the baby in the family, Heather believes the adjustment went smoothly. “We’re still getting to know each other, but we intentionally try to have dinner together three nights a week to become a closer family.”

“We’re a foster family, not foster parents.” – Heather Goertz

Sometimes, however, dinner presents a challenge for Heather (in fact, she’d say meals in general present a challenge). “Our ‘normal’ is healthy food every day and junk food occasionally. The foster kids’ ‘normal’ is the opposite. It’s a struggle to raise these kids without letting my personal health views get in the way. I’m supposed to keep them safe and healthy, but to what standard?”

Even though she wants to help her foster kids live healthier lifestyles, she thinks that forcing them to change their lifestyles when they’ve already faced trauma isn’t helpful. “It all comes through in its own timing,” she says.

One of her favorite stories about their food struggles is about one of the “five” trying broccoli for the first time. “I told him he could have a quarter if he tried it. He said make it a dollar, so I made him a deal that if he ate all of his broccoli, then he could have a dollar. After he did it, he used that dollar to buy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” she laughs.

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Nevertheless, when times get tough, Larry and Heather have their solid marriage. After 17 years together, they’ve found their relationship to be at the core of everything. “We’ve felt numb before, and we’ve worked through some really hard stuff, but every marriage that sticks together has its ups and downs. Still, our purpose always comes back to family and whatever children God gives us or brings to our doorstep,” she says.

Of course, Heather feels a strong faith and a positive attitude are the main components of getting through the challenges each day presents. “I’m constantly in prayer,” she adds. “I try to focus on the good things…Sometimes, I’ll just turn up the radio and start twirling in the kitchen. You just have to break that negative energy and let go of how you think things should be.”

So why do the Goertzes take on such a challenging opportunity? For one, they’re risk-takers. “We’d rather take risks to do what’s right,” says Heather. But mostly, it’s because they’ve been blessed with a good life, and they want to extend that good life to others. “This is our mission work right here.

“As these kids come, they aren’t just here for a little while. They’re in our hearts forever. And we know in some ways we’ll be with them forever.”

Project Everlast

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The first time Akeeme Halliburton was placed in foster care, he was in middle school. His infant brother had been born with drugs in his system, so he and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care and taken into protective custody until alternate care was found. He and his younger brother jumped between foster homes for a few years before they were allowed to return home. But when Halliburton was attending Central High School, his mom became physically abusive, so he called Child Protective Services, who placed him and his siblings back into the system.

“There were good memories and also some bad,” Halliburton, now 20, says of his years in foster care. “When I was younger, I was more of a rebel. I didn’t know why I was in foster care, and I just wanted to go home. When I was older, I just wanted to make a good impression so I could find a better home.”

Halliburton was placed with a foster mom the first time, though their relationship was often strained. “I volunteered at Creighton [Hospital] a lot and always got home pretty late, so she called the cops on me.”

The second time was with a foster dad, who let him volunteer and have more freedom, but Halliburton only received one meal a day, never had proper clothing for winter, and spent a lot of his time alone.

Fortunately, the last foster home he was in was with a woman who provided quality care. “She understood and listened,” he says. “I was a lot more obedient, too, because of the good environment. She didn’t just want me there for money; she cared about me.” But, eventually, Halliburton grew old enough that he was no longer able to remain in foster care.

“When I was younger, I was more of a rebel. I didn’t know why I was in foster care, and I just wanted to go home. When I was older, I just wanted to make a good impression so I could find a better home.” – Akeeme Halliburton, former foster child

While there is always concern for children within the foster care system, there has been a surprising lack of concern in what happens to the youth who age out of foster care when they turn 19. It’s a frightening thought for many former foster care youth, who no longer have a home, steady income, emotional support, medical care, transportation, or education. Worse, the statistics are against them. One in five young people who age out of foster care will be homeless before age 21.

Fortunately, Halliburton heard about Project Everlast, a grassroots effort that promotes community resources to improve a youth’s opportunities and networks for housing, transportation, and health care during the transition to adulthood.

Project Everlast formed in 2007, when the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation met with a steering committee of Omaha youth, the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, the Sherwood Foundation, and the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation. Together, the youth and the representatives of the organizations developed an innovative plan to help aged-out foster care youth with resources for housing, transportation, health care, education, employment, personal and community engagement, and daily living.

Now, with youth-driven councils all across Nebraska—in Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk, Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Geneva, and Kearney—Project Everlast is able to provide a source of peer-to-peer support and mentoring to members, as well as allow foster care youth to have a voice in advocating for changes in agencies and systems, locally and statewide. The councils are open to any youth or young adult with foster care experience between the ages of 14-24 and are supported by a Youth Advisor, who provides training and support.

Project Everlast also has several community partners in Omaha that work with them to create a network of support for youth in transition, including Family Housing Advisory Services, Child Saving Institute, Central Plains Center for Services, Omaha Home for Boys, Lutheran Family Services, Heartland Family Service, and Youth Emergency Services.

“Foster care can be a very isolating experience, and decreasing that isolation is a vitally important part of our work.” – Rosey Higgs, associate vice president of Project Everlast

“My foster mom told me about [Project Everlast],” Halliburton says. “I didn’t know what it was, but I had seen some fliers outside of my school. We went to a group one day, and after that, I just started going more often and getting more involved. They gave me all kinds of numbers to call for help and resources on how to age out of foster care. If I hadn’t found them, I wouldn’t have aged out with as many benefits.”

“Our work is guided by young people in foster care and alumni of foster care,” says Rosey Higgs, associate vice president of Project Everlast.

Higgs, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, had some past experience in launching new initiatives for domestic violence, homelessness, and HIV prevention. When she heard about Project Everlast, she jumped at the chance to be a part of it and add child welfare into her career expertise. “I was instantly drawn to its philosophy and was really energized by the amazing group of young people who were involved,” she adds.

Although she provides oversight and direction to the Project Everlast initiative of the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation, Higgs’ primary responsibility is to convene with community members, nonprofit agencies, the government, and young people to address barriers faced by youth in transition from foster care to adulthood.

“While there is still work to be done, we are well on our way to creating a culture that seeks out and honors the inputs of [those with foster care familiarity] in administering services for youth in foster care and alumni…People who have experienced foster care have important insight to share as we write child welfare policy and create new programs.”

Other organizations focused on foster care often talk about transitioning foster care youth to adulthood through achievements of independence, but Higgs thinks that’s inaccurate. “Hardly anyone lives independently,” she states. “Most people have a network of trusted friends and family that they depend on for advice from time to time or even just for a social outlet. Foster care can be a very isolating experience, and decreasing that isolation is a vitally important part of our work.”

“Young people aging out of foster care require ongoing support so they can reach their full potential and take advantage of the opportunities Nebraska offers to other children their age,” says Mary Jo Pankoke, president of the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation.

Pankoke, who holds an undergraduate degree in education and a graduate degree in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been with the foundation from the beginning of its creation in the 1990s. “We bring public and private sectors together throughout the state to prevent problems that threaten the well-being of our children. It’s a wonderful mission that motivates me every day.”

“Young people aging out of foster care require ongoing support so they can reach their full potential and take advantage of the opportunities Nebraska offers to other children their age.” – Mary Jo Pankoke, president of Nebraska Children & Families Foundation.

Having seen the results of Project Everlast’s work, Pankoke knows the initiative is going in the right direction. “In just two years, measuring success in Omaha, more youth received a high school diploma or GED and went on for more training…the number of youth with a paying job [went] from 55 percent before Project Everlast to 68 percent…[and] an increase in youth having full-time, stable employment [went] from 26 percent to 53 percent.”

Higgs and Pankoke both believe that it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all youth have a fair shot at becoming successful adults.

“I always encourage people to think about how they support their own children as they prepare for adulthood—youth in transition from foster care need exactly the same things,” says Higgs.

“We all win if youth can receive a high school diploma, prepare for meaningful work, find emotional support and connection when they need it, and have a safety net when money or housing becomes an issue,” says Pankoke.

As for Halliburton, his time in foster care and with Project Everlast has left quite the impression. He’s currently looking at colleges where he could study sociology and social work. “[Project Everlast] has been phenomenal,” he says. “Everything they’re doing is for the good of foster care…Any kids aging out of foster care should really think about coming in and getting involved because it’s a great asset.”

For more information, visit projecteverlastomaha.org.

Nancy Wilson-Hintz

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

NOVA Treatment Community’s mission is to be passionate about providing treatment services, education programs, and foster care services for children, adolescents, adults, and families, as well as help empower individuals and families to experience a life without substance use, family turmoil, and other problems that adversely affect their lives. This is a mission that NOVA’s newest executive director, Nancy Wilson-Hintz, is excited to be a part of.

The Omaha native and Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School alumna has always loved volunteer work, feeling it’s important to give back to the community in which she lives. Her favorite volunteer work is anything involving advocacy for those who are unable to advocate for themselves—especially working with vulnerable children and adults. Such advocacy led to her graduation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Public Affairs and Community Services/Criminal Justice and into volunteering with the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, which oversees child abuse and neglect cases in the child welfare and court systems.

“It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

Wilson-Hintz worked as a juvenile probation officer and then an adult probation officer for Nebraska State Probation until 1998 when she switched to the nonprofit world. She became the founder and first executive director for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) of Douglas County, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. CASA volunteers act as a child’s voice in and out of the courtroom, ensuring that the child is receiving all necessary services.

She explains that she chose the nonprofit career path because she believes strongly in “working for the greater good.”In 2006, Wilson-Hintz was asked to be on the NOVA Board of Directors by another board member who was also a CASA volunteer. “Serving on the NOVA Board of Directors provided me with great insight into the workings and mission of the organization. It also helped in transitioning to the NOVA executive director position last fall and taking over the legacy of Eleanor Devlin, NOVA’s founder and executive director of almost 30 years.”

NOVA—which stands for New Options, Values, and Achievements—is a treatment community with adolescent and adult residential programs for substance abuse and mental health problems, outpatient and intensive outpatient services, and foster care services for those who need the support and tools to live a safe, comfortable life.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

As executive director, Wilson-Hintz says she looks forward to increasing public awareness and funding sources regarding the variety of behavioral health programs and services NOVA offers. “I’m [also] looking forward to networking with NOVA staff, board of directors, funders, and other community organizations that provide behavioral health services,” she says. “It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

One such devoted “professional” at NOVA with whom Wilson-Hintz works is actually a rescued Border Collie named Chance, who lives with one of NOVA’s Youth Residential Supervisors. “[Chance] was adopted from the Humane Society twice and then returned to the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue, where he lived in foster care for four months before NOVA’s staff adopted him,” she explains.

Chance was named such because he, too, was given a second chance in life to find a loving family and a safe home, which Wilson-Hintz believes makes him a perfect mascot for the organization. As someone who has always thought animals to be extremely helpful in therapy, Wilson-Hintz says that Chance has done an outstanding job making the kids who come to NOVA’s facility feel at home. “He runs to the door to greet the kids each morning, then checks in with staff and spends almost his whole time with the kids…He brings a sense of peace, love, and devotion to the NOVA community.”

“My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services.”

Second chances aren’t just for Chance and the people who come to NOVA though. Wilson-Hintz also displays her faith in second chances in her personal life, as she has adopted three dogs—Petey, Monty, and Jackie—and given them a loving home with her and husband Michael Hintz.

Wilson-Hintz adopted Petey, a 12-year-old Norfolk Terrier, from the Nebraska Humane Society when he was 3 after he was found sick and suffering from a gunshot wound on an Iowa highway in the middle of winter. But she says, he has fully recovered and has been her “inseparable buddy” ever since.

She found Monty, a 6-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix, tied up to a dilapidated trailer in a small Nebraska town two years ago. “He was living in deplorable conditions, and it broke my heart to see the hurt and desperation in his eyes,” she says. “I asked if I could have Monty, and the owner agreed to let me take him.” She had planned to take Monty to the Humane Society, but when she brought him home, she fell in love with him.

Today, Wilson-Hintz and Monty are volunteers with Domesti-PUPS, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs, pet therapy programs, classroom dogs, and educational programs. “Monty and I currently go to a nursing home monthly to visit the residents there. Troubled adults and children quickly connect with Monty because, I believe, they instinctively know that he understands them.”20130108_bs_0027 copy

Her most recent addition was Jackie, a 2-year-old English Setter/Lab mix, whom she adopted from the Humane Society after being her foster parent for two weeks. “Jackie was one of the nine rescued pups from a breeder in Illinois. She was not socialized to humans and extremely fearful of everyone and everything. What I thought would just be a short foster care situation ended up being a permanent one.” According to Wilson-Hintz, Jackie’s social skills have gotten so good that she now acts just like a normal puppy, which means lots of destroyed remotes, cell phones, and shoes for Wilson-Hintz and her husband. But they’re always patient in working with her and enjoy watching her progress.

With such compassion for those who need help, both human and animal alike, there’s no doubt that Wilson-Hintz will continue to expand and better NOVA’s services as executive director. Over the next year specifically, she plans to focus on foster care awareness and foster parent recruitment, as there is a continuous need for stable homes for abused and neglected children who can’t live with their biological families. Although NOVA currently provides foster care homes and family support services, there’s also a great need to increase community outreach, which is why Wilson-Hintz is making foster care awareness one of her top priorities.

She has several plans for NOVA’s future as well. Her two main goals for the next five to 10 years are to broaden financial opportunities and increase program stability by building on past successes and implementing new forward-thinking options. “My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services simply because they do not qualify for funding through the state or other programs, do not have insurance, or are not able to pay out-of-pocket expenses.”