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Julia Benford’s Story: Parenting Children in Need

Julia Benford is a retired trauma technician with a lifetime of experience caring for people. She has a deep desire to help others and she shows that by being a big part of our Treatment Foster Care program. She has been a part of the program for two-and-a-half years, fostering three children in that time. Mrs. Benford has taken on the responsibility to care for children most people would find difficult to handle and she cares for them as if they are her own. Upon reflection of her experiences, Mrs. Benford says, “It is rewarding to see positive changes in a child and know that I am helping them by giving them loving care in a safe environment.”

What kind of person steps up to care for children most people would find difficult to handle? Meet Julia Benford, a retired trauma technician with a lifetime of experience caring for people. It’s no surprise she’s married to a retired firefighter, one of her daughters is a clinical social worker, and she has a grandson who just joined the Navy. The desire to help others runs deep in her family.

Mrs. Benford felt a calling to care for children in need, and she chose to work with The Children’s Guild Treatment Foster Care program because “it offered the support I knew I would need.” Treatment Foster Care parents are highly trained and supervised to care for children with complex problems and behavioral issues due to childhood trauma. 

Mrs. Benford has fostered three children in her two-and-a-half years as a Treatment Foster Care parent. Maya,* a two-year-old girl, was recently reunited with her family. She had been drug-exposed and was failing to thrive when she arrived at the Benford’s home. “I attended feeding classes, and Maya spent the first six months sleeping on my chest because she wouldn’t let me put her down,” says Mrs. Beneford. Maya also had plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome), and Mrs. Benford maintained consistent therapy to shape Maya’s head. With all of these challenges, Mrs. Benford says, “Seeing Maya leave was the hardest part.” 

Mrs. Benford currently fosters two boys, Jeremy* and C.J.* In the year leading up to placement with Mrs. Benford, Jeremy had three placements with different agencies. With The Children’s Guild’s support, Mrs. Benford has been able to maintain him.

Jeremy demonstrated verbal and physical aggression and was diagnosed with intellectual disability and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mrs. Benford attended almost daily intensive therapy with him. She says, “Most people find caring for Jeremy overwhelming because he has multiple issues and delays, but he would become a statistic if we did not help him.” There has been a learning curve for meeting his individual needs, and she has played a significant role in ensuring he receives the necessary therapy and care.

C.J. is a 16-month-old infant that Mrs. Benford has cared for since he was four days old. C.J. was drug-exposed and has numerous developmental delays, but he is finally starting to walk. She says, “He is wonderful,” and describes him as “cute and sweet” and having a personality that has charmed her whole family.

It takes a tremendous amount of fortitude and hard work to be a Treatment Foster Care parent. Upon reflection of her experiences, Mrs. Benford says, “It is rewarding to see positive changes in a child and know that I am helping them by giving them loving care in a safe environment.”

*Names changed to protect children’s privacy.

The Academy for Working Students: Helping High School Students Graduate

High school students who work face unique challenges. While they may thrive in the workforce and benefit from the financial gains and real-life experience of holding a job, they often have difficulty balancing work and school. They need educators who understand their situation and can help them stay on track to graduate. The Children’s Guild Alliance launched The Academy for Working Students (TAWS) to address the struggles of working high school seniors. The innovative TAWS program gives students the opportunity to create a flexible school schedule that fits around their work commitments. Students receive support from mentors and career coaches and develop individual career plans to boost their graduation success.

High school students who work face unique challenges. While they may thrive in the workforce and benefit from the financial gains and real-life experience of holding a job, they often have difficulty balancing work and school. They need educators who understand their situation and can help them stay on track to graduate.

The Children’s Guild Alliance launched The Academy for Working Students (TAWS) to address the struggles of working high school seniors. The innovative TAWS program gives students the opportunity to create a flexible school schedule that fits around their work commitments. Students receive support from mentors and career coaches and develop individual career plans to boost their graduation success.

“A full-day school schedule did not work for me,” says Alexandra Tsytsareva, who worked 30-37 hours per week at a childcare center while participating in TAWS. A very independent person at an early age, Ms. Tsytsareva says, “TAWS gave me the ability to manage my own schedule and have responsibility over my life.” She graduated high school this spring and is pursuing a degree in education at City College of New York. She looks forward to a career in early childhood education and one day owning a childcare center.

Genesis Velasquez joined TAWS after discovering she was pregnant. “I wanted to get my diploma on time but needed flexibility,” she says. Through TAWS she was able to graduate from high school and stay at home with her child. Ms. Velasquez works part-time as a dog sitter and is exploring other work-from-home opportunities. She plans to attend Montgomery College and is interested in becoming a certified personal trainer and having a career in the health industry.

Roderick Dreher enrolled in TAWS so he could support his family during a time of crisis. His older brother had been critically injured in a car accident and required around-the-clock care. His younger sister was just starting kindergarten and needed help getting ready for school. Even before his brother’s accident, Mr. Dreher had held a job at a local retirement community. By participating in TAWS, Mr. Dreher could pick up additional shifts at work and still help out at home.

He graduated with his class and was able to attend school events when his schedule allowed. He says, “It was difficult, but I feel prepared for the future, and I don’t feel like I missed out on the high school experience.” He is majoring in biology at Coppin State University with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. 

Creating Citizens of the World

Recently, second-grade teachers from Monarch Academy Glen Burnie were inspired to travel to Ethiopia. Their interest in Ethiopia was sparked after author Jane Kurtz led a workshop for students on how to write children’s books. Ms. Kurtz shared experiences from her childhood in Ethiopia and her work with Ethiopia Reads and Open Hearts Big Dreams, two organizations that partner to provide books to children in Ethiopia. Second-grade teachers, Ms. Legambi, Sonja Bolotin and Molly Malloy, along with art teacher Sam Green, traveled to Ethiopia at the end of the school year. Now, when second-graders at Monarch Academy Glen Burnie study school communities, their teachers will use pictures from their trip and tell personal stories about the schools they visited and the people they met. “It was an extremely humbling experience to see the challenges students in Ethiopia face,” says Ms. Bolotin. She sees opportunities to grow empathy in her students and looks forward to conveying the Ethiopian students’ hunger for education. “It will have a profound effect when we share these experiences.”

Monarch Academy develops globally-minded students through a curriculum infused with diversity and authentic learning experiences. “We believe students should become ethical people who affect the world positively,” says Kim Jakovics, principal of Monarch Academy Glen Burnie. “It’s very much a part of our curriculum pedagogy to understand other cultures and places.”

This year, second-grade teachers from her school were inspired to travel to Ethiopia following an Expeditionary Learning journey that incorporated the country’s culture, language and history. Their interest in Ethiopia was sparked by a visit from award-winning author Jane Kurtz,  who led a workshop for students on how to write children’s books. Ms. Kurtz shared experiences from her childhood in Ethiopia and her work with Ethiopia Reads and Open Hearts Big Dreams, two organizations that partner to provide books to children in Ethiopia. 

The second graders were studying pollinators the week of the workshop, so their teachers suggested they write a book about the importance of bee pollination for agriculture in Ethiopia. “From school communities to fossils, the teachers found connections between Ethiopia and what the second graders were studying,” says art teacher Sam Green. She collaborated with the teachers to have the students illustrate the book.

“We worked all year on the book,” says second-grade teacher Jenna Legambi. Their efforts paid off. The book is being published and distributed by Open Hearts Big Dreams to children in Ethiopia, and it will also be available on Amazon. 

Moved by their dedication, Ms. Kurtz encouraged the teachers to visit Ethiopia and see firsthand the things they had been teaching their students. Through grants and support from their students and school, all of the second-grade teachers, Ms. Legambi, Sonja Bolotin and Molly Malloy, along with art teacher Sam Green, traveled to Ethiopia at the end of the school year.

Now, when second-graders at Monarch Academy Glen Burnie study school communities, their teachers will use pictures from their trip and tell personal stories about the schools they visited and the people they met. “It was an extremely humbling experience to see the challenges students in Ethiopia face,” says Ms. Bolotin. She sees opportunities to grow empathy in her students and looks forward to conveying the Ethiopian students’ hunger for education. “It will have a profound effect when we share these experiences.”

Devin’s Story: Sharing the Joy of Baseball

Devin is a 7-year-old second-grade student at The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County. He has Asperger’s, a developmental and social disability on the higher end of the autism spectrum, and his mother is cautious about trying out new things and putting Devin into unfamiliar environments. When given the opportunity to participate in League of Dreams, Mrs. Murray says, “I didn’t know how my son would respond.” Even though she had her concerns, she took Devin and his two brothers to participate in the events and learn the game of baseball together. “That first experience sparked something in Devin. He loved it, and he really took to the game.” Not only has there been growth and development in Devin, but cultivating a shared interest in baseball has opened the doors for Mrs. Murray’s children to do more things together as a family

Children with emotional and physical challenges have a need to be accepted and given the same opportunities as their peers. Learning a sport, especially one as popular as baseball, is a great way to engage children at all levels. “So many kids are boxed into certain categories. Giving them the chance to play ball inspires growth and the freedom to express themselves,” says Mike Bordick, chair of League of Dreams and a retired professional baseball shortstop who played in Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, and Toronto Blue Jays.

This year, The Children’s Guild Alliance launched a formal partnership with the League of Dreams to host a series of sports events and develop a curriculum for teaching baseball and softball skills to children with disabilities. The excitement surrounding the partnership continues to grow as more students are introduced to the joy of playing baseball.

“I didn’t know how my son would respond,” says Nicole Murray, mother of 7-year old Devin, a second-grade student at The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County. He has Asperger’s, a developmental and social disability on the higher end of the autism spectrum. Mrs. Murray is always cautious about trying out new things and had concerns about how well Devin would be able to listen to instructions and work in a team environment. Her fears were allayed by the patience of the staff. “That first experience sparked something in Devin. He loved it, and he really took to the game.”

Devin has two brothers, and when they attended a weekend League of Dreams event, they were invited to participate as well. Cultivating a shared interest in baseball has opened the doors for Mrs. Murray’s children to do more things together as a family. They recently went to a Nationals’ game, and she was thrilled to see how interested and focused Devin was on the game.

In addition to offering a full-body workout and enhancing gross motor skills, learning how to play baseball and softball teaches the value of teamwork, develops mental focus, and encourages personal growth and confidence. “Teaching kids how to play ball is not a one-time experience. It has a lasting impact and offers lifelong lessons,” says Mr. Bordick.

TranZed Apprenticeships: Transforming the Workforce Through Apprenticeships

“I owe my new career to TranZed Apprenticeships,” says Patrick McLean, an apprentice and junior programmer for Amports, a premier automotive services company and port terminal operator. When employers were not willing to take a risk and allow Mr. McLean to transition from the mental health field to the technology industry, TranZed Apprenticeships offered an alternative pathway for Mr. McLean to gain the skills he needed and make the much-desired career change.  “TranZed Apprenticeships gave me the opportunity to start my career,” says Kenya Foster, an apprentice and junior programmer for Amports. Ms. Foster was a recent graduate with a computer science degree struggling to find a job because of her lack of experience. Now she has jump-started her career and is furthering her education in a master’s program. She credits the apprenticeship experience with teaching her valuable skills such as time management, organization and how to prioritize.

“I owe my new career to TranZed Apprenticeships,” says Patrick McLean, an apprentice and junior programmer for Amports, a premier automotive services company and port terminal operator. Mr. McLean had been working in the mental health field and taking programming courses on the side. He wanted to move into the technology industry, but no employer was willing to take the risk and give him the break he needed to switch careers.

TranZed Apprenticeships offered an alternative pathway for Mr. McLean to gain the skills he needed and make the much-desired career change – all while continuing to earn a salary. “TranZed Apprenticeships connected me with a company that wanted to invest in me,” says Mr. McLean. The apprenticeship opportunity provided a supportive employer where he received on-the-job training and was allowed to participate in more than 144 hours of classroom training.

TranZed Apprenticeships supports transformative workforce solutions through a range of programs that advance modern-day, non-traditional apprenticeships in technology, cybersecurity, digital and social media, data science and analytics, and as medical assistants. These programs source driven, talented, and committed employees for entry to mid-level positions.

“Being an apprentice builds a better foundation for your future career and helps you learn the business from the ground up,” says Kenya Foster, who is also an apprentice and junior programmer with Amports. She was fresh out of college with a degree in computer science but had very little work experience. “TranZed Apprenticeships gave me the opportunity to start my career.”

Ms. Foster has benefitted from being surrounded by experienced colleagues who have been willing to teach her and help her grow professionally. While it may seem daunting to some, Ms. Foster has recently started an online master’s degree program. She credits the apprenticeship experience with teaching her valuable skills such as time management, organization and how to prioritize.

Businesses that support apprenticeships gain loyal, productive, long-term employees. Both Mr. McLean and Ms. Foster are excited to be building their skills toward a CompTIA Network + certification. They will soon graduate from the apprenticeship program and look forward to continuing their careers with Amports. 

Kandace’s Story: Supporting Children One Child at a Time

Kandace is a soft-spoken teenager with an amazing story. She has survived heartbreaking trauma but has also seen renewed hope as she has spent the last several years connected with The Children’s Guild. Kandace was admitted to The Guild Academy, The Children’s Guild’s residential treatment program, and lived at Staffa House for four-and-a-half years. While there, she received the trauma-informed treatment she needed, and she thrived in its supportive setting. Kandace speaks highly of her time there, noting that she liked “everything” about Staffa House, especially when she had her own bedroom! Since her time here, Kandace has been adopted and continues to keep close ties to The Children’s Guild.

When it was discovered there had been a mistake in Kandace’s paperwork, and she was only 11 years old instead of 12, the required age for acceptance into The Guild Academy, Terri and her team obtained a waiver to have Kandace admitted early. The Guild Academy is The Children’s Guild’s residential treatment program. Kandace lived at Staffa House, the girls’ home at The Guild Academy, for four-and-a-half years. While there, she received the trauma-informed treatment she needed, and she thrived in its supportive setting.

When asked what she liked best about Staffa House, Kandace emphatically says, “Everything!” One of her favorite memories is the period when she had her own bedroom, and her eyes light up when she talks about the program’s many activities: “Group therapy, of course; Zumba classes; bowling; learning how to cook; learning how to budget money; going to the beach and local festivals; and Friday ‘chilling and rhythm’ nights.” 

The goal of The Guild Academy is for students to learn enough to graduate to the next placement. “It was time for Kandace to progress with her life,” says Mrs. Maxwell. Kandace is currently a senior in high school, and she does not have supports outside of The Children’s Guild. “We want to ensure she has the best support system possible, and she deserves a home and the opportunity to experience the love of a family.”

Even positive transitions can be difficult. Kandace did not want to be adopted, and she was reluctant to leave. Special care was taken to find a placement that would allow her to maintain ties with Staffa House. Last year Kandace graduated to a placement within The Children’s Guild’s Treatment Foster care program. Kandace has experienced many “firsts” since then – her first airplane ride; her first trip to Disney World; her first Cardi B concert. Her new home is within walking distance of Staffa House, where she is a frequent visitor. Mrs. Maxwell says, “We miss her dearly, and we will always be there for her.”