A Message From DePaul CEO Amanda Stanley
At our recent donor appreciation brunch, we shared stories that demonstrated the deep impact this organization has had on the lives of those we serve. We put stories of belonging center-stage.
How we tell stories, especially ones about overcoming adversity, matters a lot. Which ones we choose to tell and how we tell them matters in how we see those problems, how we see the characters in the story, what we believe about ourselves, and how we respond to what we hear.
Anyone who has ever talked to a child about what they see on the news knows this: We learn from the part of the story we focus on. We can focus on the burning building. We can focus on the firefighter. We can focus on what’s still in-tact, on our own safety. What we focus on builds a lasting narrative in us. Maybe we learn that the world is dangerous, or that there are heroes. Maybe we learn that we are safe and loved in the midst of it all. Maybe we learn that help abounds in time of need.
Most of the stories you’ll hear from us are stories that have good endings, like this one about Linda and her caregivers or the ones in our annual report. We tell you these because we want you to know what a difference you’re making. We want you to be confident that we are faithful partners in the work. We want to share in the hope that we’re discovering.
The reality is that for every story we tell with a good ending, there are thousands that don’t end well, or that aren’t over yet, that aren’t being told. There are file cabinets full of the stories across Virginia that will never make it into an annual report – ours or anyone else’s. Those stories represent a larger, systemic narrative—which is a story of disconnection, and frankly, injustice and inhumanity; a story that is at odds with our vision of hope and belonging.
Our board of directors recently spent time re-thinking how we measure success as an organization. We’re like most companies and nonprofits – we consider ourselves successful when we meet our outcome goals, our operational goals, our financial goals, and our strategic goals. We do well in all of these areas – and our annual report shows you evidence of that. By all internal measures, we are in good shape.
And still, today, in Virginia….There are 1,600 children on a waiting list to meet their forever family. There are more than 12,000 people with disabilities on a waiting list for life-changing services like sponsored homes and day support.
Imagine being in a severe automobile accident. You’re immobilized and in so much pain you cannot function. You didn’t cause this accident and now you need help. A passerby sees you and calls 911. Imagine the person on the other end of the line says: I’m sorry. There are 1,600, or – there are 12,000 people in line ahead of you. We are working very hard, but it will be years before we can get to you. The life you once knew, the life you dream about living, has been put in jeopardy because of circumstances beyond your control – and help will be years beyond your reach.
What is more critical to a child than people to love her no matter what? What is more essential to a person’s ability to navigate life’s challenges than a safe home base? What is more urgent and important than the basic need of unconditional love and safety?
I think all of you would say: nothing.
However, this is what our system says to tens of thousands of our neighbors when they show up for help: “Get in line.”
Waiting lists and long lines are for the DMV, the airport, amusement parks. Not for our neighbors who need families.
These lists exit in the Commonwealth of Virginia which was named America’s top state for business in 2019 and in multiple years past. How do we rank for care of people with disabilities? 39th. For care of children in foster care? 49th. We can do better.
How do we measure success? How will we see the return on our investment of time, heart, money, and talent? We measure it in the depths of changes we witness in just one family. And, I dream that one day we will also measure it in the absence of long lines and waiting lists for unconditional love and safety.
We are committed to moving our horizon, to holding ourselves to a standard that asks not just what can we do about the people in our offices today, but what can we do about those who may never get the chance to be here? We are committed to addressing the need in front of us right now, and to asking and addressing the reasons they need us to begin with.
Thank you for your gift and for what your gift means and represents to us. Your support tells us you have confidence in us, that we have a shared belief in what matters most. It tells us that you are also committed to fighting with us all that stands in the way of hope and belonging, for those already a part of the DePaul tribe, and for those waiting desperately for their turn.