2020 ADVOCATE AWARDS

AWARDS 2020-10-27T16:19:40+00:00
#PTWconference

Congratulations to Our 2020 Paving the Way to Educational Success Advocates!

Ten individuals were named as 2020 Advocates for their support services and positively impacting educational success for students experiencing homelessness or youth in foster care.

Awards Ceremony

Meet the 2020 Advocates

Region 1: Jeanne di Leonardo

Homeless Liaison
Belmont Charter School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeanne di Leonardo has consistently been a staunch advocate for students experiencing homelessness at Belmont Charter School and in the Philadelphia region. In addition to identifying a very large percentage of students that attend her LEA, Jeanne ensures that all of her ECYEH students’ barriers are removed, and needs are met. This includes not only providing school supplies and uniform assistance, but outreach, conscientious follow up, and becoming the voice for her students as well. This is evidenced by the constant contact with the regional office, documented success, and consistency. Jeanne is ambitious, committed, and develops and maintains strategic partnerships with fidelity. Guidance is provided throughout her LEA, to families, and to members of the communities who are in need of information regarding students who may be in homeless situations. It is without hesitation that I nominate Jeanne di Leonardo, and it has been a true pleasure to work with such a great advocate.

Nominated by Al Quarles, ECYEH Region 1 Coordinator

Region 2: Deb Jones

Executive Director
Elizabethtown Community Housing and Outreach Services
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

ECHOS has been serving the Elizabethtown community for four years. During this brief time, they have created a much-needed awareness of the homeless challenges within the greater Elizabethtown area and responded with incredible combative efforts. ECHOS provides a holistic approach to addressing homelessness, which has been a “game changer” in this small community. Eviction prevention, individual and family case management, personalized referrals to local resources, skill-building workshops, housing sources, and a winter shelter, are of the many services of ECHOS. As a social worker for the local school district, ECHOS has been an invaluable resource. A main collaborative is the Schools First initiative, which focuses on meeting the needs of youth experiencing homelessness. Through this, a streamlined approach has been created to ensure that student homelessness is quickly identified and needs are met effectively. Staff are confident in making referrals to ECHOS, knowing that people will be treated with respect while addressing very intimate issues. It is evident that all members of the ECHOS staff are dedicated to their role in stabilizing individuals and families for the long term. I am honored to work closely with ECHOS.

Nominated by Jennifer Fields, School Social Worker, Elizabethtown ASD

Region 2: Leigh Ann Farling

Social Services Director
Elizabethtown Community Housing and Outreach Services
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

ECHOS has been serving the Elizabethtown community for four years. During this brief time, they have created a much-needed awareness of the homeless challenges within the greater Elizabethtown area and responded with incredible combative efforts. ECHOS provides a holistic approach to addressing homelessness, which has been a “game changer” in this small community. Eviction prevention, individual and family case management, personalized referrals to local resources, skill-building workshops, housing sources, and a winter shelter, are of the many services of ECHOS. As a social worker for the local school district, ECHOS has been an invaluable resource. A main collaborative is the Schools First initiative, which focuses on meeting the needs of youth experiencing homelessness. Through this, a streamlined approach has been created to ensure that student homelessness is quickly identified and needs are met effectively. Staff are confident in making referrals to ECHOS, knowing that people will be treated with respect while addressing very intimate issues. It is evident that all members of the ECHOS staff are dedicated to their role in stabilizing individuals and families for the long term. I am honored to work closely with ECHOS.

Nominated by Jennifer Fields, School Social Worker, Elizabethtown ASD

Region 3: Aislinn “Icey” Cunningham

Student Services Coordinator and School Counselor Grades 4-6
York Academy Regional Charter School
York, Pennsylvania

Ms. Aislinn (Icey) Cunningham took on the role as our homelessness and foster care liaison in the 2019-20 school year. Because she was familiar with the role but had not yet been fully trained in her new role, she was determined to learn her new responsibilities and be the best advocate she could be for youth and their families experiencing homelessness and/or foster care. With this determination, she contacted local ECYEH and Foster Care staff, attended her first ECYEH/Foster Care conference, and researched and read information in regards to youth and their families experiencing homelessness and/or foster care. With this training and research, she felt confident in her new role. With her new role, one area she focused on was ensuring that our staff at YARCS was trained in homeless education. With the help of ECYEH/Foster Care regional staff, we were trained in areas such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. In addition, Icey is always sharing us up to date information and open to any question and/or concerns we have in regards to youth experiencing homelessness and/or foster care. With this training and importance placed on identifying eligible families, YARCS is better able to identify students/families and help provide them with resources.

Since last year, Icey has been observed working hard in identifying students and providing resources. She coordinates transportation to ensure students can safely make it to school. This sometimes involves contacting two school districts because YARCS is a charter school. She also helps with student uniforms – either by locating within the donated items, by providing funds for the families to purchase uniforms, or purchasing the uniforms for the family. She willingly delivers these items to families as well. Throughout the pandemic, Icey has been driving to students’ locations to provide them food from the school to ensure they are receiving proper nutrition. She has helped families by allowing them to do their laundry on site at the school. Because she is a school counselor, she helps these students grow in their academic, career, and personal/social development through classroom lessons, small group instruction, and individual meetings – and also helps connect these students with mental health services when needed. As part of her role, Icey helps families connect to community resources.

Icey should be recognized because she goes the extra mile. With every responsibility, Icey puts her heart and soul in it to make sure she is doing everything she can to help. She initiates the contact with families to offer them our help and our resources, regularly checks in with families, and works past her contract time to ensure all families are supported. She often does this good work “behind the scenes”, while many of her colleagues do not understand the full scope of this important role. Icey is a dear colleague, friend, mentor, and role model, and I’d love to provide Icey a huge thank you for all she does for our students and community by nominating her for the 2020 Paving the Way to Educational Success Advocate Award.

Nominated by Krystal Reese, School Counselor K-3, York Academy Regional CS (YARCS)

Region 4: Britnee Weatherspoon

District Administrator, Social Services Coordinator, Home and School Visitor K-12, Homeless and Foster Care Liaison
Clairton City School District
Clairton, Pennsylvania

Dr. Britnee Weatherspoon is a district administrator at Clairton City School District where she not only oversees attendance, social services coordination and school health initiatives, but she also serves as the district’s point of contact for students and families experiencing homelessness and in foster care – all of which is done exceptionally well. Dr. Weatherspoon’s background is in public health, education, and health promotion while the role of the homeless and foster care liaison are new to her. In her new role she has gone the extra mile to meet the needs of all students and families experiencing homelessness and in foster care in the district.

At the beginning of the school year. Dr. Weatherspoon contacts all homeless and foster families to introduce herself and provide her contact information just in case they need to contact her for anything. Dr. Weatherspoon continues to follow up with families throughout the school year to “check-in” on them. Dr. Weatherspoon has created a collaborative approach with the school counselors at Clairton City School District to create a “closet” inside of her office. The closet includes gently used clothing donations she picks up from local churches. Not only is the closet open to homeless and foster students, but any students and families in the district who are in need. This is an example of her kind heart helping students who were truant and missing the first days of school because they did not have new clothing. Dr. Weatherspoon contacted the family, asked for clothing sizes, and delivered clothing to their home. Another example of Dr. Weatherspoon’s exceptional help is during the summer months when school was out, Dr. Weatherspoon volunteered to distribute meals at different locations in Clairton – in fact, she delivered meals to her homeless and foster families. She also coordinates transportation to ensure that homeless and foster students are getting to and from school every day. Additionally, any homeless and foster student parents who did not have access to picking up technology for school, Dr. Weatherspoon has volunteered to take the devices to their home.

Nominated by Dr. Tracy Maluchnik, Exercise Science/Nutrition and Dietetics Instructor, Seton Hill University

Region 5: Amy Glasl

Superintendent, Homeless Liaison, Foster Care POC
Clarion Limestone School District
Strattanville, Pennsylvania

Amy has always gone above and beyond in her role as Homeless Liaison and Foster Care Point of Contact in the Clarion-Limestone School District in Clarion County. Although this is a very rural district with few formal resources in the surrounding community, Amy has worked to build a network of supports for her families and students in poverty. As a fairly new Superintendent in the district, moving to Clarion-Limestone from a school in Jefferson County in 2017, she continually has sought out technical assistance, clarification and support from her Regional ECYEH and Foster Care team.

In particular, Amy has worked hard to not only ask questions and expand her grasp of the definitions of homeless and foster care law and in particular “unaccompanied youth” – she has taken steps to change the climate in her district and the surrounding community to educate fellow staff, board members, parents and students. In 2019, she orchestrated a presentation on Students Experiencing Homelessness and the McKinney-Vento federal law during a well-attended Board Meeting, filled with community members and students.

Amy has repeatedly advocated for the rights of unaccompanied youth who were at risk of not making it in the school setting. Specifically, she has helped explain the concepts of equity to her staff, and has championed the idea that giving all students “the same expectations” does not mean that they have equal opportunities or fair supports. She has upheld the rights of unaccompanied students to play sports and engage fully in extracurricular activities, even when faced with opposition and challenges to her decisions. She has taken the time out of her day to sit at the table with students experiencing homelessness and caregivers to fill out FAFSA (Federal Student Aid) forms and help with college planning.

I admire the strength and determination that Amy has continually displayed in her role as an advocate and know that the students in her district can trust that she always has their best interests at heart. Working in an area where homelessness is hidden, stigmatized and not well understood, she has been able to shine a light on a much-needed topic.

Nominated by Wendy Kinnear, ECYEH and Foster Care Region 5 Coordinator

Region 6: Julie Miller

Homeless Liaison, Secretary to the Superintendent
Penns Manor Area School District
Clymer, Pennsylvania

Julie Miller is a liaison with a big heart! As the homeless liaison for the Penns Manor Area School District, she has seen her families and students struggle with transportation, clothing, hygiene products, and food. Julie reaches out to church groups and outside agencies for support. She collects donations for the students in need. Julie works with the student and family one to one, but she is not afraid to ask for support from the regional office. When needed, Julie brings in a team to support the student and their family. But she wanted to do more to provide support. Last school year, Julie, along with her Superintendent, wanted to see what more could be done to support the teens and families in the area that need housing. Since Penns Manor school district is very rural with limited access to stores and outside agency support, resources are hard to find. Families are usually doubled-up or living in tents or campers – because shelters/housing programs are not available. Julie, her superintendent, and the regional coordinator began to work as a team. The team met with a church organization to explore what services they could offer. Julie explained the need within the district and how she would like to see if there would be support from the organization to assist with housing options. The meeting lead to further discussion and exploration of the possibilities. Even though this is a process, Julie is not giving up hope and remains focused on her goal. She is staying connected and working in the hopes of bringing new resources to her area.

Nominated by Andrea Sheesley, ECYEH Region 6 Coordinator

Region 7: Viola Murphy

Homeless and Foster Care Liaison, Coordinator of District Services
Pleasant Valley School District
Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania

It is with great pleasure that I nominate Viola Murphy for consideration for the 2020 Advocate of the Year Award for both the ECYEH program and Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care Programs. Viola has gone above and beyond the expectations for an ECYEH/Foster liaison in Region 7. Since taking over as liaison, Viola has worked diligently to provide much needed services for homeless and foster children. She communicates with the Region 7 office on a regular basis and has attended all trainings and conferences. Viola maintains a high level of collaboration with other homeless liaisons, administrators and community agencies/shelters. Students that are homeless and in foster care are well prepared as she participates in many drives/donations, including the annual Kits for Kidz donation event in Region 7.

Viola’s dedication and passion for helping homeless and foster students is evident to those working with her. Personally, I correspond frequently with Viola and she is always putting students first. This last year has been challenging due to COVID-19 and she has made sure all of her students are being cared for when it comes to school and community services. Viola exemplifies what the role of a liaison should be and is very deserving of this award.

Nominated by Jeff Zimmerman, ECYEH and Foster Care Region 7 Coordinator

Region 8: Diane C. Meyer

Quality Assurance Program Specialist II
Bucks County Children and Youth
Furlong, Pennsylvania

[Elizabeth Aldridge:] Ms. Meyer is a tireless advocate for the education of our students who are in foster care. I have had the pleasure of doing more than two dozen Best Interest Determination (BID) meetings with Ms. Meyer, and she is compassionate and detail-oriented. She works collaboratively with districts to make sure students receive the best possible care in placement. In one instance where a change in living arrangement meant a student could no longer attend a technical school because of distance, Ms. Meyer went back to the drawing board to come up with an option that could provide that consistency in education. Both the students in foster care and the district liaisons are lucky to be working with Ms. Meyer.

[Kathy Birsa:] The word “advocate” describes exactly what Diane is for the youth that have been placed in foster care in Bucks County. In addition to her role as Quality Assurance Program Specialist II for Bucks County Children and Youth Agency, she is the County Children and Youth Point of Contact for Region 8, CWRC training liaison (5 years), Pennsylvania Sustaining Change group (5 years), Shop Steward for PSSU (28 years), Agency Liaison for the nonprofit organization Bucks For Kids that provides enrichment activities for youth in foster care and she is on the Advisory Board for Family Services Association.

Diane works with approximately 16 school districts in Bucks County as the County Children and Youth Point of Contact, making sure that foster care students are receiving the attention they need in order be successful in school. She collaborates with the districts to make sure that transportation is provided and that students are remaining in their school of origin to ensure school stability.

I have had many opportunities to work with Diane during the past year that I have been the Regional Coordinator for Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care. Diane was actually the first CCYA Point of Contact I reached out to meet with when I started the position. She is an excellent resource of information, always willing to share her wealth of knowledge. Asked what she likes most about her job, Diane answered, “Getting to work with so many talented people across so many agencies and programs so dedicated to helping the families and children of Bucks County to remain safe and have what they need to meet their potential.”

Nominated by Elizabeth A. Aldridge, Director Student Services and Kathy Birsa, Foster Care Region 8 Coordinator

Statewide: Jennifer Pokempner

Senior Attorney
Juvenile Law Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ms. Jennifer Pokempner is a senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center, which is a statewide organization which advocates for the rights, dignity, equity and opportunity for youth in the child welfare and justice systems. Their vision is that there is a world that affirms the unique and developmentally distinct qualities of youth, guarantees fair and equitable treatment, and ensures opportunities for successful adulthood. Not only does her work focus on the needs of foster youth but elevates the racial and ethnic disaggregation within this population and seeks to eliminate structural, institutional, and personal racist policies. She focuses her work on improving outcomes and opportunities for older youth in the foster care system through policy and legal advocacy at the local, state, and national levels. In addition to be a well-recognized advocate statewide in elevating the needs for children and youth in the foster care system, Ms. Pokempner is additionally a well-known and a highly sought federal advocate in this arena as well.

Ms. Pokempner has dedicated her life’s mission to improving the lives of youth in foster care, with focus significantly on youth education from public schools, congregate care programs, and post-secondary education. She also seeks to elevate policies that uplift youth from poverty and avoids homelessness. This is inclusive of finding career pathways so that foster youth can be achieving and self-sufficient adults. Some of her advocacy strategies include state and federal legislative reforms, elevating fiscal needs, partnership with the administration and serving on state and national committees and coalitions. Her tireless work has led to many improved changes to the child welfare system, with just a few of her most recent achievements noted:

Fostering Independence Through Education. This state legislation was a personal mission with her dedicating over a decade of her work to fight for the passage. This legislation provides for a tuition waiver for current and former foster youth, to enable them to eliminate financial barriers to completing college or post-secondary education training.

Expansion of after care services and education and training voucher through the provision of the Family First Prevention Services Act. As a lead contributor to the statewide Chafee workgroup, her fierce advocacy helped persuade the Office of Children, Youth, and Families to extend the age of eligibility for aftercare and education and training vouchers. This program will allow additional case management to foster youth to identify means to avoid homelessness, identify career preparation, and continuing education. Furthermore, it expands eligibility for former foster youth to continue with college or career training.

Prevention of homelessness through elevating the needs for primary prevention services, kinship care, and permanency for foster youth. She has been a lead in a multitude of state and national workgroups and committees which seek to identify barriers to children and youth remaining in their home, if in placement is necessary being afforded the opportunity to be placed with kin, and seeking to achieve family-based permanency. One of the most elevated examples of her work was the recent passage of HB 856 of 2019, which provides subsidies to adoptive and guardianship caregivers who enter agreements to provide permanency to older youth. We know that youth who are placed in family settings (primarily with kin) and achieve permanency with those caregivers are less likely to be homeless, jobless, or drop out of school.

Focusing on the impact of COVID-19 and the educational needs of foster youth. She has worked tirelessly on developing a multitude of tools and fact sheets to assist youth with re-entering the public education system or higher education. These resources provide technical assistance so that no youth or caregiver needs to feel alone in the process of ensuring educational stability.

Elevating resources provided through HUD to ensure that youth are not homeless. She has partnered with the Administration of Children and Families, and our state HUD program to providing resources and eliminating barriers to assist older youth with accessing the necessary resources to prevent homelessness. These are just a few examples of the many for which Ms. Pokempner has been a lead advocate or partner on elevating. I could list many, many more, as her work is never complete, and she is consistently finding ways to improve the system to ensure that foster youth, delinquent youth, and homeless youth are provided the same opportunities for success as their peers in the general population. I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving for this award that she is.

Nominated by Rachael Miller, Policy Director, Child Welfare and K-12 Education, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children