May 2014

Teen volunteer advocates for foster care and adoption

Tory Deluhery poses for a photograph before being interviewed by a local television station. Her topic was adoption and foster care.

Tory Deluhery, the current Miss Keystone’s Outstanding Teen, has been competing in pageants since she was 11 years old—nearly as long as her family has been fostering children. So when it came time to choose a platform to promote as she moved on to compete for the title of Miss America Outstanding Teen, it seemed only natural that she would select foster care and adoption.

“It is not something I just talk about, but also something I live every day,” says the 17-year-old Deluhery. “I think my platform is very important because foster care and adoption don’t get enough attention.”

Deluhery, whose family has fostered and adopted multiple children during the last 10 years, does everything she can to educate others on the topic.

“It was an honor to be part of something that big and influential in these children’s lives.”

“My goal is to increase awareness of foster care, educate people about what the needs are and, I hope, help more children get adopted before they age out of the foster-care system,” she says, adding that many people believe the only way they can help is through adoption. “I’m helping people understand there is another way as well.”

Deluhery, a self-proclaimed volunteer-aholic, started a “Princess for a Day” program at her local Salvation Army. Focused on building confidence in young girls, the program is offered to children while their foster parents attend meetings or training sessions.

Tory Deluhery, the current Miss Keystone’s Outstanding Teen, volunteers for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care

“Our goal for the day is to make them feel like a princess. We give them crowns and build confidence,” says Deluhery, who recently began a similar program for young boys called “Knight for a Night.” “We have kids who are very shy and nervous when they arrive but by the time they leave at the end of the day, they are smiling, laughing and introducing themselves to others.”

Deluhery, who has begun volunteering for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, offered her time and efforts at a recent adoption social and matching event, held on the campus of The Lutheran Home at Topton, because she was attracted to the program’s concept of bringing foster children together with potential adoptive families.

“When I heard about it, I instantly wanted to hop on board and be part of it,” she says. “It was an honor to be part of something that big and influential in these children’s lives.”

Before the program was over Deluhery was thinking of ways she could help expand the idea to a wider group of people. “We talked about getting the Salvation Army involved and mixing the groups together to make it a big event,” she says.

“That way, more children can really find their forever homes.”

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Education key to success – for both youth-service participants and staff members

Lisa Kilpatrick of Diakon Youth Services' Bridge Program has benefited from the organization's Tuition Assistance Program promoting staff education.

Lisa Kilpatrick, program manager for Diakon's Bridge Program in Delaware County, Pa., is the proud new recipient of a master’s degree in Public Administration from West Chester University—thanks in part to Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries’s Tuition Assistance Program.

Previously a juvenile caseworker at Diakon’s Media, Pa., office, she began pursuing her master’s in the fall of 2010, taking two or three classes each year while continuing to work full-time. The Bridge Program helps adolescents build a foundation of self-discipline, education or job training, and respect for family, teachers, the law, and self.

“There were occasions when it was a little difficult to balance work and school, but it really wasn't too bad," Kilpatrick says. “I thought the budgeting class was going to be very challenging, but it was more creative and fun than I thought it would be."

"It really enhanced the skills and knowledge that I already have and it'll make me a better leader for our program."

Her personal budgeting was made a bit easier by Diakon's Tuition Assistance Program, which paid for two of her classes each year, which she terms “a huge help financially.” TAP is designed to assist Diakon staff in furthering their work-related educations. Since 2001, 365 employees have benefited from TAP educational funds, with support totaling $716,000. During 2013, Diakon paid $41,650 in tuition costs for eligible employees.

In fact, Kilpatrick's concentration in non-profit administration will go a long way toward helping her on the job, she believes. "It really enhanced the skills and knowledge that I already have and it'll make me a better leader for our program." Among courses she found particularly useful were an organizational theory class, which focuses on management skills; a strategic management class about planning for the future; and the budgeting class.
   
As a result of studies, for example, in research methodology, she'd like to make the Bridge Program's pre- and post-testing for children more evidence-based.

"We're contracted through the county's juvenile justice system, so it's important to be able to show that the kids are making progress. We have questions on which the youths rate themselves when they start the program and again at the end, so that we can see the changes that result—their goals, how they deal with frustration, anger management, decision-making, and so on. And this evidence offers insight into how the program is working."

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