Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Close Encounter

Senator Hillary Clinton was honored at the Friends of National Service Reception last night for her life-long dedication to citizen service and for outstanding leadership in advancing service as a civic commitment and legislative priority. I had the opportunity to speak to her as she slipped out of the room. I thanked her for her support of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (due to be reintroduced March 15th - watch this space!). She was very enthusiastic and thanked me repeatedly for mentioning it to her: call me optimistic, but I really think this could be the year! Which reminds me - here's a picture of the two of us having our last 'close encounter' at one of GU's Hill briefings!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lost Generation

The founder of The Ark Foundation of Africa, Rhoi Wangila, and the program manager, Jennifer Sleboda, came to GU today to tell us about their important work in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Rhoi is pictured here with some of the Maasai children she works with.

I had heard about Rhoi’s work, but it was incredibly moving to hear her tell the story of the birth of Ark. She fled Uganda in the 1980s after several of her family members were murdered during the brutal regime of Idi Amin. Now a US citizen, she is determined to help her beloved home as it struggles with the ravages of HIV and AIDS. She explained how AIDS, like civil war, can rob a country of its strongest generation, leaving the elderly alone to care for the young. She knows this from personal experience: thirty of her first cousins, all professional men and women, have died of HIV/AIDS.

Rhoi gives Americans a unique opportunity to help by adopting an African grandparent family struggling to care for their grandchildren orphaned by HIV and AIDS. The grandparents helped by the Adopt a Grandparent program are caring for an average of five orphans, but some have as many as eighteen children relying on them for their most basic needs.

The Ark Foundation specializes in helping people to help themselves. Another program, Teens Against Aids, trains young orphans as peer educators and gives them the resources they need to go out into the community as educators, as helpers, as friends. Teens Against Aids are acting as mentors to kids whose parents have died. They also help the grandparents raising those kids. Just as in the US, grandparents raising grandchildren can become isolated: a Teens Against Aids volunteer can watch their grandchildren so they can have the time to see their friends or go to the church. A volunteer can help around the home too – just doing the washing for seven children by hand is a daunting task for many older grandparents.

If you want to hear more about this amazing organization, and Rhoi’s work, look at, or go to to buy her book – ‘Africa, AIDS Orphans and their Grandparents’.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Famous For DC (and Massachusetts!)

While stalking the corridors of Capitol Hill on behalf of children in foster care, I got the chance to shake Senator John Kerry's hand. Ever ready, I took the opportunity to give him my 'elevator pitch'. Every little bit helps, right?

Meth Remediation

The Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act of 2007 comes to the floor of the House of Representatives this week. It calls for more research on the environmental and health impacts of former meth labs. Does the danger linger after the lab is gone? I know that it does. And the families affected often need our support for a long time too.

A very brave lady named Charlotte spoke at a briefing we held on the Hill last year, and explained how meth had affected her family, and how it could contaminate homes, as well as lives. She had been jailed for methamphetamine use. Her ex-husband was supposed to be caring for their children, April and Ashley. When the police arrested him for manufacturing meth, the girls got tested too. Ashley, the eldest, had meth in her body. It seeps into everything – furniture, wall paper, carpets, books, everything. And then it seeps into everyone who lives in the house. Her children had to leave behind everything they owned, because everything was contaminated with meth. So when Charlotte’s mother took her granddaughters in, they had nothing – no clothes, no toys, no books… no parents. Grandfamilies like this one know just how important the research proposed in the Act could be.

Charlotte has been clean for three years now, and has her daughters back with her. She is incredibly grateful to her mother for caring for the girls when she wasn’t able to. Now she travels the country telling her story, warning youth groups, supporting prisoners and talking in schools.

Of course, it’s not just meth that can tear a family apart this way – there are as many causes as there are families in need. If you have a story of intergenerational triumph in adversity that you’d like to share, e-mail me.