Second Annual Community and Network Awards

January 25, 2011

Family Services of Metro Orlando held its second annual Community and Network Awards ceremony on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.  Among the award recipients were the parents of a celebrity athlete, an international corporation and a former foster youth.  Among the award recipients:

Dwight, Sr. and Sheryl Howard, who hosted a weeklong series of inspirational afterschool activities with disadvantaged and foster youth.  They followed that success by spending their Christmas Eve with 30 of our foster youth and taking one lucky winner to Los Angeles to watch their famous son, Dwight Howard, Jr. and the Orlando Magic, play against the Lakers. Most recently, they partnered with their son’s foundation to provide support and mentorship to over 40 foster local teens through the 2010 Summer Enrichment Camp.

IKEA, which worked with Family Services to identify and develop opportunities to support the Heart Gallery of Metro Orlando.  In 2010, IKEA agreed to provide their signature home furnishings for a redesign of the gallery with a more home-like feel.  Since this new design was unveiled in September, it has received highly positive reviews while generating donations and offers of volunteer support.  In fact, the new Heart Gallery has generated more attention to children awaiting adoption in just six months than was received over the preceding four years.

Gerry Glynn, a tremendous advocate for our community’s children.  In addition to his long service as a volunteer attorney ad litem for foster youth, he recently worked with us to develop a community taskforce after a developmentally disabled former foster youth was murdered through a series of unfortunate circumstances and poor personal choices.  The taskforce developed a series of practical guidelines to better the chances developmentally disabled youth age out of foster care have at succeeding on their own.

Case managers, Arlene Cruz, Jessica Rodriguez and Michelle McMahon, for outstanding service to protect vulnerable children and strengthen families.  Arlene, Jessica and Michelle are from child welfare agencies Devereux Florida, One Hope United and Children’s Home Society, respectively.

Director of the case management program at Youth and Family Alternatives , Brigitte Brown, for creating innovative solutions leading to meaningful positive change in the lives of children and families.

Family support worker, Asim Bhatti, from Children’s Home Society who volunteers his personal time to transport foster children to visits with their family members.

Former foster youth, Ashtavia Maddox, who never lets personal challenges diminish her voice which she uses in advocacy for youth in foster care and those at risk of entering foster care.  Her leadership in advocacy on behalf of others exemplifies our belief that everyone can lead.

In fulfillment of our commitment to create a better world for our children, we now use a sustainable bamboo design from Eco Promotional Products for our award plaques.  Eco even planted a tree on our behalf.  This tree will remove about 50 pounds of pollution from the global atmosphere every year, helping to create a cleaner environment for our children.

We congratulate all awardees and nominees for their outstanding service to the children and families of Central Florida.  Photos of the awards and awardees can be found at


Third Thursday at CityArts Factory with the Heart Gallery

January 11, 2011

Invitation to Third Thursday at CityArts Factory

Second Annual Community Network Awards Ceremony

January 11, 2011

Invitiation to Community Network Awards Ceremony

Household of Heroes

November 11, 2010
Wilson McEachern

Wilson McEachern

Long before he was a hero to his country, Wilson McEachern was a foster child in need of a hero of his own.

Today, he is many things: a Marine, a patriot and a hero. This past year during an IED explosion in Afghanistan, he assisted his Sergeant in pulling a fellow marine out of a flaming vehicle. Because of this brave action, as well as other combat leadership initiatives, he was given a meritorious battlefield promotion to the rank of Corporal.

Wilson met his adoptive parents when he was just three years old. Leigh and Pam McEachern already had a combined family of five teenagers when they began fostering children and were not interested in raising another family. But today, Wilson is the eldest of their eight adopted children and whole household is made up of heroes:

• Wilson’s younger adoptive brother, Christopher, is serving in the United States Army Reserves, and is scheduled for deployment to Iraq in the spring of 2011.
• Pam’s eldest biological daughter and her husband, who also served in the United States Army, have four adopted children.
• Pam’s youngest biological son and his wife recently earned their foster parenting license following the birth of their second child.
• Leigh and Pam have provided respite for other foster and adoptive families they know, as well as provided short-term care for nine local foster children through the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“My dad was in the military, so it was something I always thought I’d like to try doing,” said McEachern. “If I hadn’t been adopted, I could be on the street selling drugs right now; If I hadn’t been raised in the home I was raised in, my life could have been very different, but I am so thankful that it is what it is.”

The 21-year-old spent his formative years growing up in the Florida countryside surrounded by his family, while hunting deer, showing goats in 4H competitions and attending school around his kitchen table. After completing his high school degree at the early age of 16, he spent a semester at Seminole Community College. There he met a recruiter for the United States Marines and his sense of duty led him to join the armed forces following his eighteenth birthday.

Because of his adoption, Wilson now has three families – one with the McEacherns and his 13 siblings; one with his new wife, Bethany; and the other with the United States Marines.


October 26, 2010
A New Child Welfare Lead Agency is Selected to Negotiate with DCF to Serve Orange and Osceola Counties.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Department of Children and Families today announced its intent to negotiate exclusively with Community Based Care of Seminole to become the lead agency for child welfare services in Orange and Osceola Counties – the area currently served by Family Services of Metro Orlando.

Although DCF sought proposals for Orange and Osceola Counties only, Community Based Care of Seminole
proposed a tri-county system of child welfare services that included Seminole County. Family Services of Metro Orlando was prohibited by law from presenting an “equal opportunity” tri-county proposal.

“DCF’s decision today was not an indictment of our performance, which has been consistently strong, or of the value we have brought to our community,” said Grant Lacerte, chair of Family Services’ Board of Directors. “Family Services of Metro Orlando is a nationally accredited, successful and proven lead agency. We owe it to our community to bring our concerns forward.”

Family Services of Metro Orlando has completed record numbers of foster care adoptions in each year of its
existence and invests millions of dollars annually in child abuse prevention programs. It is the first accredited and successful lead agency for child welfare services in Florida to be replaced for reasons other than performance concerns. DCF has noted no performance deficits and has issued no corrective action requirements.

“While we are obviously disappointed, our hearts are really with the children who must undergo yet another transition in their lives which are already too filled with instability,” said Greg Kurth, CEO of Family Services of Metro Orlando. “The challenge for the next provider will be to move their ideas and proposals from paper to reality in this region with the least harmful disruption possible.”

Only West Virginia has a higher number of child abuse allegations per capita than Florida, and most of Florida’s allegations of child abuse originate in Orange and Osceola Counties, the region served by Family Services of Metro Orlando. It is one of the worst-funded in the nation, per capita, for child welfare services.

The announcement by DCF did not provide a rationale for the abrupt shift in direction.

Poverty Rates Hit a 51-Year High

October 20, 2010

The number of Americans in poverty reached a 51-year high according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Florida, more than 15% of children are now living in poverty, and Orange County poverty rates are among the highest in the state. This infographic from tells the story.

Mint Poverty Map

Child abuse is directly correlated with poverty rates, and we have seen an increase in the number of children entering the child protection system in Orange and Osceola Counties due to abuse and neglect over the past year. Unfortunately, rates of child abuse tend to increase as government funding for child protection decreases. Private sector funding is critical now more than ever to keep our children safe. Support our children today for a better, safer tomorrow.

Upcoming Events – October 2010

October 14, 2010

Please click here to view the October 2010 events calendar.