GALA TRIBUTE 2024
and Art From the Heart Art Auction
Thank you to all our supporters for being a part of the 2024 Foster Care Aware Gala hosted by Tidewater Friends of Foster Care. We were thrilled to have you celebrate the past year’s accomplishments and to help us to springboard a new year of significant impact.
By bringing together passionate individuals, communities, and resources, to address the challenges faced by foster youth, TFFC has and will continue to fulfill our MISSION of creating a brighter future for these children. It is through our collaborative efforts, that we create a transformative influence, reshaping the lives of those in foster care – A testament to the fact that, when we are united in purpose, we can help these deserving children achieve great things.
Celebrating Our Special Honorees
Our Partner of the Year
Our Partner of the Year is the First Star Old Dominion University Academy. First Star is a national organization that helps propel high-school-aged foster youth to successful adulthood through immersive experiences on college campuses across the Nation. TFFC was proud to be a catalyst in helping to bring a First Star Academy here to the Hampton Roads area and we have partnered with First Star at ODU to help bring this important programming to the foster youth we serve. For their incredible partnership and impact for emerging adults in foster care, we are proud to present the Partner of the Year Award to the First Star Old Dominion University Academy.
Our Statewide Impact Award Honoree
This year, TFFC presented a new award for Outstanding Statewide Impact. This prestigious accolade celebrates the tireless efforts of those implementing innovative policies, spearheading systemic reforms, and demonstrating unwavering dedication to improving the lives of children in foster care. We are pleased to announce that this recognition is given to Sixto Cancel, not only as a testament to his commitment to excellence but also as an inspiration for others to follow suit in creating positive change within the foster care community. Sixto Cancel is the CEO and founder of Think of Us. He led Think of Us through a rapid evolution, creating the Think of Us app in 2018; assisting the Federal government and 44 states in disbursing $400M in Federal pandemic relief funds to former foster youth in 2020-21; building the Lived Experience Network; and launching the Center for Lived Experience to center lived-experience in research and national policy-making in 2022.
Our Very Special Honoree
Dr. Mitchell is a Professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases as well as an adoptive father. In 2015, Dr. Mitchell approached the local Departments of Social Services to improve the overall quality of care and processes for the medical care of children in foster care. This new regiment of care meant that foster youth were seen more frequently, were first in line for mental health screenings, and had electronic medical records that their social workers could access on demand. Dr. Mitchell systematically trained local pediatric offices of CHKD to reduce barriers and standardize care. Many people don’t realize that traumatic childhood experiences can leave lasting health impacts, well into adulthood, that can actually shorten a person’s life. Intervening with the right medical care early on, can make all the difference for long-term health. We are proud to recognize Dr. Douglas Mitchell for this incredible contribution to the wellbeing of foster youth.
An Evening of Amazing Speakers
Dan Keller is a Field Supervisor with the Commonwealth Building Materials company. He is committed to giving back to his community and has spent countless hours volunteering in ways that support children. In 2018, Dan was recognized as an Angel in Adoption by Senator Mark Warner for his demonstrated commitment to children’s well-being and the betterment of the child welfare system. Dan lives in Chesapeake with his wife of 23 years, Tracy and is the father of five children, including four adopted through foster care.
Rudy Reyes is an American conservationist, writer, actor, motivational speaker, and former force reconnaissance Marine. He is best known for portraying himself in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill. Rudy personifies a story of perseverance and triumph over adversity. As a child, Rudy experienced extreme poverty. He was raised by his grandparents, until both passed in the same year when he was 5 years old. He spent the next few years being shuffled between relatives and eventually was placed in the Omaha Home for Boys in Nebraska. At 17, Rudy emancipated himself and took custody of his two younger brothers, after which he moved to Kansas City, Missouri to start his incredible journey to become who he is today.
The Awardees of the Night
Artist of the Year
Sury is the creator of Pieza de Alegria (Piece of Joy) and our first-place winner in this year’s Art From the Heart competition. Sury is an 8th grader who participates in our tutoring program. She enjoys music, journaling, hiking, crafts, cooking, and is an incredibly talented artist!
Volunteer of the Year
This year we recognized, Ms. Toni Taylor, a volunteer who has gone above and beyond, and without whom we could not serve so many children. Toni has selflessly donated hundreds of hours to our gifting program ensuring that every toy or gift pulled from our gift closet is wrapped with love so our children feel cherished and valued on birthdays and holidays.
Tutor of the Year
Shelia has been a special education teacher for 34 years. She has worked with over 30 of our foster care students since joining our team in 2017, providing over 2500 hours of instruction. She is a true advocate for all of her students, going above and beyond in providing support for them and their families, so students can succeed and their parents have effective tools to support their youth at home and in school.
Outstanding Youth Achievement
We are excited to announce the Outstanding Youth Achievement award this year was presented to Mystie Sharp for her incredible accomplishments.
Over the last 4 years, we have witnessed a transformation in Mystie. When we first met her, we were granting a special birthday wish for her 16th birthday. She wanted a 3 wheel bike. A local bike shop (Hund’s Recyclery) built a bike specifically for Mystie. When we delivered it to her, she immediately hopped on and rode down the street, in the rain! Her foster mom commented it was the best gift (now surpassing the laptop we had given her). Around that same time, in May of 2020 she began participating in our tutoring program when she was in 11th grade and earning D’s. She was determined to succeed and improve her grades. She continued to participate in tutoring, attended summer school and worked extremely hard. By the end of her senior year, she had achieved her goals- her grades were all A’s and she graduated on time! She attends Thomas Nelson Community College and continues to thrive academically. To date she has received 432 hours of tutoring, an investment that has cost TFFC approximately $14k, and for Mystie it has been an investment that is priceless.
We are proud to report that Mystie has obtained her driver’s license and is living on her own, as part of the Independent Living Program. She is accomplishing her goals and has a bright future ahead and we are thrilled to have been a part of this journey.
A Few Final Words
A Few Final Words
In Tidewater alone, there are over 1000 children in foster care each year. We want each and every one of them to be connected to loving families and support systems that can allow them to thrive. This requires a “Community that Cares” to help TFFC and our social service partners to create awareness, to recruit more prospective foster families and family supporters, and to provide more services, like Academic Tutoring, YMCA memberships, Summer Camps, and much more for these kids.
Thanks to your generosity, since 2016 TFFC has been able to serve over 3200 children:
46,000 hours of Individualized Tutoring for 717 Students
648 YMCA family memberships for 921 foster youth and over 2800 family members
787 Extracurricular Activities for 381 Foster Children
1450 Weeks of Summer Camp for 302 Campers
8,658 Birthday and Holiday Wish lists!
We’ve engaged over 3000 foster parents, advocates and supporters during our 7.5 years in service
Words cannot express the depth of our gratitude for all of everyone who has made all this incredible work possible.