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written by Erica | 8323 Views | Rating: (0 rates)
HudsonValleyParents.com is proud to support the remarkable local charity St. John Bosco Child & Family Services at this year's HVP Fall Fest '09.  Erica Chase-Salerno (co-owner of the HVP site with husband, Mike) talks with the founder, a special woman who was inspired to start her organization after reading the newspaper one morning....

ECS:  Renee Fillette, you play many roles in life: mother, student, founder and executive director of St. John Bosco Child & Family Services. Can you tell us more about yourself and these roles? Where are you from? And what is your connection with Iceland? Does that heritage influence your work in any way?

RF:  As with so many of us, these roles all seem to blend together.  It's my mothering at home that fuels my instincts at work.  My doctoral studies in public service ignite and guide my decisions at work, and also lends itself to a rhythm of reading and writing alongside my children while they do their own homework and practice their music.  

I'm a homegrown New Paltz woman, and love it here more and more as the years wash over us.

My mother was born in Iceland and I have about 100 family members over there now.  I visit as often as I can, and I consulted with their ministry of education for about six years during which I visited several times a year.  My connection with my family, both in Iceland and in New Paltz are certainly at the core of who I am, and how I try to operate our homes at St. John's.  I grew up in an environment on unquestionable and unconditional love.  There is no circumstance that I could have imagined, or could yet imagine, that would distance me from them.  My heart bleeds for so many of our youth who, because of abandonment or severe family dysfunction, have never known this kind of nurturing and support.
ECS:  How did you come to the idea of creating your organization? How did you determine the name? Is it a religiously affiliated group?

RF: When I read the newspaper story of Daniel Funk, a 2-year-old murdered by his mother, I felt compelled to create an organization that welcomed the children of families in crises without judgment, rather with open arms and open hearts.  I met with the local social service directors and gleaned from them an understanding of which children and families needed the most help in our region, and what type of services they needed.  From that information, and from meetings with executive directors from other agencies, I was able to create a program that would meet the needs of children in our area.

No, we are not religiously affiliated.  The name, St. John Bosco (Don Bosco) was inspired by this man in Turrin Italy who, in the 1700's, made it his mission to bring young boys in from the streets and teach them the skills they needed to survive.  He led with the heart and conviction that as aspire to today.
ECS:  How is St. John Bosco Child & Family Services different from other foster care agencies in our area?

RF: There are many differences between our agency and those in our region.  First, we are over one hundred years younger than any other agency in our region. Second, we were able to approach parenting and care using a very personal and relationship-based approach that large organizations today try very hard to create for themselves.  He hugged our children in a time when many agencies did not allow 'PC' (physical contact).  We read to the little ones at night, cheered for them at their little league games, and went to extreme measured to ensure our teens did not feel stigmatized in school and community settings.  Most importantly, we are small and able to provide highly individualized support to each child and family in our care.
ECS:  What areas and populations do you serve in our community?

RF: Most of our children come from within a 60-mile radius, the majority being from Ulster and Orange counties.  
ECS:  Can you lead us through the process? How do you identify the needs of a given family, how do you offer the child and family support, and how do you assess when St. John's services are no longer necessary?

RF: Fortunately, and unfortunately, each child comes to us with many adults attached to them.  Local departments of social services identify youth who require our level of care and refer them to our program. If we have room available we meet with the child to discuss  the program.  We are considered a Hard To Place placement and are typically asked to take youth with very serious challenges who have an unsuccessful history of multiple placements in the foster care system, or children who have spent many years being raised in large facilities and who need to re-acclimate to community living.  The length of stay in our program varies from a few months to several years, depending on the child's needs and whether or not they have a family to return home to.  
ECS:  What are some of the more rewarding aspects of your work? What are some of the challenges you experience?

RF: The challenges are frequent and can be overwhelming. They range from funding issues to employee development and children in crises.  I can never anticipate where the day will lead me.  It can be as if we are on a roller coaster ride of emotions, elevated by each small triumph and weighted by each tragedy.  The rewards are many and beyond my ability to articulate.  It's an absolute privilege to earn the trust of these vulnerable youth, and an enormous responsibility.  To see them follow their chosen path, growing, laughing, and playing, fills our hearts.  To work alongside such brilliant and passionate people at St. John's who share a common vision of healing our youth is beyond inspiring.    
ECS:  How is your organization funded? How do you keep doing what you do? What are some of your seasonal as well as on-going needs that interested folks could help out with with?

RF: Our biggest need, beside the ongoing need for financial support, is the need for mentors for our youth.  Over 50% of the youth we serve are abandoned and without any family connection.  Volunteers to spend time and share their skills and resources with our residents are always in high demand.
ECS:  Members of HudsonValleyParents.com had a holiday clothing/gift drive for the St. John houses, and is proud to support St. John Bosco Child & Family Services again through our Fall Fest '09. Both organizations serve families of our area in different ways. How does it feel to connect with the members of HVP through partnerships like these?

RF: Of course we benefit from the contributions of HVP, but there is an enormous secondary gain for us that comes from knowing we have community support.  It's part of what propels us forward in our day to day work.  Thank you!!

About the author

Erica registered at hudsonvalleyparents.com on 01/24/06, 05:09 PM and has posted 6001 posts in the boards since then. Last visit was 03/30/17, 11:42 PM.

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