Last time I introduced you to Lisa Doyle, and the story within a story: the book Dear Lois. This book plays a vital role in the formation of the non-profit Chosen, Inc. which supports adoptive and foster families in the greater Milwaukee area.
As a board member, Lisa aided the co-founders in developing Chosen, Inc. She was inspired by her own rough years in foster care and by her mantra:
“One day I would like to teach a few people
many and beautiful things
that will help them teach a few people.”
–unknown, A Teacher’s Prayer
And to Lisa, beauty is leaving people better than how you find them.
1. After the initial vision and motivation for filing for a non-profit status, what were your next steps?
Lisa: First we had to determine the needs. Jason, Mali, Tom, and Karen formed two focus groups of professionals and interested parties, about thirty people. They ran their ideas past social workers and representatives of foster care organizations. This gave them helpful feedback for proceeding and deciding where to focus their energies. Out of these two groups came the rest of the board.
2. How is Chosen different from any other non-profits in the Milwaukee area? What does it provide for adoptive and foster families that others don’t?
1) Physical needs through the Family Closet
2) Educational outreach to the community to bring awareness
3) A community of support surrounding these families
How does it meet these needs?
1) The Family Closet.
Lisa: The majority of kids come from broken, horrific circumstances, often in an emergency situation. They might arrive at foster car with only the clothes on their backs, dirty and worn, and nothing else. This puts additional financial strain on a foster family, for the family must then purchase these things out of pocket.
The Family Closet is full of donated clothing for kids of all ages. Foster parents can visit anytime by appointment. As long as a copy of their foster license number is on file, they can swap out or receive fresh items. Guardianship families also qualify, with a referral by a social worker.
Adoptive families are given items one time. Foster families can return as their needs change.
2) Education and Awareness. Through her speaking engagements, Karen is the voice of Chosen, Inc. as she discusses her book Dear Lois and shares the needs. One need is for more foster care families. Currently, when no family is available, two choices exist for placing displaced youngsters: a group home or juvenile detention, even if the child has done nothing wrong. Hopefully, more families will choose to foster, and/or learn how to help in other ways (below).
3) Ongoing vision, growth, and outreach. The board hosts monthly events to bring families together for emotional support, connecting them to the larger community that ministers to them.
3. What kind of growth have you experienced?
Lisa: We currently reach five counties. In Nov., 2017, there were 21 families and 70 kids. As of March, 2018, we’re up to 90 families. We acquired office space and room for The Family Closet on Wisconsin Avenue in Waukesha. We’ve already outgrown it and have off-site storage. We hope to find a larger place between Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties.
4. What are some of those monthly events?
Lisa: The events are needs-driven, geared to children ages 5 – 9 but also address older kids and teens. We try to tailor each event to reach all ages.
March–clothing sorting for the Family Closet
May–the 2nd annual fund-raising walk
June–story time, books, and puppets
July–field day; students will receive backpacks and school supplies
August–inventory event combined with a movie night, getting backpacks for school, and making cars out of cardboard boxes
October–preparation for the Gala
November 9–Gala fund-raiser with dinner and a silent auction
December–Toy-palooza. Every foster child will receive a new wrapped gift, plus coats, hats, boots, scarves, and mittens
5. Who is planning and running these events?
Lisa: Everything is currently board-run. Whether visionaries or doers, each member is hands-on for now. The board members comprise three committees: Finance, Fund-raising, and Programming, each meeting once a month. The hope is to bring more volunteers into the committees so that the board can focus on vision and expansion, rather than the nitty gritty.
6. What setbacks did you have along the way?
Lisa: There’ve been no huge setbacks but we’ve been restricted by lack of funding. With no deep pockets or big company support, this endeavor is funded by private donations from individuals who believe in our mission and a few small grants. Gradually, we’re hitting all of our goals, but lack of money keeps us from accomplishing more.
7. What kind of fund-raising efforts have you done?
• Besides Dear Lois book sales, we’ve had two annual walks in May 2017 and 2018. Various donors gave T-shirts and helped defray expenses.
• We had Panera, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Red Robin nights, where a certain percentage of proceeds were given to Chosen, Inc.
• Community events to support Chosen, Inc:
• We had a book drive, accumulating new Usborn books for the Family Closet bookshelves for foster kids.
• The board was fortunate to obtain a young man Nathan who volunteers to do our grant-writing, having majored in grant-writing in college. Finding the right place to apply for a grant is half the battle. We don’t qualify for some because we use the word Christ in our mission statement. Also, grants are very specific, not to be used for bills or salary. We are in the process of applying to places that give adoption donations.
8. What are the current challenges?
Lisa: Growth has happened so fast that the board’s time and energy goes to meeting the present needs. Now we’re reflecting on last year’s accomplishments and met needs, asking how we can duplicate our success and continue moving forward.
Two of those ways is by fund-raising and spreading the word. We take full advantage of Facebook, Instagram, and word of mouth (see links below). By speaking to multiple agencies and social workers, we’ve acquired partners in the greater Milwaukee Area: Special Beginnings, Saint A’s, Children’s Hospital, Waukesha Health and Human Services, Waukesha Child Protection Services, Milwaukee Child Protection Services, Special Children’s Adoption, Evangelical Family and Christian Association (EFCA), and Bethany Adoption Agency.
Since Mali and Jason have four foster children, this gave us an in to these places.
Additionally, we hope to work alongside local churches who can host events or seminars and/or work with needy families in their congregations and neighborhoods. Currently on board are Cornerstone Church in Delafield, Mother of Pre-schoolers (MOPS) at Elmbrook Church, and Waukesha Bible Church.
We also have a good relationship with the Women’s Center and Hope Center, both outreaches to the Waukesha homeless. Our overflow clothing items go to the Hope Center. Either place can refer foster or adoptive families to us.
9. What are your goals for the next year, five years, and beyond?
- Find a larger office and Family Closet space between Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties.
- We want to allocate funds for families to get kids involved with park and rec sports and other activities so expenses don’t have to come out of pocket.
- Hire a staff person this year. We need someone to do intake, take phone calls, manage volunteers, and do paperwork in order to free up the board to continue planning.
- We are thinking big. We envision that Chosen, Inc. will become a national organization to support and empower adoptive and foster families nationwide.
10. How can people best support Chosen, Inc.?
People can support us with prayer, money, donations, and volunteering.
- Donate items. The only used items we accept are clothing, shoes, books, and puzzles. Toys, underwear, and hygiene items must be new.
- Share with others: our website, Facebook page, Instagram, etc.
- Church partnerships. Ask your church how to come alongside us. If you’re in the area, your church can host events and educational seminars.
- Boxes of Blessings. Whether you’re close or far, you and your church can put together Boxes of Blessings and send them from anywhere in the country.
- Join our annual walk and fund-raisers.
- Volunteer. See our website: www.choseninlove.org
11. How can people open a Chosen, Inc. chapter in their own communities?
Contact us! See the website.
12. What advice do you have for others who want to start non-profits?
Gather people into a focus group for feedback to confirm your vision. Is there a need? Does it have merit? Or are you re-inventing the wheel? Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will work. Regardless, chase your dream. Join with other organizations doing a similar thing. Streamline your efforts with others to increase their impact.
Do you have an idea for a non-profit that you’d like to see, support, or start up? Or is there a current one you’re passionate about?
I’d love to hear from you!