“There are opportunities where something bad has happened that’s completely beyond these children; this is not their fault… And it’s our job as a society and as a community to take care of them.” –Richard Villasana
While the majority of the world lives within the comfort of their homes and families, thousands of children are living in the cold and darkness of a doomed tomorrow. We are surrounded by a snowballing number of foster kids and it’s becoming a worldwide concern. Young ones, even foster kids, are meant to enjoy the innocence and beauty of childhood. Today’s podcast sends out a message of hope for these children. Our guest, Richard Villasana, shares the unspoken plights that foster kids battle everyday and how his non-profit helps them find their family. It’s all about the children. They reserve the right for a bright future as much as we do. Thus, this episode is a call to action for everyone. The responsibility and privilege of making a change is ours.
Listen to the podcast here:
01:28 The Story of Veronica
03:20 What Richard Can Do that Others Can’t
09:18 The Search Process
15:18 Forever Homes 1993 and Beyond
26:47 The Worst Problems for Foster Kids
31:10 Why Kids Run From Foster Care
40:32 The Immigrant Situation
43:04 How You Can Help
There is no better place that a kid should be than in the warmth and protection of a family. Sadly, this is not true for every child. Join @myexpectation as he sits with @FAMILYFINDINGMX and learn how you can give hope for these children.… Click To Tweet
“You can’t let the bad get you down, you cannot.” –Richard Villasana
“Sometimes we’re in a person’s life for just a little bit of time… And sometimes I think we discount how powerful we can be in a person’s life, even if it’s for a few days or a few months, we can make this incredible impact on that person.” –Richard Villasana
“When people get results or outcomes that are positive and everything, it rejuvenate your workforce every time you do it. It would be hard to walk away from it when it’s so rewarding.” –Art Costello
“Before we try to save the world, we’ve got to save our own kids. And we’ve got to make it better for these foster kids.” –Richard Villasana
“Helping them before they get out is the smart way to handle; not once they’re on the street.” –Richard Villasana
“If you don’t talk about what’s wrong, you can’t fix it. Because you’ve got to put it under the light so that you can address those problems.” –Richard Villasana
“It’s all about the children. The more children we can help, it’s going to save them from the life that they could potentially have… and can give them a better, brighter future.” –Richard Villasana
“There are opportunities where something bad has happened that’s completely beyond these children; this is not their fault… And it’s our job as a society and as a community to take care of them.” –Richard Villasana
Meet Richard Villasana
Richard Villasana had an array of incredible skills but most notable of them, is his ability to find relevant information and fast. Admirably, he uses this exceptional talent in helping foster kids find their ‘forever home’. Richard is the founder of a non-profit called, Forever Homes for Foster Kids, a leading international authority on immigration issues and foster families. For more than two decades, Richard and his team have reunited countless immigrants and foster children with their families across and out of the US. For this amazingly kind-hearted man, there is no greater joy than seeing these kids find a place where they truly belong.
Art Costello: Welcome to the Shower Epiphanies Podcast. Today, I am not only thrilled but honored to have somebody I have a great deal of admiration for and the work he does. Richard Villasana is an incredible founder of Forever Homes for Foster Kids and for those of you who know me, you know that that is near and dear to my heart. He’s a leading international authority on immigration issues and foster families. A proud Navy veteran. Richard has been featured on CNN International, Univision, AP News, ABC TV, Costco Connections, Washington Post and EFE, the world’s largest Spanish language media company. He is a columnist with Foster Focus Magazine and then international speaker. He was honored as the California hero. He has been also translated for the United Nations, and for 25 years, his nonprofit has worked with government agencies across the country to unite immigrant and foster children with their families. I can’t thank you enough, Richard, for the work you do. It brings me to my knees and I’ll tell you that and I can’t wait for our audience to hear your story.
Richard Villasana: Well, thank you very much Art, and certainly a pleasure to be here for, you know, you and others who are listening. Let me kind of paint a picture for you. Veronica is 15 years old, she’s living with her father, just like any other teenagers she’s thinking about the weekend, junior year, her whole life just changed. Her father gets sent to prison and she goes into foster care. Now agencies take time to look for relatives, they can only find one, it’s uncle, but he died three years ago. Now when she ages out at 18, that means when the foster care system horses around, her likelihood is that she’ll become homeless. She’ll probably turn to crime to, you know, for money, for food, and a place to live where she could up never prison, or she could become a sex trafficking victim as little as six hours. That’s her possible future and, probable future. Now adoption, she has a less than 1% chance of being adopted. Her real only hope is if someone could find her mother, her mother moved outside the US. So desperate, the agency contacted my nonprofit, we went into action. Three weeks later we found her mother, her mother let us know about two aunts that were living in Houston and that’s where Veronica is now living. She’s in Houston back in school, thinking about things that most teenagers should be thinking about, or life is back on track, and she’s with people who love her. That’s the work that I do.
Art Costello: God bless you. I mean, because that is, in itself when you save just one life, but I know you’ve saved a lot more than just Veronica and that is what is so impressive about what you do. And so selfless, selfless, you’re selfless.
Richard Villasana: Thank you Art, and doing it for 25 years, I probably don’t sound it, but let me take you back into how did I get into this? I get asked that a lot. So I got out of the military, I was in the Navy, and I decided to go into international business, and I spent a number of years there. I was very lucky to have a very powerful mentor. His name was Antwan Morrison, he had been all over the world, and one day he comes to my desk and he has a piece of paper. He says: “I need you to find Barry.” I don’t know his last name, maybe Johnson. He said: “He works at the Department of Commerce.” Now the Department of Commerce is a huge organization and Barry also worked in Washington, DC, that’s all Antwan had. He said: “Do your best, see what you can find.” Now this is pre-google, and for anyone listening that means no search engines it’s all paper. So later I drop off the piece of paper on his desk, and he says: “What’s this?” I said: “That’s the phone number for Barry.” He looks his watch. He said: “Well, I asked you for this information five minutes ago.” I said: “Well, I’m sorry, I tried to be fast.” He said: “No, you don’t get it. It was just five minutes.” I said: “Well yeah, and I’m ready to leave, job done.” And he’s like: “No, you come back here and explain how did you do this?” I said: “Well, I called Suzanne at the economic development center. She directed me to John. I talked to John for a minute and he got me over to Kate, and Kate gave me the number.” And I’m still ready to leave cause job done. And he’s like: “You don’t get it, nobody does this.” And I’m like: “I do, I’m still ready to leave.” And he’s like: “You’re not listening to me.” And I was lucky enough to have spent enough time around to this man. Then when he said that phrase, it’s kind of like, when you’re called by your full name, you know you’re either in trouble or you better pay attention. So I go back to the desk and now I’m trying to be calm and pay attention: “Okay, what am I missing?” And he says, reminds me of his background and this man had worked in Europe and American, whose who he’d worked for the DOD, he’d worked for governments. And he says: “You know my background?” I’m like: “Yes.” And he says: “Then when I say, I’ve never met anyone who can do what you just did, that special.”
Art Costello: Ehm.
Richard Villasana: And if he had not pointed that out. I told him: “I do it all the time.” He says: “That’s the problem. You do it all the time. Nobody else does this.” And that was one of two very important conversations I had that made me realize that I had this gift of taking information that some people look at and don’t see anything, or people look at and don’t put the pieces together, and I put the pieces together. And fast forward to about 13 years ago, I got a call, I’m helping foster children, but I’m doing other things. I got this call from a gentleman, he says: “I’ve been following your career and following it for years. Love your work, helping a lot of kids. We need to talk.” And his name is Kevin Campbell. And he goes on to explain that he created this idea when kids go into foster care, agencies should find their relatives, and not just one relative, a lot of relatives. So by the time you get 10, 20, 40 relatives, somebody probably will put their hand up and say: “I’ll take the child, I’ll take my nephew, or my grandchild.” And get them out of the system. He said: “Here’s a problem. If the relatives don’t live in the US anymore, nobody’s looking for them. Or if they are, they’re not very good at it, but you are and we need someone like you to help those children.” And art, you mentioned Veronica, there are 90,000 Veronica’s who have this problem that a relative, or a bunch of relatives are not living in the US and those are the people that I helped.
Art Costello: Wow, that’s truly amazing. Can you tell us how the process works? Who request your help? I mean, the kids can’t do it. It’s gotta be the agency, right? That reaches out to you. How does that work?
Richard Villasana: So again, when a child comes into the foster care system, the agency immediately starts to, you’ll talk to the child, find out all the information about their relatives, and they may have only one parent like Veronica did, living with them. And they try to get as much information as possible. And then they go to the databases, or some huge databases in the US and they try to look for the aunts, and uncles, and grandparents. If they hit a block, or you know, struggled to figure out what to do next, then a lot of those agencies will contract a third party nonprofit like ours. And so, we get contacted from all over the country, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, California, and counties will call us up and say, I’ve got to this week, you know, I’ve got a child, they’re in foster care, mother’s living, or the father’s living outside the US and Mexico. And I say Mexico because we get a lot of those just because we’re next to Mexico and Canada. So that’s how we get these cases. They come in from all over when they need that extra help.
Art Costello: How do you find somebody in Mexico? Because I mean, I’ve been to Mexico, I’ve traveled through it. I know that some areas, you know, you’re lucky if you could find a phone no less, you know, any other way to find a research somebody. Yeah, I mean, how do you do that?
Richard Villasana: Well, you’re right. And I have been in some of those towns where there’s only one phone because the cell service is so poor, or Sprint or AT&T decided it wasn’t worth their time to have satellite service or phone service. So you’re right, there’s only one phone booth and that’s what everyone uses. The answer though, it’s more than one solution. It can be working with the federal government, the state government, local entities, other nonprofits. It really depends upon, and we also, after 25 years, we have our own information sources that we’ve created that help us to do this work. And because of that, we can do it faster than a lot of people. So, someone in California might be able to find someone’s relatives in Mexico, they be in Jalisco, that’s the name of a state where Guadalajara is, or in Mexico city. But because they don’t do it every day, it may take them four times longer than we can because we do it day in and day out. So of course we’re fast, we’re quick, and we know who to call and they know us. So we kept through the red tape. We don’t like to work with embassies and consulates, they’re wonderful people, but slow because this is not part of their job description.
Art Costello: They’re bureaucracies, and bureaucracies move slow, they just don’t move fast. Do you ever get pushback from other governments or our own government? Really, I could see where you could get, you know, that could happen. You know, you could get pushback from people.
Richard Villasana: The pushback we get is more for inside US. This is a terrible thing, but you probably have an idea when you think foster care that everybody’s on board and everybody is pushing 110%, and sadly that’s not true. You have case workers who have burnout, and look for the most part, everyone I’ve ever worked with in social services had been caring, dedicated people who want to help these children. Sure there’s a few bad apples, but in general, most of them want to, but they are super overworked. And so the pushback we get, maybe they feel that they don’t have enough budget, even though what we do is usually pro bono, the short answer for that, it’s free. It doesn’t get cheaper than free, but still we’ll get pushed back because somebody feels we’re stepping on their toes. We might take their job. Someone gets concerned for, I don’t know, whatever reason, because at the end of the day, it’s about the children. It’s not about size or complicity. It’s about Veronica, back with her relatives, back in school, she’s safe and she’s not going to be on the streets at 18, and the other 90,000 children like her that we can work with. That’s the job. That’s our mission. But yes, we do get people who for a variety of reasons, that we’ll never know the side not to have us help.
Art Costello: I’m going to take you back to 1993, when you started Forever Homes for Foster Kids. 1993, did you ever think that it would progress 20 some years, five years later to where it is now?
Richard Villasana: Absolutely not. And let me tell you Art, you probably have heard being pulled into something. I mean, there are some people at 16 they wake up and say: “I’m going to be an accountant, and I’m gonna be the best accountant ever in San Diego.” And I love those people because they know exactly what they’re going to do for the rest of their life. I was not one of those people. I was good at many things, so I had a terrible time figuring out where I wanted to settle. And in 1993, I was doing international marketing and I found people that helped me, but I wasn’t looking to start a career, so definitely not. What happened is I started finding people professionally, and then someone said: “Could you find a relative?” And I found their relatives. Then someone else heard about it and asked me if I could find their relatives. And then someone wanted me to find a government official to help them out because they had known them in high school. And then next thing I know I’m getting phone calls from people and I’m saying: “I don’t do this. No, you’ve got the wrong people.” I really was not looking to do this initially in part until Antwan pointed it out to me. And finally after phone calls like that, I thought maybe I should do something. I wish I could tell you with some real divine touch, or you know, I heard the word, it wasn’t like that.
Art Costello: No epiphany, it just happened slowly. Yeah, I can understand it, you know, in 1966 when I was in Vietnam, we were coming through a village and I ran into a little girl in an orphanage or Catholic orphanage in this little village where we were coming through. And to make a long story short, I tried, I helped support her for two years after I came home in 1968 on the Vietcong during the Tet offensive took over the whole area and they use the orphanages as a human shield between the Marines and the North Vietnamese, and we think she was lost. I’d like to someday find out. But anyway, I tried to bring her home with me, in 1966 she was nine years old, I was 18 and I was not married in the Marine Corps, said: “Absolutely not.” You know, we’re not gonna let an 18 year old, though I would have taken care of her, like, I mean, I was capable, but the red tape, the Marines weren’t going to let it happen, and it didn’t. And I’ve always felt bad about that, you know, because, I mean, I understand part of what the Marines did, but then another part of me is, you know, they didn’t know me personally, the people that were making the decisions and know what my commitment was to her. But these experiences are meant to teach us lessons and help us grow. What lessons have you learned in dealing with these foster kids? There’s got to be some tremendous stories and a great deal of satisfaction and all that that you experienced.“Sometimes we're in a person's life for just a little bit of time… And sometimes I think we discount how powerful we can be in a person's life, even if it's for a few days or a few months, we can make this incredible impact on that person.”… Click To Tweet
Richard Villasana: Well, I’d say my first lesson is that you can’t let the bad get you down, you cannot, I tell the Veronica story, it tugs on people’s heartstrings, it makes them feel a lot, some people a great deal, but it’s because there’s hope at the end of the story. There was a solution there was a resolution. She has this new life, wasn’t her old life, but she has a life and a chance at a better life. And for other people it’s simply, you know, for me it’s that whole idea that I can make a difference. And you know, you were talking about that little girl, nine years old, you made a difference for that girl, and maybe, you know, I would say take some comfort in that for the short time you were there, you did what you could. And I think people sell themselves short by understanding that they are, sometimes we’re in a person’s life were just a little bit of time but it’s something that allows that person to have closure, or to get over grief, or to feel better, or to move on. And sometimes I think we just count our, how powerful we can be in a person’s life even if it’s for a few days, or a few months, we can make this incredible impact on that person. And that’s what I feel like with these foster kids. I mean, they come into my life and the life of my nonprofit, we work for them, we try everything we can. We’re usually successful in getting them into a new life. And for those we can’t, I can sleep at night because I know, cause they’ll be told of the effort we made, and they know someone cared enough to try, someone cared enough to do and assert, and to spend time because they were important and they know that they were important and are important, and that’s what I take away when I think of foster kids. It’s not the bad stories and there’s plenty of those, ikt’s the hopefulness, it’s the idea that there are thousands and thousands of people working to make life better for these children who had a bad situation. It’s not their fault, they’re in a terrible place and people are working hard to get them out of it. And it’s not perfect but at least we’re doing our best and hopefully most of them will know that and that is enough.
“You can't let the bad get you down, you cannot.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: And it is enough. I mean, I’ve always, and I understood this from personal experience, one sentence can change somebody’s life. One simple sentence because it did mine because I had a seventh grade social studies teacher that said the words to me: “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re okay.” That’s all he said to me, and it meant the world to me at the time, and it’s carried through my entire life with that. Let me ask you this, have you been able to expand this process across the world?
Richard Villasana: Great question. We have expanded since then into Central America, the Caribbean, we’ve done cases in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and yes, it is part of the US but it still a different country, Guatemala, Honduras. We are still working our first case in South America, so we do handle Latin America and we are the only non-governmental nonprofit that specializes in this. We find lots of relatives in the US but our specialty is that we can also find those relatives when they’re outside the US and Latin America. And so yes, we’ve expanded and very honored and thrilled that we can do that work in these other places, you know, for children in foster care.
Art Costello: Do you have a large staff? Or do you pretty much do this with a very small staff, yourself and some people? I mean, you talked about your talents, or your talents transferable to other people? Can you teach them how to locate in other countries?
Richard Villasana: Yes, I can, and we do training. It is more than just me, or gently, you just can’t do all of this. So we have a network of volunteers, connections with nonprofits that we work with. We have people outside the US that we work with on a regular basis that are invaluable to helping make this happen. But it was setting up that infrastructure and that’s what we have been successful at is setting up that infrastructure and keeping that history over 25 years, which is one of the things that makes us stand out, because I gotta tell you, and with all the burnout that happens in the foster care system, you’re lucky to find an office after 5, 10 years that has anyone still left, it just doesn’t happen. And for those who do, it’s rare, but we’re lucky, 25 years and we’ve got some of the same people have been doing this for over a decade, almost two decades.
Art Costello: Wow, that’s amazing. I think it speaks volumes about your organization, which is by the way, a nonprofit, right?
Richard Villasana: Right.
Art Costello: Yup. It speaks volumes about the work you do because in order to keep the recidivism right down, you have to have results. And when people get results or outcomes that are positive and everything, it rejuvenate your workforce. Every time you do it, it would be hard to walk away from it when it’s so rewarding versus the frustration that we see in our social service, you know, because it’s a whole different way. It’s such a bureaucracy and you cut through red tape.“When people get results or outcomes that are positive and everything, it rejuvenate your workforce every time you do it. It would be hard to walk away from it when it's so rewarding.” –Art Costello Click To Tweet
Richard Villasana: Well, we do, and part of that is because of my business background. We look at things a little differently. We look at it with an expansion mentality that there’s more not less, and that we’re not trying to fight over scraps. We don’t see our work that way. We see our work as being extremely beneficial. It’s beneficial not only to the children, but to the population. I won’t go into the numbers, but there are hundreds of thousands of dollars then do get spent on a child who does leave foster care if they don’t get taken care of. And so, we cut through that, it helps everyone, helps our families, they’re stronger, helps the children cause they’re with people who loved them. And it helps the community because the families are stronger, stronger communities helps everyone, business, individual it doesn’t matter, everyone benefits. And so, that’s the big picture I see when I think about the work we do is not simply, but we have the focus that we’re helping that one person, that one child gets our 100% of our focus on every case that we work so we can make the best outcome possible for them.
Art Costello: I wish we could take your system and implant it all over, not only the country but the world because, you know, there’s just literally millions of foster kids all over the world. Kids that are living on streets that are even considered in the foster system. I mean, particularly in South America, Argentina, Brazil, and some of those areas, and the gangs are coming in and becoming their families and just creating more havoc in society. Do you ever run into that? I think, what is it called, M12. Or M13, or something that is so prevalent down there?
Richard Villasana: Well, we’ve been lucky, we don’t interact in such a way that we bump into them. But here’s the other side of that Art, you know, most of us were thinking this is something that happens outside, and sadly the truth is everything you described happens here in this country. This is how people end up leaving foster care because they get all align and someone sweet talks them and tell them something, they’ll give them a better life and they’ll treat them better. And the next thing you know, you’ve got 4,000 foster kids who have disappeared in 12 months. Nobody knows where they are because they thought it was better. One girl wrote me and said: “I was getting my butt beat every night by my pimp, but it was better than the home I was living in.” Something’s wrong when someone says that to you. Something is seriously, seriously wrong and that was here in this country. And so, foster care is one of those areas where we need to look homeward first before we try to save the world. We’ve got to save our own kids and we’ve got to make it better for these foster kids. And that’s why I appreciate being here today to share some of this and let people know that they’re not hidden, they’re not invisible, they get hurt just as much as any other kid. They want what everyone else wants, they want to be loved and cared for, and they have a roof over their head, and they get three meals a day which many of them don’t, they just want the basics and we need to do better.“Before we try to save the world, we've got to save our own kids. And we've got to make it better for these foster kids.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: Yeah. I just had this thought in my head when you were speaking about how, this is a prime example of why we needed better communication system between hospitals, and police departments, and local governments, and the general population. Because we have the eyes and we can see, if you see kids that look homeless and look lost, you know, we need to reach out and help those kids instead of turning our back and saying, you know, the things that people fluff it off. We need to change the thought around in our country and start fixing those issues. You know, we have a big homeless problem here in Austin and the mayor’s working on it and they’ve just made it to where the homeless can now set up tents anywhere in the city on the streets, and it’s brought the homeless population out of the woods and out of the back areas onto the streets of Boston. And now people are up in arms because they have these camps that are underneath all the overpasses here and downtown along the street. They’ve set up camps because they want to be safe. They want to be around where other people are and the light and all that stuff. But now people were up in arms about it because they’re bringing trash, and drugs, and tents onto the street. But we got to figure out how to solve the problem. We’ve got to figure out how to solve the problem. And it’s a huge issue because there’s a lot of homeless people, and I know California, LA, San Francisco, I think, or maybe it’s Seattle, I’m think that it have real big, big problems with the homeless.
Richard Villasana: It’s definitely part of it. And it impacts the foster children because as soon as they’re out, many of them don’t have money, they don’t have a place to stay, they’re couch surfing which means they’re just going to someone’s home for a night or two and then they’re off to someone else’s if they’re lucky. And all the things that go along with that of not having a job, not having stability, all of those things impact foster kids. And that’s why helping them before they get out is the smart way to handle this, not once or on the street.“Helping them before they get out is the smart way to handle; not once they're on the street.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: And I mean, that makes perfect sense because, well, I mean, we all know the reasons that mean that you’re better off dealing with them in a structured system then when you have them out on the street, it’s just a lot better. But why is it that these kids can’t stay in foster care? Is there a lot of different reasons? Or what is the major reason I guess is what I’m going to ask.
Richard Villasana: Well, the good news is, and half of the States, they’ve raised the age to 21 so kids can stay in, the other half and still 18, and honestly, most child experts, you know, feel that at 18 years old, most of us aren’t ready to go. I mean, think about pay our own rent, pay your own utilities, have a job, manage our money. You know, most people with a family aren’t ready for that 18, much less if you’ve never had a structured environment to learn any of that so that becomes an issue. But back to your question, you know, I do get this, there has to be a point where you say, I gotta let it go, you know, they’ve got to, you’ll stand on their own. However, we need to do a better job while they’re with us, while they’re in the system of making sure they get an education. If we have programs so they could go to college for free, letting them know that, you know, how they can apply. Helping them to apply, helping them to get in, we have lots of programs around this country that could help these kids and do help lots of foster kids where there are others who have no idea about all these different programs that could help them, that they could take advantage of, and here’s the other side, when they hit 18 Art, there are some kids they’ve been moved around so many times. There’s a case right now where the children involved are suing the state. They have been moved more than 100 times, think about that. If you were in the military and you moved around and told y’all were an army brat and you moved around three, four times a year, that would have been like, wow, these kids move around a hundred times, that’s like moving every two months.
Art Costello: You talk about having a feeling of not being wanted anywhere. That would definitely give them the feeling of not being wanted anywhere.
Richard Villasana: Absolutely. And the bad side about that is it’s not like the foster parents are calling up and saying, we don’t want, you know, Johnny, it’s not like that. I mean, it happens, but a lot of cases the, foster parents are saying: “Why don’t you leave him with us? Why can’t we keep Veronica? Why can’t we keep this child with us instead of moving them somewhere else?” So, we have issues that need to be fixed within foster care. But let’s get back again to what you were asking. Because of these problems that are not being handled very well. By the time a foster teen gets to 18, a lot of them will say: “I don’t care if you’ve got another three years of help for me. I’m below, I’m gone, I’m out of here.” They’re just so tired of being under the restrictions, and the changing rules, and being with different families with their different ways of doing things. And these kids don’t get a say in the matter and they feel they don’t have a say in the matter, at 18 a laughable say: “I’m out of here.” You know, they can now thank you and they take off because they feel that they can’t get any worse. And that’s where we’re really failing a lot of foster teens.
Art Costello: Yeah. And you were talking about foster parents and that brings me to a question that I had that I wanted to ask. We had a rush here of incidences where children were being put into foster care and they were particularly infants, and I’m saying infants from six months to two years old, and they were dying because of abuse. And we have an ARF system here and I’m hoping they’ve gotten rid of it because there was so much publicity around the bad situations where we had foster parents that were taking kids who should have never had foster kids. They could hardly take care of themselves, and they were taking on four or five foster kids because they got a step in from the state, you know, to take care of them. And some of the people are on drugs, and some of them were single moms, or single women that had boyfriends that were on the sex offender registry. I mean, just all kinds of issues like that. That’s one of the things that we need to fix particularly here. We don’t have foster parents that are willing, who are well qualified, educated, and education, I mean, common sense, we don’t have a lot of common sense foster parents, you know, I mean, you just hear of all these incidences in Texas with the problems with the foster parents and the foster parents almost seem to be the bigger problem than the children.
Richard Villasana: Well, there’s actually two answers to that, or two comments. First one, we hear these sensationalized stories and we do put those out. We have a Facebook page, let people know that these things happen because if you make it sound like it’s cheerful, then everyone’s like, Oh, they’re taking care of, they don’t need us. And foster children do need us, they need everyone. So like any other system, if you don’t talk about what’s wrong, you can’t fix it because you’ve got to put it under the light so that you can address those problems. And unfortunately, they get a bad stories, get a lot more, you know, news, and press, and thousands of parents who are really dedicated, working hard, trying their best. But here’s really the problem with what you just said with the problem itself. We’ve had foster care in this country for decades at this point. Every County should have a nice well organized system for vetting people. So there’s no reason for someone to be a single parent, having a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend coming over and that has not been cleared and vetted, or that person isn’t allowed to do that. Nobody should be able to do this who doesn’t pass the process. It goes back again to the counties, the counties who either don’t have a good process in place, or they’re just not following the process, and again, the children suffer because adults are not doing their job, adults job.“If you don't talk about what's wrong, you can't fix it. Because you've got to put it under the light so that you can address those problems.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: And that actually is part of the problem here because the county doesn’t handle it here. It is a state agency that handles that, and they are just now, or over the past last two or three years overhauling it because the people weren’t doing their jobs. They were collecting a paycheck, not even going out in the field and checking on kids, but when we started losing so many little children to beatings, and abuse, and all that stuff, people got up in arms and now they’re restructuring the whole, the whole system. But I actually think that you’re right because local government, county government is much more equipped because they’re not so broad. I mean, in Texas we have 258 counties. Some of them are huge, some of them are small, some of them have very little population, some of them have massive populations. You get to use them in Dallas, and San Antonio, and Austin, and El Paso, and you have huge populations around them. But it’s still handled at the state level and it’s too much of a bureaucracy and there’s not enough control over the staff. And if it’s local, I think county, I’m talking local county, but the way that our finance system and the way that we fund things here, it’s got to come through the state because the local governments don’t have the funds to do it. But that’s a whole nother issue whether we should have an income tax, we have no income tax, but we have sales tax, and you know, sales tax is the main, and property tax are the two main things. Property tax goes to school, but sales tax goes to local governments to run things. And if you’re in a small County and don’t have any industry or retail, you don’t get much money. And then there lies the problem. So you know, but that’s a whole another story.
Art Costello: I know that you do a lot of work with immigrant children?
Richard Villasana: Correct. And that’s going to get more and more mainstream because I’m sure everyone has heard about what’s happened at the border, they’ve seen the news stories. What people aren’t talking about is the fact that these children are now in the population. They’re, you know, they’ve passed through, they’re here while they’re waiting for their hearings. And that means they’re staying with someone, an aunt, an uncle, you know, grandparents. So now they’re here now living in Austin, Houston, and we’ll talk about Texas, to Dallas. The thing is that most likely those relatives aren’t very rich, most likely, they might be middle, you know, lower middle income, and unfortunately when it comes to foster care, the children that seem to make up the vast majority of the children in foster care come from lower income families. So you’ve got this perfect storm of lot of children coming in, they’re coming into families who have very modest means, which means these kids might get picked up for neglect, they might get picked up for some kind of abuse, physical or sexual. And then at that point, now they’re in the foster care system. And now, because what we mentioned earlier, the foster care agencies are mandated by law to go look for relatives. Now they’ve got look for those relatives who are living in Guatemala, Honduras, other places in central America. And we have people who are not trained to do this. They don’t have the resources, and like you just said, they might be in a county where they don’t have a lot of resources at all and now they’ve got these children in addition to the other children. And there are tens of thousands of these children now throughout the US, and trust me and give it a year, two years at the most, we’re going to start seeing more and more of this. We’ve already done calls from counties saying: “I have a child, she’s an immigrant and we don’t know how to start the search to find her relatives. We don’t know what to do. That’s not what we’re trained for.” And so we’ve got a situation that’s already brewing and growing, so it’s not a job done. We’re a long way from that.
Art Costello: Let’s talk about the really important issue, money. Can you get grants for the work you do? Is it possible to get grants, or is it just too much red tape?
Richard Villasana: Well as someone, you know, sent me an email or called us and said: “We have the perfect grant for you.” We would jump all over it. But just like anything, it does take time. And so, we’re actually focused more on corporate sponsors, especially those corporations who their product or their service is towards families or children and they want to, you know, keep in touch with that demographic, or could be corporations who, you know, would like to show their social good works and would like to partner with a nonprofit like ours. So we’re leading right now and we have a Facebook page, you know, someone goes to Facebook and they start typing in Forever Homes for Foster Kids, it’ll pull up and we have two or three donation buttons there. They can donate on a post, they can donate on the Facebook page, they can go to our website, there’s a big photo with the donate button on it. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to give and to help because yes, the work we do is pro bono, it’s free. And because it’s free, that means we could only do as much as we get funding for. And so you know, the more that people donate, the more that they can be part of the solution. They can join us, and knowing that maybe they can’t foster, maybe they’re not in a position to adopt, but they can still help a foster child by donating and letting us take their donations and use it to help a foster child, and reunite that child with their family.
Art Costello: If anybody in my audience, anybody in my audience has connections to a corporation that cares about the future of children all around the world, get ahold of Richard, get ahold of Forever Homes for Foster Kids and let’s set something up to raise some funds for the organization. Richard, have you thought about hiring? Well, hiring, having somebody volunteer for, you know, because I know that there’s people that are very good at fundraising from the corporate stream. I do actually just had a thought, I have somebody who I think would love what you’re doing and she’s a super person I think you would love, we’ll talk about this later, but anybody that can come in and help you raise, you just gotta be stretched like a rubber band. I mean, you’ve got to be so overworked, and so, I don’t know what the word is even, I mean, you’re probably performing at your limits some days where you just would cherish and love somebody to come in and take over some of the responsibility.
Richard Villasana: We would. And again, we do have our team, but we want to grow this of course. And yes, you’re right. That is a way that people who, you know, may not be able to do donations. We’re always looking for someone who has a skill. It could be a social media, could be with, you know, working with web pages, certainly on the technical side. Someone who’s that one person who loves to do fundraisers and raise money doing bake offs or something more technical than I would have no idea about. We love those kind of, you know, people who can bring that kind of energy and creativity because it’s not about me, it’s not about the nonprofit, it’s all about the children. The more children we can help, it’s gonna save them from the life that they could potentially have, which again, could be terrible and can give them a better, brighter future. That’s what this is all about.“It's all about the children. The more children we can help, it's going to save them from the life that they could potentially have… and can give them a better, brighter future.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: My head is spinning with stuff going on in it, you know, and I always think big. I mean, I think out of the box, and into the universe, and I’m thinking, you know, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they love helping and growing children in a lot of ways, they make huge donations of millions of dollars to different organizations. Why can’t we go after them? Why can’t we make a presentation to them? You know, I think of the Valle Foundation here in Austin, you know, Michael Valle, there’s just oodles and oodles of people and I think they do want to be part of the solution. We just have to figure out how to, see you got me thinking, WE, we gotta figure out how to make this happen. So with that being said, you know, I don’t want to cut our time short where we are getting close on time and I want to give you an opportunity to give the audience the exact addresses and stuff where they can get ahold of you, and how, I know you mentioned Facebook, but there’s gotta be other places, and then I want you to leave us with some parting thoughts about something you want to lead us with that will move us to action.
Richard Villasana: Well, people can reach me by email. It’s an R as in Richard and then my last name, V-I-L-LA-S-A-N-A at foreverhomesforfosterkids.org but this is an easier email, It’s info I-N-F-O at foreverhomesforfosterkids.org, same for our website. And our Facebook page, again, put in Forever Homes for Foster Kids and it’ll pull it right up, and you can read stories about, you know, what’s happening with foster care the good and the bad, and how people are stepping up every day. We just did a post about, you know, two gentlemen who brought in five foster kids to keep them together, they’re all brothers and sisters, and that’s the magic of foster care is that there are opportunities where something bad has happened that is completely beyond these children. This is not their fault, this is something that they ended up being in foster care and it’s our job as a society and as a community to take care of them, and where people can step up and be a hero to these children and to be part of this. It’s not an isolated event, it’s a group, it’s all of us coming together. And if you’re able to help our nonprofit, you’re going to be joining with me and with those that we have so that together we can be making a difference for these children in changing their lives in ways that you’ll never be able to imagine taking a child in foster care. And then they become an actor like Eddie Murphy, or they become an Olympic star like Simone Biles who is one of our gymnastic champions, she was a former foster child. There are so many foster kids who are now going on to do amazing things, and you can be a part of that in helping these kids. And I don’t know what else I could say that could motivate someone other than that.“There are opportunities where something bad has happened that's completely beyond these children; this is not their fault… And it's our job as a society and as a community to take care of them.” –Richard Villasana Click To Tweet
Art Costello: Well I don’t think you have to say anything, Richard, your actions speak louder than your words ever would because you go and do it, you know, and that’s the beauty of it. Richard and I met at a conference and I heard a statistic there and I want you to repeat it or correct me one of the two ways, do it either way, but it was that, was that right? That 95% of the funds that you raise go to actually helping the children? What was the figure?
Richard Villasana: The figure is closer to 85. We tried to keep it as high as we can. I’d love it to be that high. Yes, it’s pretty much just goes to the caseworker what we do. And some cases are done in a few weeks and there’s a few that we’ve been working on for months and months, but it’s the effort we put out so we can try to do our best for that foster child.
Art Costello: Well, when it comes to nonprofits, we’ve heard so much press about the bad ones where, you know, only 10%, I mean, I heard things about wounded warrior where like only 15 or 20% goes to the actual helping of the veterans and all that. But you know, I mean, I’m impressed with 85%, I mean, that is awesome that you’re doing that. Anything that you want to part with more?
Richard Villasana: I would thank you so very much for allowing me to be here and to talk about this, and to get foster children a platform for you to hear about it, and for people to know more about what’s happening to them and the struggles that they’re going through and that they’re just like anybody else, any other kid who has their heart’s desires, who wants to reach for the stars and they just need a little help, and together we can make him that little help.
Art Costello: Well said. Well said to the Shower Epiphanies audience, I am going to appeal to you, help Richard out, send $5, $10, $20, $100, $1,000, $10,000, and if you’ve got a million, send it because it makes a difference and he’s making a difference in this world. And I’m proud, Richard, that I had the opportunity to meet you and talk to you, and I hope that you and I can do some great things together because I really want to reach out and help you myself. You know, it’s an honor to have you on the show and interview you.
Richard Villasana: Well thank you so much Art, and thank you so much for your audience, it’s been my pleasure.
Art Costello: Yup. Okay, audience you know where you can get a hold of Richard, you know where you can get ahold of me. Art at expectationtherapy.com, websites expectationtherapy.com and with that being said, this has been a great show. Again, I’m gonna beg you, help Richard out with some donations. Send him some money. Thank you everybody. Heather White, can you take this out? Thank you.
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