By D. K. Christi
What do jugglers, stilt walkers and circus acts have in common with helping Southwest Florida children in crisis?
An upcoming fundraising gala, “A Night of a Million Dreams” featuring Loren Allred, the voice of Jenny Lind from the Oscar-nominated film “The Greatest Showman,” brings a circus themed, fun-filled evening to the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point this month to support the mission of a local nonprofit known as Better Together. This charitable organization has assisted over 1,500 children in the last three years by helping to stabilize their families and keep them out of foster care.
As the organization’s name indicates, Better Together believes families should stay together and puts this belief into action while serving families in crisis in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties. A significant number of volunteer host families live in Estero. They open their homes to take in children temporarily while parents sort out their difficulties.
Better Together CEO Megan Rose, whose background is in foster care, says the mission is to engage the community to support families experiencing various types of crises, including homelessness, lost work, poverty, addiction and abuse. Better Together trains mentor families to provide friendship and support to another family in crisis.
“Our work is volunteer driven and professionally supported,” says Rose.
Better Together currently serves 34 children, a rolling number since the goal is short-term support, averaging 30-41 days. Mentor families accept children into their homes while professionals help the troubled families gain strength through counseling and connection to community resources. Friendship and support fight the isolation that often accompanies families in crisis.
Night of a Million Dreams
Who: Better Together, nonprofit organization serving children and families in crisis
What: A circus-themed, fundraising gala, “Night of a Million Dreams”
Featuring Loren Allred, the voice of Jenny Lind from “The Greatest Showman”
Where: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, 5001 Coconut Road
When: Feb. 26, 2019 (6-10 p.m.)
Info: https://dreamsgala.org/ or (239) 470-2733
Privately funded to maintain a level of trust with the families, the Better Together program is a community partner model that works alongside churches of any denomination and takes calls and referrals from help lines and organizations such as the Florida Department of Children and Families. A network of 50 churches assists with volunteer recruitment; more than 500 volunteers are currently active.
“We provide a safety net for children in crisis to land and hopefully avoid the need for foster care,” says Rose.
The mentoring family helps parents connect with resources to meet specific, immediate needs and to maintain their dignity. The ultimate goal is to support the family structure as it heals through counseling, financial assistance, work opportunities, tutoring and housing.
“Relationships developed are often sustained over time,” adds Rose. “These partnered families may spend holidays together and bond in friendship. New moms have loving mentors who help them with their new responsibilities.”
Amy Trout says her family decided to volunteer as a positive change from providing foster care.
“Better Together empowers me to serve children and families by giving flexibility to the support and enabling and encouraging pathways to longterm relationships that become meaningful to all involved – our family is extended,” explains Trout.
Director of Communications Philip Hegseth sees Estero host families making a significant difference in the lives of their partner families.
“This is a private solution to many family issues, and it’s successful,” he adds. According to Hegseth, 96 percent of families served remain intact and stronger without further interventions.
“In addition to volunteers, we have over 400 businesses, 250 community partners and 50 faith-based partners of all faiths to meet the needs of the families our volunteers mentor,” states Hegseth.
Volunteer families consider this their mission. Paid, professional and credentialed staff train and support volunteers, the framework for success. The result is lives changed and dreams fulfilled — the reason for the fundraising gala’s theme: “Night of a Million Dreams.”
This event to celebrate families features a very special guest from “The Greatest Showman” film, singer Loren Allred, who will perform hit songs from the blockbuster production. An open bar, appetizers, a full course meal, dazzling circus-themed performances, jugglers, stilt walkers, dancing and an auction are just a few enticements for the 350 guests expected to come out and share in the joy of success and to support future expansion for Better Together programs.
To find out more about Better Together, to volunteer, or to support the mission — including buying tickets to the upcoming gala — visit www.bettertogetherus.org.