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“Finding futures” in the midst of a storm

It was a dark and stormy night…

While this may be one of the most clichéd first lines in literature, it appropriately describes the start of the 22nd annual Pennsylvania Permanency Conference.

The hot July night before the conference began, a quick but powerful storm ripped through Lancaster County, leaving must of the region without power including the Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center, home to the conference. In addition to power, water usage and air conditioning were lost. It was a very long night.

A less-hardy group may have packed it in, but certainly not all of the individuals at the conference—who are dedicated to bringing together waiting children with loving adoptive and foster families. Understanding that coming together was more important than everyday amenities, conference attendees, staff and hotel employees never lost faith.

People remained in good spirits and weathered the conditions. Eventually, when electricity was restored, people were able to shower, and the conference center cooled down, the event got fully under way with the apt theme of “Finding Futures.”

The annual conference is hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Office of Children, Youth and Families, and is facilitated by Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries in partnership with Family Design Resources, Inc., as prime contractors for SWAN—or the Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network.

The conference opened with the debut of the 2014 SWAN media campaign, “#Meet the Kids,”  featuring 12 Pennsylvania children waiting for forever homes. Participants were then captivated by a heart-wrenching opening keynote from William Kellibrew IV. An internationally known motivational speaker, he inspired the audience by sharing how, through hope, healing and recovery; he survived the trauma of witnessing his mother and brother fall victim to domestic violence. The audience left armed with tools to continue service to children facing trauma and were reminded of the miracles we see in working with children affected by this issue.

More than 700 people attended the conference, including 55 family members and 90 children and teens who joined the child care program. Participants were offered a variety of workshops and sessions on such topics as working with incarcerated parents, trauma-related work with children in care, post-adoption services for families, and how child preparation works with young children. The conference also featured an awards banquet at which families, adoption advocates, child and family workers and community philanthropists who commit their resources to waiting children were recognized.

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Eric Tyler Anderson delivered closing remarks, leaving everyone wondering how he knew all of that information about the foster care system. Eric grew up in foster care and “aged out”—that is, became of age before permanent placement. His skills with cards and magic came from events leading up to his foster placement as well as his finding ways to succeed by looking at the formula for a “winning hand.”

As always, the conference closed with a small program from the children and youths. This part was a true delight, reminding us all why we do the jobs we do.

No storm can take that away.

By Pam Wagner
SWAN Program and Conferencing Division Manager 

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