For years, Toledoans found comfort, humor and guidance in Roberta de Boer Durham’s regular columns in The Blade. Her endlessly entertaining take on the events of the day made her a reader favorite. Today, her time as a journalist behind her, de Boer Durham is working to bring the same comfort and guidance to those who may otherwise be left behind.
Better Together Toledo is a group, founded by de Boer Durham, focused on aiding kids who “age out” of foster care. “When kids age out of foster care, they literally fall off a cliff,” de Boer Durham explains. “They haven’t been safely reunited with their family and nobody has adopted them; they are 18 years old and on their own. With limited resources at the county and the state level for financial, educational and other support, the thing that they really lack is an emotional connection. They don’t have anybody.”
Support for foster alums
Better Together Toledo aims to change that. The organization’s goal is to gather groups of six to eight adult volunteers to meet with new foster alums once a week for dinner. The groups form and meet for a year, to provide a stable source of consistent support and advice that can be hard to find for a young person, suddenly on their own. But de Boer Durham’s goals run deeper than that.
“When I recruit volunteers, I tell them I’m lying to them, right from the start. Because, clearly, the hope and the expectation of this initiative, is that during that one year of consistent support, a young person will develop an emotional connection with at least one or two people from that group, to share an enduring, supportive, ongoing relationship going forward.”
Collaborating with success
Open Table, a national organization for post-foster support from which Better Together Toledo licensed its training program, has been operating since 2005 and reports that over 90% of its groups still meet in some form. Better Together, which won a Toledo SOUP competition in 2018 (Toledo SOUP is a periodic gathering of community activists and citizens who assess programs that benefit the community), is just getting started. Two groups began meeting in June, with a third group scheduled to begin this month.
“We haven’t officially launched yet, we’re just doing a pilot phase,” de Boer Durham explains, “2020 is when we hope to expand and start growing to meet the need of young people in Lucas County.”
Q & A With Roberta de Boer
I have always wanted to… Do exactly what I’m doing right now.
What do you admire in people? Vulnerability and compassion.
What is something that most people don’t know about you? I’m an introvert.
What are the words you live by? These are words from the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
What advice would you give to the younger you? Oh, for God’s sake, get over yourself.
What inspires you now? The amazing resilience of kids who have gone through the foster care experience. Despite their repeated traumatic life events, what’s amazing about them isn’t so much what they’ve been through, but how they’ve come through it.
What’s your favorite food? Mediterranean food. One of the things my husband and I used to talk about when
we considered moving was, could we live in a place without good Mediterranean food? And the answer was no.
Who do you most admire? My dog. My dog wags his tail for everybody, doesn’t discriminate, loves me unconditionally, and clearly, one look in his eyes will tell you he
has a very deep soul.
Someone you’d like to meet? Jesus Christ, because I have some questions…
What (or who) is your pet peeve? The President of the United States.
Favorite Movie? It’s a Wonderful Life.