embrella Board of Directors
Mary Grace Dondiego
Mary Sue Dondiego
A Message From Our Board Chair
ver 40 years ago, my mom and dad, Sue and Bernie Dondiego, and their friend and fellow foster parent Hattie Talley were having coffee at the kitchen table. They asked a simple, but very important, question, “Someone has to help the foster children, and if not the foster parents, then who?”
That question led to the formation of the New Jersey Foster Parent Association, now known as Foster and Adoptive Family Services (embrella).
As a kid, I didn’t think about the fact that each child in foster care who came to stay with us was given a monthly allowance that was only enough to pay for a third of a coat. I certainly didn’t think about the fact that my mom, who I thought of back then as “just” my mom, whose job it was to cook, clean and care for us, was testifying in front of the legislature so that children in foster care could get what they needed.
She started by asking which third of the coat they wanted her to buy for the child this month: The left sleeve? The right sleeve? The buttons?
My mom’s testimony led to a 26% increase. It was her first appearance in front of the legislature.
Back then, I didn’t know that my parents were working to make things better for all children in foster care in New Jersey. What I did know was that they were giving my foster brothers and sisters, and me and my siblings, a safe and loving home.
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of camping vacations, Sunday dinners and excursions to New York City, all done as a family, with my biological and my foster siblings.
One of my foster sisters had cerebral palsy, and at first my father was afraid to take her to the city with us. He worried that the fast pace might be too much for her and that she would be unsafe walking in such a crowded place. But she wanted to go so badly, and my father, seeing her desire and her determination, agreed to take her. She did just fine, and we were all so proud. She was so proud.
Some of my favorite memories as an adult are of those same special people: celebrating birthdays and babies with my foster siblings, baking cookies and reminiscing with my mom, and seeing my now late father walk my foster sister down the aisle at her wedding.
As an adult, I understand how fortunate I am and how important it is to have empathy for those who aren’t. As Board Chair of embrella, I will continue my parents’ legacy of serving families and children in need.
When I joined embrella’ board in 2015, I was immediately impressed by the level of commitment from the State of New Jersey, embrella’ volunteers, donors and staff. Partnering together, we have brought to fruition so many new programs that positively impact the lives of children in foster care. Today, embrella embraces technology to reach out to our families, but we never lose our heart – our personal commitment to the children and families we serve.
Looking to embrella’ future, I see great things in store. As the voice of foster, adoptive and kinship families in New Jersey, embrella will ensure our families’ concerns are not only heard on the state level but also on the national level. By sharing ideas and experiences with families and agencies in other states through organizations like the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA), and by being strong advocates for positive change through our renewed Public Policy efforts, embrella will work to strengthen our relationship with those in the position of making decisions on behalf of children and families. We also will be getting to know our donors better, and welcoming new ones to the embrella family, so that, together, we can expand upon our programs that directly support our children.
I believe that being caring, empathetic and supportive are something our foster, adoptive and kinship parents, embrella’ staff and volunteers, and our donors all have in common. Each of us sees the potential in every child, and each of us, in our own way, does our best to help each child realize that potential.
Your donation to embrella’ foster children programs, no matter how small, reaps the biggest benefit of all. It makes a child feel loved.
Thank you for your support
— Mary Grace Dondiego