Establishing Roots - Gail's gift to DCFYI

On this episode of the DCFYI Digest we sat down with Gail Amidzich to discuss the founding of Establishing Roots.

DCFYI: Would you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about how you got involved with DCFYI?

Gail: My name is Gail Amidzich and I got involved with DCFYI once I retired from government service. I worked both on Capitol Hill and for federal agencies and then afterwards for some unions. I spent about a year relaxing, doing things that I always thought I would do if I weren't working and doing some athletic things, traveling, and having a good time. After that year, I felt I needed to do something that was maybe a little more meaningful in which I contributed and really something that mattered. So, I called my friend Susan Punnett, who is DCFYI’s is executive director. At the time I didn't really know exactly what Susan did. I knew she worked in social services and foster care, but I didn't know in what capacity. I said, I have some time on my hands, if you need volunteers. I'm exploring volunteer opportunities. We had coffee and Susan told me all about the work she does with foster kids in the D.C. area. I was really kind of blown away. It sounded so labor intensive. She didn't have much of a staff, but she had a small grant. She told me the history of DCFYI and how she went off after working at HHS with Kidsave and how that program was changing and how she worked with local kids, and she thought, I can't let this program go down because the kids here are local. She just took it on its own and started a wonderful nonprofit here, which is DCFYI, and I started volunteering with her and the rest is history. That was back in 2013 so it's been about ten years.

DCFYI: When did you get involved with Establishing Roots, the annual fundraiser?

Gail: Well, it's funny because it was the first year. My background is political issues primarily, and I have been to many fundraisers primarily from members of Congress. I have seen a lot of money come in through these fundraisers, of course those on a different level than a nonprofit could do. I said to Susan, have you done fundraisers? DCFYI had done a couple of small fundraisers. I suggested to Susan having an actual fundraiser in which we just have a big party and invite people. There was another friend who got involved and she was Kathleen Soloway, another parent here on the Hill. We got together with her as well, and we decided to do a fundraiser. It was called Establishing Roots the very first year. It was much smaller event than it is now, as you can imagine, because it was the three of us throwing it together, but it's still the same event. We’ve grown it over the years, and we've obviously raised more money than that very first year. The first year I think we raised $10,000 and we thought, wow, this is great. We repeated it a year later and we raised 33,000 and then every year we added to it. We added sponsors, we found people in this area and in the metropolitan area who were either volunteering or they were host families, or they were people connected with DCFYI. They told all their friends and every year it grew. We didn't make quite as much money at the fundraiser during COVID, but now it's back on track and we're excited about it.

DCFYI: What's your favorite part of the event?

Gail: One of my favorite parts is having one of the participants speak. It’s important because we're running around, and we're all consumed by the details of the food or helping people who don't know how to bid on the auction or are on their phones and we're doing all this little work, but then sort of a hush takes place when Susan introduces the speaker. We have a very short and small program, but she has either a current program participant or someone who has been through the program and is now somewhat of a grown up speak. When the kids tell their story, it's just very poignant and emotional and it really makes people want to contribute and be a part of it. That's my favorite part, but there's always a lot of little things that I like as well, just to see the camaraderie and people introducing themselves. It's not a staged fundraiser where people just stand around with a glass of wine and listen to speeches and then fork over money. This is friendlier, I would say. I feel that people do have a good time.

DCFYI: What does Establishing Roots mean to you?

Gail: It reaffirms my belief that I need to do something that personally contributes to a good cause. You can give money to a lot of causes, and that's worth doing, but I feel a special connection with DCFYI. I do feel like it gave me some purpose and that I'm a part of something much larger. I am no expert on the programing side but I have been to the events and they're great. I've been to many of the events, especially in the early years, and it's just fun to see how much fun the kids have and how trusting they can become. As you can imagine, being in the foster child world sometimes causes kids not to trust others. I feel like you see a level of comfort at the program activities. That is reassuring. For me, I feel like I'm contributing to that, just by raising money and enabling them to continue.

DCFYI: Do you have a favorite year of attendance? If so, why?

Gail: In the earlier years we had the former mayor of DC speak, Anthony Williams. He was, in my opinion, a good mayor, and he had been in foster care. He was really able to speak to the group. He was the living embodiment of somebody who was in foster care and was adopted by his foster parent. He was as a very young child in foster care and then I think maybe for three years he did not speak. A foster parent took him in, and they had him labeled as, having issues because he was old enough to speak and he didn't. These foster parents said there's nothing wrong with him. Here people are thinking there's some disorder with him, and he just needs a loving person to talk to. So, she got him speaking. He made several jokes, one of which was, his belief that he has a pointed head, and said when he was in foster care, they didn't turn him when he was in his crib when he was little. So, he ended up having a little bit of a pointed head, and he told it in a very funny way. It really hit people because, who would think about that? If a young child is not being turned enough in his crib and then suddenly people say there's something wrong with him because he doesn't speak well. He was adopted by his foster parents, and he became a very good mayor of DC. He spoke to how, as a society, as a community, we need to fund this organization. He made a plea for money at the fundraiser and said, you all should contribute to DCFYI. In no uncertain way. He just came right out and said it. And we did. I can't remember how much money we made that year, but we were getting people who came repeatedly and gave money and brought their friends and we reached out to new people. So that was my favorite year because I thought, wow, the combination of somebody like that who can get attention and say, give money. There is a person who's been through the trauma of being in foster care, and then combined with recent years in which one or two of our kids and their mentors or their adoptive parents speak, you can really get results. I just saw that. Anthony Williams just set it off and we grew from there.

DCFYI: If someone was wondering if they should come to the fundraiser, how would you convince them that they should come to the event?

Gail: Well, I tell them they may be surprised at how low key yet fun it is. It’s for a great purpose. You come and we get food every year. In general, we've had wonderful food for 50 bucks. You can eat and drink as much as you want. You can hear about a cause that needs help. It’s not intimidating, you don't have to stand around, you don't have to dress up in a beautiful gown or anything like that. Everybody comes as they are and has a fun evening. You hear about a local project that serves the metropolitan area. Mostly, you see kids who've grown up right here in the foster care system. Our event is for the kids in that the money will help the program, but it's mostly a grown-up event where people hear about the need for this organization and have an opportunity not only to give money, but we have a wonderful auction. The last few years we've done the auction electronically so you can bid on everything from theater tickets to restaurants to homemade crafts on your phone. By the end of the evening, you can take items home with you. I tell people who are thinking of coming that, you may like to come and look at the auction items, which we do put online now a couple of days before the event.

DCFYI: Anything else you want to add about the fundraiser that you think is important for people to know?

Gail: I'm hopeful that we’ll get some press this year ahead of time especially on the Hill community, so people can read about it. We've had some very good press from both The Washington Post and one of our adoptive mothers wrote an article that was run in The New York Times about four years ago. If anyone wants more information about the event, they can always call DCFYI or call me or and we can send them material like that. I think the more people we get to tell more of their friends, the better off we'll be because attendance is important. Some people think because this is online, they'll make a bid online, which is great, but there's a different tone when you come in person because you meet like-minded people, people who want to do the right thing in their communities and solve this foster care issue. I tell them to come in person.

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