Mary Schell is Senior Vice President of Government and External Relations for The Wendy’s Company. In her first guest blog for The Square Deal, she writes about her experience at the annual Wendy’s Wonderful Kids® Recruiter Summit held in Columbus, Ohio last week. Mary is a strong advocate for foster care adoption as she’s been a board member of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption® for the past 15 years and currently serves as vice chair. Mary offers The Square Deal a unique perspective as she worked along-side Mr. Thomas early in her career.
In March, we posted our first blog as a way to share our values as a brand and our passion for the work we do. Liliana explained that we support foster care adoption above all other causes because it’s the legacy of our founder Dave Thomas, who was himself adopted at just six weeks old.
Children who were waiting in foster care were always on Dave’s mind. Before establishing his Foundation, he served these children in a fundraising and volunteer capacity. Dave had a special way of connecting with kids in foster care - he was warm, gentle, and sincere when he told them he was thinking about them.
As he learned more about the child welfare system, he grew increasingly impatient with the “red tape” that got in the way of finding these special kids permanent and loving homes– childhood is so fleeting. He decided that enough was enough. He put a stake in the ground and said these kids are OUR responsibility.
How very lucky I was to see his commitment first hand.
At Wendy’s®, I’m responsible for Government Relations. Many times I traveled with Dave to Washington D.C. where he could leverage his celebrity and many connections to bring a sense of urgency to the issue. He testified before Committees of the House and Senate, spoke before the National Press Club, visited the White House and even convinced the United States Post Office to issue an adoption stamp to raise awareness for the kids who were waiting in foster care.
Walking the Halls of Congress with him was like walking around with a rock star – he was so famous we had to sneak him through back halls or risk missing all our appointments. It was an exciting time and we got a lot done to pass laws expediting adoptions, implementing tax credits and simply bringing attention to the crisis of thousands of American children that were sometimes just plain forgotten.
Dave knew that government had to play a role in making the system better – after all, the kids in foster care are in the care of the government. In 2001, he asked me to join the Board of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I’ll never forget our conversation. He was serious and direct and challenged me to do my part to get rid of the bureaucracy that, quite honestly, was unacceptable when someone’s childhood was on the line.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption – Wendy’s Charity of Choice
Established in 1992, the Foundation has become the nation’s most effective advocate and national thought leader on foster care adoption. At Wendy’s, support for the Dave Thomas Foundation and foster care adoption is one way we demonstrate our commitment to solving the most important social issues in the local communities we serve.
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids – A (300% Better) Model for the Way Forward
The Foundation set out to find a better (and quicker) way to help children in foster care waiting for their forever families – and they did!
In 2004, through the leadership of their President & CEO Rita Soronen, the Foundation pioneered Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK): a child-focused recruitment model that is being embraced by child welfare and public policy leaders across the country.
The children served by WWK are typically those who have been waiting the longest for an adoptive family; 50% have been in foster care for more than four years, 70% are older than age eight, and some are on track to age out of foster care without finding their forever family. The professionals in this program, known as Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters, focus on the children who have been challenged by the system.
To date, more than 5,400 children have found their forever homes thanks to the hard work and dedication of a WWK recruiter. Evidence-based research shows that kids served by a WWK recruiter, especially older youth, have a 300% better chance of getting adopted - a statistic that makes us all very proud.
Dave would be proud too.
Supporting WWK Recruiters – Convening and Celebrating Their Success
We know social work can be hard – but it can also be very rewarding. We want WWK recruiters to know they are valued and supported. With more than 200 WWK recruiters across the United States and Canada, it’s important to give them training, support and recognition on an ongoing basis.
The Foundation started hosting its Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Summit in 2005; this May 3-5 marked its eleventh year. The WWK Summit is an educational, networking, and peer-to-peer learning experience. It’s an opportunity to refresh and energize these important professionals who spend their time fighting for children in foster care. More than 400 recruiters and supervisors from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Canada were among the 2016 Summit attendees in Columbus, Ohio.
ABOVE: Photos from the Wendy's Wonderful Kids Summit.
Previous WWK Summits have featured presentations from Ohio governors, youth participants with first-hand stories and experiences about life in foster care, and keynote speakers like Terry Cross in 2008, who was the Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. This year, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who grew up with almost 50 foster siblings, welcomed the recruiters to the city and thanked them for making a difference in the lives of children in foster care.
To kick-off the Summit, Wendy’s President and soon-to-be CEO Todd Penegor welcomed the recruiters by reaffirming our brand commitment to foster care adoption. Todd explained how Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption funded recruiters work in ways similar to Wendy’s five brand values: Quality Is Our Recipe, Profit Means Growth, Treat People with Respect, Do the Right Thing, and Give Something Back.
By doing the right thing for the children in foster care, WWK recruiters are helping Wendy’s and the Foundation spread the message that “unadoptable is unacceptable.”
Over the course of three days, the recruiters attended several breakout sessions on topics from ‘How to prepare for an effective transition’ to ‘How to work with youth who exhibit inappropriate behavior’. There were also educational resources available on identifying lost connections for children in foster care and intervening with troubled adoptions. On Wednesday afternoon, a panel of young adults who had lived through difficult foster care placements and failed adoptions spoke to the recruiters on how they could help make the adoption transition easier for the kids in their network. All of this information was extremely beneficial to the recruiters to help them find a home for the children in their caseloads as quickly as possible.
Thank You WWK Recruiters – We Are Proud of You!
I’ve been to several WWK Summits and though it’s uplifting and inspiring, it’s humbling too.
This year especially, to look across a room of hundreds of professionals with the shared goal of helping these vulnerable children is rewarding beyond explanation. There were stories of success, struggle and yes, failure. But the quiet determination in the eyes of the recruiters, Foundation staff and Wendy’s attendees reflects strength in unity of purpose that gets stronger every year.
As Dave Thomas would have said, “Well Done.”