Every year as I prepare this letter, I am amazed by the work done by the organizations we were honored to support in the last year. 2017 was no exception. Since our inception, we have primarily focused on work that directly touches people in need; work with measurable outcomes that improves the lives of our neighbors. This summary lists numerous examples. We see that abused children are rescued, children have safe places to spend time after school, children with physical disabilities are healed, children and youth receive therapeutic services to address the effects of family violence, foster children are zealously represented by CASA volunteers, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities have opportunities for learning and their parents have opportunities for respite, and young people have the experience of scouting and camping.
But every year we also have to remind ourselves that we cannot be afraid to tackle hard problems with no clear answers. In many ways, the work of a private foundation should embrace risk and support innovative projects that come with promise but have long term time horizons and plenty of opportunity for failure. Hard problems require hard work to achieve hard solutions that cannot be achieved unless those who have time, resources, determination and commitment decide to weigh in. I want to highlight three of these problems and some of the efforts to address them that we supported in 2017.
The first relates to the care of foster children who have been abused or neglected and placed under the supervision of the state. Because each child’s case is unique, finding an optimal solution is always a challenge. Compounding the problem, state agencies have faced leadership changes, chronic underfunding and overworked and underpaid personnel with the resulting high rates of turnover, all leading to inconsistent and in many cases inadequate outcomes for children. In the face of these challenges, one of our Fort Worth partners, ACH Child and Family Services, decided in 2014 to weigh in, accepting the responsibility to bring consistent high quality community based care to Region 3B under a pilot program offered in connection with the state’s efforts to re-design foster care. Now, after four years, the systems developed by ACH have become a model for the state. Placements are becoming more stable, training of placement agencies and their respective foster families and caregivers are becoming consistent and state of the art, and services are being offered or developed in the most difficult cases. We are not at the finish line. Long term funding solutions still must be found and ACH must continue to navigate the ever-changing legislative and judicial landscape. But today we can see hope for improvement in the welfare of the children and families they are serving.
Second, we were challenged in 2017 by the problem of loose and aggressive dogs in Southern Dallas, compromising the safety and quality of life of the residents of this part of our city. The factors underlying this problem are some of the same ones we see repeatedly throughout our city; poverty and the lack of economic opportunity, inadequate access to basic services, limited transportation options, violence, and neighborhood decline. So, what can we do? In this case a unique partnership of civic and neighborhood leaders, city officials, funders and a group of service providers loosely organized as the Dallas Coalition of Spay Neuter Providers agreed to weigh in. They are now investing in Southern Dallas by offering local animal services including free spay-neuter surgeries, vaccinations and education on the responsibilities and benefits of pet ownership, communicating to the residents in these neighborhoods that their voices are heard and that the city is committed to helping them improve their communities. It will take time, but we are hopeful and optimistic that the hard work, persistence and determination of this partnership will succeed in bringing safer neighborhoods for families and the humane treatment of the animals that need care.
Third is the tragic reality of human trafficking and slavery that exists in many countries around the world. Our long-time partner, International Justice Mission, has been attacking this problem for many years. IJM’s effort in India to eradicate human slavery is the most ambitious and long-term project we have seen. To most, the problem would seem insurmountable and therefore to be avoided. To IJM, it is one to which they are called personally and organizationally and therefore one to be tackled with courage, determination and strength derived from faith in God and a passionate desire to help the victims of violence and oppression. In this case, the timing and the means of achieving the results are still developing but slavery in India and around the world must be stopped. We are grateful to IJM for tackling this problem in India, and I am personally grateful to our founders and staff here at The Rees-Jones Foundation for their commitment to the task, even when the task is enormous and the project extraordinarily long-term.
As a Christian organization, we are mindful of the Biblical concept that all of us, rich or poor, successful in business or not, black, white, brown, educated or not, are made in the image of God, loved by him beyond measure and without condition and for whom he offers grace and forgiveness through the sacrifice of his Son. As such, we want to do whatever it is in our power to help – love – our fellow image bearers. Jesus says “Follow me.” The road may be hard, filled with potholes and unexpected turns, and we may not see the finish line, but our faith gives us confidence that the destination is sure. Praise be to Him and thanks for the privilege of walking along the way.
Thornton Hardie, President