On Thursday, October 12th, Waldron hosted a wonderful group of clients, colleagues and philanthropic organizations at the Pittsburgh Winery, to raise awareness for child homelessness, and at risk youth in Pittsburgh.
Our event centered around an intimate performance by country music recording artist and NY Times best-selling author, Jimmy Wayne, whose own experience with poverty, homelessness and abuse fuels his passion for helping kids across the country. Attendees also heard presentations from three incredible organizations, The Bradley Center, Pace School and Kids Voice, who provide education, therapy and hope to at risk youth in Pittsburgh.
Jimmy captivated our audience with his story, delivered in his own inimitable style, imbued with humor, kindness and strength. He shared many personal, painful moments from his life, from growing up in a shack in rural North Carolina with his grandfather, a neglectful, angry bootlegger whose household was rife with emotional abuse and physical danger, and to eventually being abandoned and homeless by age 13. Jimmy quickly learned the extensive shortcomings of the foster care system, from the temporary nature of placement, to the cold reality of “aging out” when you turn 18, where the neglect, abuse and lack of education foster children often experience provide the foundation for a multitude of harrowing outcomes. Jimmy was extremely fortunate, and was taken in by a compassionate and caring couple at age 16, where he experienced support and love for the first time, and from which he drew the strength to engage in school and develop his musical abilities. Six years later, he was living in Nashville, had a #1 hit on the country music charts, and was performing at venues like Madison Square Garden. But he never forgot about the hopelessness and terror he had experienced growing up in an abusive household or the pain and desperation of being a homeless youth in America. To raise awareness about his experience and the experience of thousands of children across the country suffering the same fate, he began a seven month, 1,700 mile walk from Nashville to Phoenix. During his journey, which he chronicled in his NY Times best-selling autobiography, Walk To Beautiful, he would walk all day, and perform at night at venues along the way. A poignant detail he shared was that while on stage, the audience would be packed with fans, cheering, taking pictures, and reaching out to touch him, but the next day when he was walking, dusty and tired, and looking every bit the homeless youth he had been for much of his life, people driving by wouldn’t even look at him, never mind stopping to see if he needed water or somewhere safe to sleep. When you’re homeless, he pointed out, you are forgotten.
We were very grateful to be able to host Jimmy, as well as representatives from three tremendous organizations operating here in Pittsburgh, working every day to provide at risk youth in our community therapy, education and opportunity. After Jimmy concluded his performance, Waldron President, Matt Helfrich invited Scott Hollander, Executive Director of Kids Voice, Lisa Fox and Dr. Craig Taylor, CEO and Chief Medical Officer, respectively, from the Bradley Center, and Karen Shepherd, CEO of Pace School to share their mission, and their insights into the turmoil many children in Pittsburgh struggle with every day. The organizations’ representatives discussed how emotional disabilities limit a child’s ability to make friends and learn, the prevalence of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, and the debilitating side-effects of entering the foster care system, such as the separation of siblings, and how the temporary nature of placement can diminish a child’s sense of self worth, and their outlook for the future. At risk children in Pittsburgh, and across the country, are denied the opportunity to experience a nurturing childhood, and instead are subjected to a horrific variety of emotional and physical abuse, and are then sent out into the world without any type of support system or even any acknowledgement of the incredible uphill battle they face.
The intent for our event was to gather leaders and influencers within the community, to shed light on an extremely disadvantaged and vulnerable segment of our population, and to create connections between the fantastic people in attendance. Our sincere thanks to Jimmy, and the teams from Kids Voice, the Bradley Center and Pace School, for their passion and dedication to improving the lives of at risk youth.
To learn more about the work that Jimmy continues to do for at risk youth at Project Meet Me Halfway, or the three amazing groups from Pittsburgh who presented at our event, here is a brief overview of the organizations, and links to their websites.
Project Meet Me Halfway
Mission: to improve the lives of foster children aging out of the system.
Mission: Kids Voice advocates in court and in the community to ensure a safe and permanent home for abused, neglected, and at-risk children.
The Bradley Center
Mission: The Bradley Center is a home, school and therapy provider for children, youth and families affected by trauma, mental illness, and behavioral health challenges.
Mission: To provide educational and therapeutic services that enable any child to thrive.