Casa Valentina’s Executive Director, Deborah Korge, joined us eight months ago. She shares her thoughts on Casa Valentina’s work, and her vision for our future.
You took the helm of Casa Valentina eight months ago. How is it going so far?
I have enjoyed every single day of my time at Casa Valentina! While there have been many challenges the fact that everyone puts the residents first in all they do no matter what may be going on around them keeps all of us focused on the work that we do and ensures that we all give at least 100% to the organization and to our residents.
What has been the most surprising part of your job?
The strength and resiliency of our young men and women. Many of them come to us not sure of what to expect of themselves and those around them but they grow and develop into strong young men and women who have a lot to offer to themselves and to others.
The most exciting?
That Casa Valentina is such a dynamic organization and provides so much to our residents. We have such a great team in place who are going to help take us to the next level of our growth. They “get” the work we do and really understand the needs of our residents and are committed to help and nurture them every step of the way.
The State of Florida has just passed a law allowing youth to stay in foster care until age 21, instead of aging out at 18, if they choose. How will this change affect Casa Valentina?
We are all anxious to see what the rules will be that are a result of the new legislation. Several other states have already enacted similar legislation so we are already looking at their best practices to be ready. In addition, we have a program director who has dealt with this issue in another state which puts us in a great position to expect and be prepared for whatever the State puts into place and to handle whatever changes may take place.
Any fun events or activities coming up this summer?
Casa Valentina always has something happening! It is not always about life skills, counseling and all the work we do for our residents.
We recently took some of our graduates to dinner at Benihana’s to celebrate this milestone in their lives. We are planning a late afternoon picnic at Matheson Hammock so all of our young men & women and children can get together in a fun environment to catch up, to meet our new staff outside of their usual settings and to just kick back and relax. And several more community-building activities are in the planning stages.
We are getting ready to launch a new program at Casa Valentina. While we have always provided academic tutoring, we are now developing a remedial tutoring program to help those residents who have been identified with major reading and numeracy deficits so they will be able to increase their chances of performing well in school and in their career choices. We are planning to partner with a local university to make all this happen and will keep you all up-to-date as the program progresses.
Through the generosity of various individuals and companies, we are undertaking several different renovation and update projects. Our Community Room at the Roads property is being re-organized and freshened up so the young women who live there will have a “new” place in which to meet, work with their tutors or just hang out. We are also renovating our Grove apartment building over the summer, giving all the residents new furniture and appliances, painting walls, etc. It will be like have a new place to live when we are done – without having to move.
In addition, we are exploring opportunities in the community to fundraise while also raising awareness about Casa Valentina. On August 26th, California Pizza Kitchen on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables will be hosting a day-long event at which, when presented with a flyer, 20% of proceeds from sales will be donated to Casa Valentina. So we hope that everyone who works or lives in or near downtown Coral Gables will go there for lunch and/or dinner, take a flyer with them and help us while enjoying a great meal. Aug. 26th is shortly after school starts so this is a great way to have some quality time with your children while learning how their new school experience is going.
What are your top three priorities for Casa Valentina in the next eight months and beyond?
1. Always to make sure we are providing the best services to our young men and women including our mothers and babies.
2. That we have a great team in place to make this happen and to ensure they have the right tools and training.
3. On-going community support because without our dedicated volunteers, advocates, board of directors and donors we could not do what we do 24/7 365 days a year.