When Beverly Howard was in high school, she aspired to be just like her French teacher, “a beautiful, poised, sophisticated black woman.”
Today, Beverly is a dynamic, enthusiastic spitfire and her foster-kid-charges will tell you that she is absolutely perfect just the way she is.
Beverly’s mom worked as a housekeeper, so as an elementary school student, little Beverly would get herself home from school and lock the door tightly behind her, her protection against their dangerous DC neighborhood.
Before she was old enough to work, Beverly’s summers were spent with her grandmother in South Carolina. She loved those summers far away from DC and filled with kids, some related, some not… so many kids needing a safe place and finding it among Beverly’s family.
Beverly says that she was always the smallest in her class and so was easily left out. She would insinuate herself into the group by always having ideas of fun things to do.
In junior high she earned her way into the Junior Honor Society, juggling academics with acting and sports.
Beverly started working with kids as a teenager, working at one of DC’s summer camp programs. When it was time for college, she had several scholarship offers and chose the one that would keep her on the path to becoming a doctor.
While her actual age is a carefully guarded secret, Beverly has lived long enough to boast a
long career of making a difference. She was the Executive Director of National Urban Internet, Inc., where she wrote grants to secure funds to support the organizations efforts to bring technology, entrepreneurship and golf lessons to youth living in public housing in DC. And when she couldn’t find a golf teacher to work with the kids, Beverly jumped in and taught them herself.
She identified and wrote grant proposals to provide self-sufficiency programs for at-risk youth living in public housing. She was the Director of Community Relationships for the Alexandria, VA Housing Authority where she managed education and support programs for public housing residents for families and youth. In addition, she spent many years working tirelessly in several substance abuse/addiction and psychiatric programs for youth-aged children.
By the time I met Dr. Beverly Howard on a Wednesday’s Child/NBC-4, shoot seven years
ago, she was working for Fairfax County, VA with older kids in foster care. She was on the shoot to help make sure that two of her foster-charges put their best feet forward, in hopes that someone would see these terrific boys on NBC-4/DC and want to adopt them.
I was there taking pictures, so that the brothers would have pictures to remember this
special day when they got to spend time with Barbara Harrison/NBC-4 at a carnival.
Before I knew it, Beverly was asking me if I would be willing to come photograph one of the events she ran for foster kids in Fairfax County, VA. She told me about the program she ran for kids in foster care who were older and most of whom were available for adoption, but were at an age when they are less likely to be adopted.
These were children who didn’t have many positive role models and didn’t have people in their lives who thought they were special and important. The group came together two – three times per month and some of the mentors, mentored kids one-on-one during the month as well.
I met a dozen or so kids there that day, all dressed in matching bright blue Fairfax Families4kids t-shirts. I met a 14-year-old boy whose big brown eyes told me about a lifetime of sadness, a 13-year-old girl who shyly showed off her voice as she sang a popular song for me and two brothers who nervously shook my hand as they awaited the arrival of their potential adoptive parents.
I saw the impact Beverly had as she interacted with each child. Beverly Howard sees every child as having potential. She leads by example. Children don’t need to first be likeable, before they are liked.
Through Fairfax Families4kids, Beverly has created a family, a family where one might otherwise not exist.
In foster care, kids often go to sleep with the uncertainty that when they wake up, they may be told to pack their meager belongings into a garbage bag, to move to a new placement.
They are often in group homes and residential facilities with staffs who are doing their jobs…some better than others. Often foster parents are also just doing a job. That is not to say that there aren’t caring foster parents and warm staff working in group facilities, there are absolutely are. But in my experience, too many foster kids feel very much alone in dealing with their pasts, their presents and the insecurity that comes with feeling that they have no control over their futures.
Through Beverly’s/Fairfax Families4kids program, the kids truly know what it means to walk into a room and have faces light up with excitement to hear about what they have been doing. They connect with mentors and potential adoptive families and experience new things.
They learn to model appropriate behaviors which are reinforced through positive feedback. They have a safe haven where they are listened to without impatience and where they know that they will not be judged unfairly or harshly.
Beverly says that being a parent is what most influenced the work she does today. As a single mom of two boys for 10 years, she experienced the bumps, bruises and emergency room visits that tend to go along with having boys. When she got re-married, her family doubled with her new husband’s two kids from a previous marriage. But it was when they adopted two preteen daughters, she said, she had to unlearn everything she knew from raising boys, as she tried to figure out how to raise girls full-time and how to successful integrate these wonderful girls into their family.
Today, Beverly is proud of her sprawling family of six children and twelve grandchildren — so far. And she is thankful for all of the experiences that led her down the path to blending a large group of strangers including teenagers and adults, into a unique kind of family for at-risk kids, who would otherwise be without.