Have Courage and take Risks. — In Ali’s words, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammad Ali and Patterson went beyond their boxing. Ali transcended race, national boundaries, religious distinctions and bigotry. Patterson went beyond his fame and when retired helped disadvantaged youth gain self-respect and self-discipline. It is how they lived and passed on their leadership to greatness.
As part of my series about “Individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Judith Halbreich.
Judith Halbreich is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has had a successful executive career in social services, mental health, and clinical research, serving on many Boards of Directors. She created one of the first New York City-based foster care programs specifically for infants suffering from AIDS. Judith most recently has launched “Home of Champions” (HOC) an innovative non-profit that gives foster youth in college a home base, facilitating their success in academia and beyond.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?”
I was adopted and grew up in a nurturing environment that was sensitive to social disparities and encouraged disadvantaged youth to be exceptional and productive members of society.
As a New York City Social Worker, I consistently rose in administrative ranks to be the first layperson to be appointed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a major Archdiocese NYC foster care agency. Under my leadership, our agency was ranked by the New York City Commissioner of Social Services as #1 out of 46 citywide agencies in NYC for providing permanency planning and excellent programming for children. Recognizing the need to address serious issues that affected our NYC children, I established a groundbreaking program for HIV babies living in foster care, an independent living skills program for adolescents, and a unique foster boarding home program for single teen mothers and their babies.
When I joined my husband in Buffalo, NY. I directed a highly productive academic research program that encouraged minority women in the Buffalo disadvantaged Eastside neighborhood to benefit from the medical school services. Later in my career as the Director of a Harlem mental health clinic, I worked tirelessly to provide the best-coordinated health care and mental health practices for our patients, while generating substantial revenue for the parent organization (in an environment that most clinics were suffering financial losses. As an activist with insight into the current obstacles foster youth face -as they are being kicked out of the foster care system -I created Home of Champions. We do not treat our foster youth as victims, we screen them for potential leadership and focus on facilitating their development as Leaders and Change-Makers of Tomorrow.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non-nonprofit?
“The majority of foster youth have college aspirations,“ (Day, et.al., 2012), However, foster youth face many challenges that make it difficult, and sometimes impossible to get a college education. Becoming self-reliant is an immense undertaking of any young person-let alone during a national crisis.
Students face difficulties securing basic needs including adequate food, clothing, transportation, and a stable residence. Foster care youth in college have fewer support networks or safety nets to depend on in a crisis. And more importantly a lack of supportive relationships. foster youth may need to work full-time to make ends meet.
Around 70% of young people who experience foster care have aspirations to pursue postsecondary education. However, the barriers they face even transitioning to college can often prove to be insurmountable, and chances of completing their degree and obtaining employment may be bleak (Promises2Kids.org). Nationally more than two-thirds of foster youth who start college do not graduate within six years. The pandemic has disrupted educational pathways for all students, but foster care students experience the biggest setback. Many of them lack access to a parent, mentor, a pastor-someone they can rely on. Consequently, a significant number of students may delay college or just quit. Students have told me that they have difficulty learning online, or have a lack of broadband internet, personal computers and don’t have a safe place to work.
Many of the students can’t return to their group home of foster parents who also struggle during the health crisis.
Foster kids grow up entrenched amidst instability, moving from one paid foster family to another an average of 3x/yr. Each time, they transfer to a new school, continuously detaching from friends. This tumultuous existence is amplified at age 18 (21 in some states) when financial public support abruptly ends, and social services dissipate. Nationwide, 42% of foster youth don’t complete high school, 1 out of 4 become homeless, and 1 out of 4 are incarcerated within 2 years of aging out (Src: Pew Charitable Trust). Less than 10% of foster youth attend college, and of that number, less than 26% will graduate (Src: Tzawa-Hayden). The situation in NYC and NY State reflects the national problem but is proportionally even worse. 18–24% of college-aged foster youth are enrolled in college in NY State, but only 3% graduate (Src: Fostering Independence). The statistical proportionality hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and the numbers are proof; these youth do not currently have the support they need. This is a chronic problem.
During Covid, many disadvantaged youths find it challenging to transition to online classes. Some don’t have access to technology, and many have no families or have been unable to reconnect with their families.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
]When someone significantly impacted your life, you’d want the world to know and possibly be affected as well. That is why I wrote “The Audacity to be Divine “-A Soul’s Journey Towards Illumination — published 6/30/20. It is the story of women empowerment and leadership and the positive mark my mother made in my life.
Witnessing my mother’s life journey as she passed through depths of despair, a tumultuous past and a divorce in which she transcended as a social activist, international organizer, and spiritual leader for the masses was life-changing for me.
My adoptive sister and I learned to be resilient, to focus our energy on making the best of things, to be positive, happy, bounce back and move towards future goals. Regardless of circumstances outside my control, my mother taught me to take ownership over situations, rather than blame. Growing up under challenging circumstances led me to acquire innate insights and provided an opportunity for me to strengthen my character, resolve, and endure.
Growing up and witnessing my mother becoming an international leader was the greatest gift I could receive and a gift to give others. My entrepreneurial spirit is deeply aligned with my passion, and that has always been a part of who I am. I am galvanized by any challenge that stands in my way and am genuinely passionate about creating pathways for our disconnected youth to succeed; it is my mission. I am willing to push myself to the limits to achieve big goals for our youth. Just over a year ago, at an age when most are gearing up for retirement, I left my stable position as the director of a mental health clinic in Harlem to follow this mission through because I believed it deserved 100% of my attention. Passion is something I exhibit every day in how I approach life, and my focus to achieve my goals is lined with the conviction necessary to materialize them.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
No one at 18 or 21 years transitioning out of foster care can be independent or take on the world with no support or mentor. The reality for many of our youth going to college, or getting employment, or in vocational school don’t have birth families and these students didn’t establish meaningful relationships or mentors because they moved around from one home to another. The government and communities can support foster youth through a pandemic or crisis by having them reenter foster care or stay in foster care until age 26.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
HOC believes that innovation is the strategic alignment of proven best practices. We have developed a 3-pronged approach to address the root challenges for disconnected youth through a curriculum that integrates the cultivation of Leadership / Changemaking, Entrepreneurship, and Independence.
The property contains the original boxing ring and training camp for world heavyweight champions Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali & Ingmar Johansson, and we’ve designed “The Making of a Champion” curriculum to continue their legacy, integrating the most effective leadership tools. Significance is placed on the importance of cultivating independence.
1. Be the Box and think outside the box.
2. Have Courage and take Risks.
In Ali’s words, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammad Ali and Patterson went beyond their boxing. Ali transcended race, national boundaries, religious distinctions and bigotry. Patterson went beyond his fame and when retired helped disadvantaged youth gain self-respect and self-discipline. It is how they lived and passed on their leadership to greatness.
Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Managers secure success while leaders see service as their true measure of significance. Ali served the world.
4. Love All.
In the end, the true measure of our success will not merely be in our accomplishments, but in the big difference, we make in the lives of other people. Managers leave accomplishments; leaders leave people transformed through love and character. Ali said, “I wish that everyone would just love one another as much as they love me.”
Ali fought for us all with his love, service, character, and his unrelenting desire to fight for the principles of peace, equality, freedom, and self-determination. Ali fought for us all. This is what made him an authentic, purpose-driven leader. His enduring mark continues to resonate in our hearts through the joy, courage, service and inspiration he gave so freely.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a nonprofit”. Please share a story or example for each.
- A clear mission and vision.
- Short- and long-term plan to implement your mission.
- Where the funding coming from.
- If it is sustainable.
- You have to board support to lead the organization to the next level.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
“Champions are not made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” Muhammad Ali
Most leaders are connected to their life’s intention and passion. They usually have a strong will to achieve. I have noticed that some youth and especially disadvantaged youth who need the support and care to achieve.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find more about HOC at homeofchampionsny.org and you can follow us on Instagram @thehomeofchampions or on Facebook @thehomeofchampionsny.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Judith Halbreich Home of Champions Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.