hello my tribe,
Meet Susan Ramirez, mom to two young boys and a woman on a mission to change the world. Through a life changing experience, Susan was profoundly inspired to help foster children. Under Susan’s direction, Austin Angels manages 300 volunteers and supports over 100 foster children. How in the world does she do it all? Luckily, she shares some of her secrets with us, and a bit more about her amazing organization.
Alex: Tell us a bit about your career and the work experience that led to you starting Austin Angels?
Susan: I spent 8 years as a corporate sales trainer working for the second largest builder in the nation. My job was to hire, train and develop new sales people and interns for our central Texas division. I have always been extremely driven with my career and I thought that my life was going to look very different than what it looks like today. I didn’t grow up with money and everything that I was striving for in my corporate career was the next financial step on the proverbial corporate ladder. That was until I went to a foster and adoption conference that forever changed my life. I learned at the conference the staggering statistics that plague the foster care system. And at that conference I left with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I left feeling as if God was calling me to care for our children in the foster system. So, that is exactly what I did. God called. I listened. I quit my job and here we are.
Alex: What is your most favorite memory with Austin Angels?
Susan: My goodness, there are so many it is hard to pin point just one. What immediately came to mind was when we launched the yearlong pilot Love Box program starting in OCT of 2013. About 6 months in there was a sweet little boy named Jonathan who always wanted to go out for the football team but because he performed poorly in school (mostly because he had been transferred 18x in his 14-year history in the foster care system) he was light years away from making the team. After showing up and speaking truth into his life “you matter”, “you are important”, “You have the power to make good grades”, “you can make the football team”, “I’m going to pray for you every single morning” lead to Jonathan feeling empowered to make good grades. His foster mom called me and said “Susan, you are never going to believe this – the boy who has never made anything above a “C” before has brought home straight “A’s” and he was accepted for the football team this year”. At that moment, I knew our program was special and I knew it had to be launched.
Alex: What is your most proud moment with Austin Angels?
Susan: My proudest moment was this month when my case manager sent me her backlog report with our Love Box numbers. The fact that we now support 137 children on a monthly basis and 41 families makes me incredibly proud. I also have 4 of the hardest working staff members, 11 working board members and 4 super talented interns. My team makes me proud!
Alex: If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to start a nonprofit, what would it be?
Susan: Make sure to do your research, if there is another charity that is already doing what you are feeling called to do – join them! Do not recreate the wheel. Non-profits need all the help they can get and a dream situation for a nonprofit leader is for someone to say “I want to help and join your mission to make a difference.”
Alex: What does a typical day look like for you?
Susan: I do a lot of emails, meetings and work with each of our team members to ensure we are pushing our mission forward in an excellent manner. Because we have a small team I oversee every facet of our business. As we grow, that will lead me to having a little more flexibility in my schedule. For now, I work on strategy, fundraising efforts, and true community partnerships that help with our growth plan. Our goal is to grow our programs nationally and to ensure that every single child that is in the foster care system has a Love Box mentor.
Alex: How do you balance being a mother, wife, friend, while also running a nonprofit?
Susan: I have strict rules about being present while at home. Because I have 2 littles (4-year-old and 9-month-old boys) it is important to set boundaries that when I am at home my phone is off. They get my undivided attention at night and on weekends. I try to have a date night with my husband at least once a month. The good news is that all of my best friends work with me so the balance with friends comes easily.
Alex: What does self-care look like for you?
Susan: I enjoy a good pedicure, nice makeup and skin care products and I go to the gym 3-4x a week I also like taking walks at night with my boys.
More About Austin Angels
Austin Angels is an organization committed to improving the lives of foster children and their families. This is achieved through their Love Box program which connects volunteers directly with foster families to provide mentorship, encouragement, and provision. Volunteers commit to delivering monthly Love Boxes containing household items, food, and “extras” tailored to the family’s needs. The program provides supplies with the ultimate goal of building a supportive and mentoring relationship between volunteer, foster parents, and the foster child.
The Love Box program also provides enrichment experiences such as music lessons, museum admission, tickets to sporting events, etc. These experiences are essential in fostering interests and encouraging family bonding while also exposing the child to arts and culture. To encourage a deeper relationship and teach valuable life skills, a needs assessment is completed for each child in the program.
Volunteers use the assessment to guide them in choosing activities i.e. dining out, household chores, following a recipe, financial literacy, etc. These activities are tailored to the age and needs of each child. For younger children, the focus is on opportunities to bond and explore their interests. For older children, teaching life skills to build self-sufficiency and self-esteem to aid in a more successful transition out of foster care is the main goal.
In addition to the Love Box program, Austin Angels coordinates several events throughout the year. Austin Angels hosts a Back to School event, providing foster children the opportunity to pick out a new back pack and school supplies. In 2016, the organization was able to provide a $100 Target gift card for each child to use toward back to school clothes. The event also included free haircuts, superhero mascots, and a pizza party.
Each year, Austin Angels strives to make Christmas a little more special with a party and gifts for the foster children and their families. In March of 2017, Austin Angels hosted a Spring Break day camp for foster children to participate in fun, outdoor camp activities including kayaking, basketball, petting zoo, bounce houses and much more. Many children in foster care do not get to experience things most of us take for granted – Christmas gifts, choosing back to school supplies, going to a water park, visiting a museum, or going to summer camp. Austin Angels wants to make these activities possible for every child in foster care.
In January, Austin Angels added a pilot chapter program in Amarillo, named appropriately Amarillo Angels. Numerous requests from groups and individuals all over the country who are interested in starting a chapter have been received. Austin Angels believes that this program can change the lives of foster children, not only in Austin, but throughout the country.