Mending Broken Families: Better Together Guides Families Through HardshipsMay 07, 2021 03:19PM ● By HOLLY HAMILTON
Growing up, Megan Rose saw firsthand the power that caring strangers could have in changing the trajectory of someone’s life. After Rose’s father lost his job, he turned to alcohol and drugs, eventually landing in jail for domestic violence. Her parents divorced. During this difficult time, her mother turned to the church for support, while her father was saved through prison ministry. Once reunited, Rose’s parents remarried.
That experience led Rose to a life dedicated to strengthening families and reminding people of their dignity, worth and value. While working for the Florida Department of Children and Families, she became deeply frustrated by the foster-care system. She wanted to bring families together, rather than split them apart.
Rose’s passion for empowering families led her to found Better Together three years ago. The nonprofit mobilizes hundreds of volunteers and church communities to build lasting support systems that help families cope with hardships such as job loss, substance abuse, homelessness and even jail time. It also ensures that children are cared for in a safe home until the family can be reunited.
Better Together consists of two programs, Better Families and Better Jobs, with a single mission of keeping families together and keeping children out of foster care.
Better Families is a voluntary alternative to foster care. It connects parents with volunteers to host children temporarily and provides mentorship while parents regain control over their lives. Parents never lose legal custody of their children while participating. To date, Better Together has served more than 2,500 children. Its impact is astounding—98 percent of families ultimately are kept together.
Better Together is successful because of its focus on prevention. “The child welfare system is overwhelmed and does not have the resources to treat the root causes of messy and complicated family problems,” Rose says. “In most cases, we can protect Florida’s vulnerable children by preventing the need for foster care in the first place.” That’s where Better Together comes in.
According to Rose, a majority of the children who enter foster care are not physically abused. “Most of these children face neglect at home due to economic instability, mental health issues or substance abuse,” she says. “With the right local support system in place, these challenges can be overcome without foster care. At Better Together, we’ve witnessed the trajectory of entire lives change as people get off the sidelines and invest personally in their neighbors. And the need for this type of locally driven, person-to-person connection is greater than ever. Since March 2020, we’ve seen a 155 percent increase in requests for help from our Better Families program.”
Better Together has remained fully operational throughout the pandemic. With just seven full-time staff members, the nonprofit leverages support from hundreds of local volunteers to serve every single family who asks for help. “We have not turned a single child away,” Rose says.
Meanwhile, the Better Jobs program addresses the 76 percent of families who come to Better Together because of economic hardship. Unemployment is often the root of a family crisis. Better Jobs has helped nearly 28,000 job seekers find employment through church-based job fairs across 20 states.
“It’s more than just a job fair, as participants can attend workshops for help with resumes and interviewing skills, receive clothing and a haircut for interviews, and one-on-one job coaching services with trained volunteer job coaches,” Rose says.
In addition to church partners and volunteer host families, Better Together also relies on philanthropic support from well-respected foundations, including the Naples Children & Education Foundation and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, along with generous contributions from the community.
Rose is one of three national nonprofit leaders recently selected to Manhattan Institute’s Civil Society Fellows Program, earning a $10,000 fellowship for her efforts to improve local communities. The program helps fellows raise national awareness for their missions and make the case for the essential nature and value of their nonprofit work.
Rose walks the walk, a role model for her team, volunteers and community. She and her husband have three children of their own, and the family has hosted 18 children in the past five years while their parents received much-needed mentoring. All of those families have been successfully reunited.
Rose believes in the power of an invested and compassionate community. “We can’t do it without the support of our community, and I believe that each one of us can play a role in keeping kids safe and preventing the breakdown of families,” she says. “Whether it is hosting children, mentoring parents or providing donations and supplies, there is a role for you with Better Together.”
Holly Hamilton is a Southwest Florida-based storyteller focusing on people, places and partnerships.