Palm Beach woman on mission to reform foster care

Palm Beach woman on mission to reform foster care

Foster children in Palm Beach County matter. That’s the mantra that drives Kathy Leone to advocate, support and push for the protection and survival of the children who depend on it.

“It is incumbent on all of us, as residents of PBC, to care for these children, many of whom have no one else,” Leone said.

The 60-year-old, of Palm Beach, spends the bulk of her time building consensus and awareness on the issues that negatively impact children in foster care, finding solutions and raising money to fund them.

StandUp For Kids, a nonprofit whose goal is to empower homeless and at-risk youth toward lifelong personal growth, recently nominated Leone for Woman Volunteer of the Year. While working tirelessly to improve child welfare, she broke foster care barriers by creating a visitation center and working with all partners to create a successful system of care in the county.

“I’m proud of the role I’ve played to encourage a renewed spirit of collaboration and cooperation among the key stakeholders who work in the foster care system,” Leone said. “Also, I have worked hard to create awareness of the need to join the effort within our local community.”

Her hope is to continue to increase the number involved in organizations such as the guardian ad litem program, mentoring and tutoring, donating to organizations like Speak Up for Kids, Vita Nova and the Children’s Home Society.

“But just as important would be to meet some of the children, look in their eyes, talk to them and ask them, when appropriate, what they want and need,” Leone said. “Most times, the answer will surprise you.”

Leone also stresses the importance of longevity in volunteering for kids.


Who is your hero?

My heroes are those who inspire me to be a better human being, and I have had many heroes throughout my life; currently I have three close friends fighting late-stage cancer. Their courage and strength coupled with their ability to be joyful and present each moment of the day is incredibly inspiring to me. Also, many of the foster children I have met inspire me as well. Their resiliency and perseverance, in spite of the difficult hand they have been dealt, always lifts my spirits and strengthens me to forge ahead.

What is your favorite movie?

I am a sucker for sappy Christmas movies ... watching any and all of them makes me happy.

What are your hobbies?

Anything that involves being outdoors: biking, hiking, downhill skiing, snowmobiling. (I love snow!)

What do you do to get away or take a break?

I love to travel together as a family with my husband and four sons. On a daily basis, taking a break involves going to Mass usually at St. Ann’s in West Palm Beach, taking time to pray or reading Scripture.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Pope John Paul, Mother Teresa and Grandfather Dixon, who passed away before I was born.

What is the best advice you ever received?

I read a quote by Harry Truman which really spoke to me as I was beginning to embark on this reform effort: “There is no limit to what can be achieved, when no one cares who gets the credit.”

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

My dad was a pilot in World War II and flew numerous dangerous missions “over the hump” in the Far East. It might sound crazy to some, but I would have liked to have “been there” for that. He was an extraordinarily brave and amazing human being.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

There are many, but I suppose one of my favorites is this: For years, my father would take my brother, sister and me skiing every weekend in the winter, and after a full day of skiing, cold and tired, we would always stop on the way home for pizza and hot chocolate at the same place, Pizza Villa. That warm, cozy feeling has stuck with me all these years, and I feel blessed and fortunate to have had a childhood with so many happy memories. In a way, it’s why I am so determined to work to ensure all children also have the opportunity to develop precious childhood memories with a family, whether it be their own or an adopted one, rather than one that is filled with fear, neglect and trauma.

The 10th Annual Great Charity Challenge Awards $1.3 Million

The 10th Annual Great Charity Challenge Awards $1.3 Million

Despite threatening skies, the weather held out and presented a beautiful night under the lights for the 10th annual Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, on Saturday, Feb. 2 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

An annual highlight of the Winter Equestrian Festival, $1.3 million in grants and prize money was awarded to a wide array of Palm Beach County charities. The evening’s theme of “We are the World” focused on bringing the community together, and it did so with great success.

The top spot and largest purse of $150,000 went to Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless with team sponsor Pine Hollow and corporate sponsor Havensafe Farm providing support. The team of winning riders — David Blake, Carly Dvorkin and Madelyn Ruskin — put up the impressive time of 91.904 seconds in the pro/am relay race format.

After 10 years of hard work, the Great Charity Challenge has distributed $13.5 million to more than 230 local charities.

“Equestrian Sport Productions and Wellington Equestrian Partners take on all the costs associated with this event,” GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin explained. “Which means that every single penny we fundraise goes straight to local charities, which is an amazing achievement in itself.”

The impact of the money raised reaches far beyond one-time assistance for the winners.

Gregg Weiss, with Speak Up for Kids Palm Beach County, not only drew one of the names for a grant during last weekend’s event, but also knows the long-term importance of the GCC.

“Five years ago, we had the opportunity to participate in this event. Our number was pulled, our team was savvy and won $150,000,” Weiss said. “That more than doubled our annual budget. It set us on a trajectory for sustainability.”

Second place this year and a check for $125,000 went to the Kids Cancer Foundation, as riders Katherine Barnard, Samantha Wight and Daniel Bluman came in just one second off from the top spot. The team sponsor was the Wight Family with corporate sponsor Artemis Farm.

Claire Schreder, Coco Fath and Molly Ashe won the $100,000 prize for third place on behalf of Speak Up for Kids Palm Beach County. Team sponsor Louisburg Farm and corporate sponsor Fidelity Investments supported the Swiss-inspired riders and horses.

Only three seconds separated the top three teams when the competition ended.

The top five teams at the end of the evening included the Spirit of Giving Network in fourth place receiving $80,000 and Jeff Industries in fifth for $70,000. Hope 4 Mobility, the Boca West Children’s Foundation, the Community Caring Center of Palm Beach County, Genesis Assistance Dogs and the Friends of Foster Children rounded out the top 10.

In all, 26 teams competed, and every charity went home a winner. Even the final ranked team received a prize for $15,500 for their organization.

With the costumes being a big part of the event’s tradition, an additional $11,000 in costume awards were given. Jeff Industries took the top spot and a $3,000 prize for Brazilian-inspired costumes. Friends of Foster Children’s Viking costumes took second place for $2,000, while Back to Basics, honoring Jamaica, placed third and received $1,000.

In addition, the Zeigler Family Foundation awarded $50,000 total to five charities. The Arc of Palm Beach County, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, the Lord’s Place, the Area Agency on Aging and the Urban Youth Impact each received $10,000 checks.

GCC founder Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, addressed the crowd of spectators and spoke about the event’s impact.

“We measure this event not by the money raised but by the number of lives we’ve touched,” Bellissimo said. “There are hundreds of thousands of lives that have been touched by this event. We are so proud of all the help and support.”

But the evening overflowed with charitable giving as 10 more grants, starting at $10,000 progressing down to $1,000, were selected during the intermission. The winners, in consecutive order, were Palm Beach County 4H Youth Development, the Children’s Museum, the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, the Child Rescue Coalition, the George Snow Scholarship Fund, Student Aces, the Glades Initiative, Nonprofits First, PBC Pals and the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County.

In the Wellington public school art contest, Elbridge Gale Elementary School won Most Original, Panther Run Elementary School won for Most Inspiring and Wellington Elementary School had the Best Representation of the Cause — each bringing a $1,500 prize home to their school. The Best Overall prize of $2,000 went to Okeeheelee Middle School.

Eight awards of $1,000 each were given to all participating schools, in addition to a few $500 bonuses. Binks Forest Elementary School received the elementary level bonus, the middle school bonus went to Emerald Cove Middle School and the high school bonus was awarded to Wellington High School.

For more information, along with complete results on both the competition and additional grants, visit

Tenth Annual Great Charity Challenge, Presented by Fidelity Investments®, Crowns Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless as Winner

Tenth Annual Great Charity Challenge, Presented by Fidelity Investments®, Crowns Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless as Winner

Wellington, FL – February 2, 2019 – The “Saturday Night Lights” of the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) beamed on Palm Beach County Charities during the 10th Annual Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments® (GCC), on Saturday, February 2. Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless took home $150,000 as the lion’s share of the $1.3 million in prize money on offer after their team of riders David Blake, Carly Dvorkin, and Madelyn Ruskin, along with team sponsor Pine Hollow and corporate sponsor Havensafe Farm, took the victory.

Great Charity Challenge pairs riders with Palm Beach County nonprofits for 10th year

Great Charity Challenge pairs riders with Palm Beach County nonprofits for 10th year

With a “We Are The World” theme, riders and fans represented their favorite countries at the 10th annual Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, which took over the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Saturday Night Lights event in Wellington for 26 good causes.

Teams made up of junior and amateur riders competing against professionals were paired with Palm Beach County charities that were randomly selected at events leading up to the Feb. 2 grand finale with a total of $1.3 million up for grabs.

New program seeks to recruit Palm Beach County foster parents

New program seeks to recruit Palm Beach County foster parents

WEST PALM BEACH — On her “war wall” inside an office at the Palm Beach County Courthouse, Diana Reese keeps track of her outreach efforts on behalf of the newly created #Foster Palm Beach program.

Using sticky notes, the county’s new centralized foster home recruiter lists contacts, resources, meetings and other information pertinent to #Foster Palm Beach.

The program, created last fall by the nonprofit Speak Up for Kids of Palm Beach County, Inc., through a Children’s Services Council Great Ideas Initiative grant, strives to recruit foster parents in Palm Beach County.

Daylight Detox & Recovery Center Shines as a Light of Hope this Holiday Season for Children in Need

Daylight Detox & Recovery Center Shines as a Light of Hope this Holiday Season for Children in Need

Daylight Detox & Recovery Center Shines as a Light of Hope this Holiday Season for Children in Need

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- Daylight Detox & Recovery Center is giving back this holiday season by partnering with "Speak Up for Kids Palm Beach". The nonprofit serves 1500 children countywide who are in the foster care system. Daylight not only works to break the stigma of addiction, but is also fighting against the stigma that surrounds local treatment centers.

"With all the media attention on local treatment centers not doing the right thing, we are taking steps daily to show the public that there are treatment facilities out here every day working hard to be a positive influence. Daylight is saving and creating new lives for those who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse disorders every day." stated, Tierney Steiginga, the Marketing Director for Daylight Detox and Recovery Center. 

Not only is Daylight taking it upon themselves to give back, but they are calling on other addiction treatment centers in which they have business relationships to join them. 

"Not only do we want to give back, but we want to encourage all of those who work with us to be a part of this holiday drive. Most of the children who are in the foster care system have parents who struggle with substance abuse issues." Jason Tuszynski informed us. He represents the Business Strategy Team for Daylight Detox & Recovery Center
If you wish to be a part of Daylight's Holiday Gift Card Drive, they are accepting Gift Cards at their Administration Office until December 12, 2018. The office is located at Suite 305 631 US Highway 1, North Palm Beach, FL 33408. If you prefer mail, send to attn: Marketing Office, Daylight Detox & Recovery Center 631 US Highway 1, Suite 305 North Palm Beach, FL 33408. They are specifically targeting children 11-18. Suggestions for gift cards include clothing stores, Target, Walmart, Visa/Mastercard Gift Cards. Any and all is appreciated. 

For more information or for an exclusive interview with the Daylight Team contact Tierney Steiginga at tierney(at) or call (330) 921-1291.

Speak Up for Kids: Giving foster children a voice - PALM BEACH POST

Speak Up for Kids: Giving foster children a voice - PALM BEACH POST

What does Speak Up for Kids do?

Speak Up for Kid’s goal is to support the Guardian ad Litem program to provide all abused, abandoned or neglected children in Palm Beach County’s dependency system with a court-appointed volunteer that advocates for their best interests. This helps ensure that children do not get lost in an overburdened legal and social service system.

How does your agency benefit the community?

Our agency benefits the community as it provides local organizations the opportunity to be part of a positive change in a child’s life. We assist children during the most crucial developmental years of their lives, which drives them to become contributing members to the community by breaking the negative cycles and creating ones that are more positive. Our agency also benefits the community as we provide members with the opportunity to volunteer and be a voice for these vulnerable children. Research has proven that our program has continuous positive effects such as finding safe and permanent homes, allowing participation in extracurricular activities and improved academics and behavior for these children.

What is your agency’s focus for the future?

To reach 100 percent advocacy for all abused and neglected children in the Palm Beach County Dependency System.

How can the community help?

Community members can help by selflessly devoting their time, patience and tenderness to these vulnerable children. Become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer at; help provide resources by making a monetary donation at; donate gift cards of any denomination; or volunteer time to help with fundraising, outreach, PR or general office help.

Speak Up for Kids granted portion of $360,000 from Volunteer Florida

Speak Up for Kids granted portion of $360,000 from Volunteer Florida

Speak Up for Kids PBC is among other wonderful Florida charities as recipients of a portion of a large grant fund from Volunteer Florida. $360,000 will be shared among with winners and we are so very grateful for the support.

Winners List HERE


October 25, 2018 – TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Volunteer Florida announced it is awarding $360,000 in Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant funding to 24 nonprofit and service organizations throughout the state. Each organization will receive a $15,000 grant, and together they will match the funding with $360,000 in local donations. In total, $572,000 will be invested in Florida's communities. 

Guardians ad Litem ‘speak for the child

Guardians ad Litem ‘speak for the child

Jul 1st, 2018 · by  Matteo Tullio · Comments: 0

The State of Florida Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program is a network of professional staff and community advocates, partnering to provide a strong voice in court and positive systemic change on behalf of Florida’s abused and neglected children. There are currently GAL Programs in all 20 judicial circuits in Florida.

The program’s mission is simple and clear, “I am for the Child.” The vision statement from the program to accomplish their mission reads, “The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program will continue to be a powerful and effective voice advocating for the best interests of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children and be recognized and respected as a partnership of community advocates and professional staff. To the fullest extent possible, this vision will be realized through volunteers who will advocate as Guardians ad Litem for the children they serve.”

Guardian ad Litem and Speak Up for Kids featured on a PODCAST!

The Guardian ad Litem Program is critical for kids in need to have someone that can advocate on their behalf. Ken Gottlieb and Christie Geltz from the Guardian ad Litem Program describe the great work they do along with their need for more volunteers like you. If you can find time to help kids in need this show is for you.

GAL program claims U.S. Supreme Court victory

GAL program claims U.S. Supreme Court victory

By Jim Ash
Senior Editor

Administrators with Florida’s Statewide Guardian ad Litem program are declaring victory after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a last-minute appeal from the biological father of a toddler born addicted to cocaine. 

The high court’s refusal to review the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s ruling in M.L. v. the Department of Children and Families cleared the way for the boy to be adopted by the St. Lucie foster parents he had come to regard as his family.  

Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz praises the justices for “putting the needs of the child first.”

“The child’s parents had basically abandoned him,” Abramowitz said. “But he was in a loving, stable foster home, and it was in his best interest to have a forever family.”

Victories are rare in a social services system responsible for 25,000 children in “out-of-home care” while it struggles to keep pace with a deadly opioid crisis. A new study by the Florida Coalition of Children found that 60 percent of child removals last year were due to substance abuse, a four-fold increase. 

And no victory is total, or clear cut, at least according to Florida Rural Legal Services attorney Andrea White, who represented M.L., the “purported biological” father.  

M.L. attended the birth and is listed on the birth certificate, but because the mother was married to someone else at the time — an estranged husband who had been out of the picture for six years — M.L.’s legal standing was practicaly nonexistent, White said.  

“The husband was the legal father because they were married. Period. End of story,” White said. “That’s Florida law and it’s really brutal on that point.”

The state removed the six-day-old infant from the mother after doctors saw signs of cocaine withdrawal. It was only after the state had placed the child in foster care, and was attempting to terminate the mother’s parental rights to facilitate an adoption, that M.L. tried to intervene.

A trial judge refused to allow it, saying M.L. was at the mercy of the estranged husband. But the Fourth DCA disagreed, at least on that point.

“While a biological father who is a stranger to an existing marriage into which a child is born has extremely limited rights, his ability to establish his paternity is not left entirely to the husband’s ‘whim,’” the judges wrote.

Instead, the three-judge panel ruled against M.L. because he waited too long.

Even though M.L. had joined the Florida Putative Father’s Registry, and obtained an affidavit from the estranged husband, the Fourth DCA noted that he had failed, after 18 months, to get a DNA test.

“The Florida Legislature has stated that ‘time is of the essence’ in these cases, and at the time of the prospective biological father’s motion to intervene, the child had spent his entire life in the dependency system,” the judges wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the Fourth DCA’s ruling. 

White says the mother kept M.L. mostly in the dark, and that he believed she would reunite with the infant. He didn’t know about the adoption until after he was referred to legal aid and obtained counsel, White said.

“You know, our clients here are not always the most sophisticated,” White said. “They don’t understand the law, they don’t understand legal proceedings. This was his first child. . . . He kept asking the caseworkers to help him.”

White says she’s happy the child found a loving home, but the case has devastated her client and left her frustrated.  

“If he had had more money and acted more swiftly, he would have his child right now — or at least have the chance to have him,” White said. “Our job shouldn’t be to determine who the shiniest parent is, who has the better house, who has the nicer car.”

Abramowitz said the real tragedy would have been to tear the child from the only family he had ever known.

“I would say a parent’s ability to assert his or her right has a shelf life when an abused child is awaiting permanency.”

[Revised: 01-29-2018]

Yoga Studio gets participants moving for child advocacy

Yoga Studio gets participants moving for child advocacy

Delray Beach's newest yoga studio invited the community to partake in a communal dance experience meant to uplift the spirit called Yoga Trance Dance. The event raised funds for Speak Up for Life, a charity organization that advocates for abused and neglected children.

As participants entered the bright, spacious studio, the Yoga Trance Dance instructor Dee Greenberg asked them to form a circle in the center of the room. Greenberg led the group with guided relaxation and breathing exercises, full body dance warm-ups, and free dancing to high-energy African drum beats.

Studio owner Kelly Kerr of Family Yoga Zen Zone said she was thrilled to see all the joy, love and positive vibrations being expressed on the dance floor. Kerr plans to host the Yoga Trance Dance event continuously on a monthly basis, starting on the first Sunday of the month in February. As the participants exited the studio, Executive Director of Speak Up for Kids Coleen La Costa thanked each person for their participation and donation to help local children achieve their dreams in Palm Beach County.

SUCCESS - A Story to warm your heart!

SUCCESS - A Story to warm your heart!

As we approach the final days of 2017, I wanted to share a story of great success and determination. JaJuan came into care in 2010 when he was just 12 years old. In this video he describes his life prior to coming into the system and how he was determined to break the cycle. His Guardian ad Litem shared this video with me this morning and although his case closed out PG several years ago and she lives in PA, they are very close and she is one of his biggest cheerleaders.

As Supervising attorney in Palm Beach County at the time, I remember this case very well. I spent a lot of time with the volunteer (also our recruiter back then) trying to figure out how to break the cycle for these kids. Love and determination were the magic ingredients. His sister graduated HS and is attending FAMU and well you have to watch the video to hear his story as I really feel he tells it best….

You all make a huge difference in the lives of children. I hope this inspires you as we end 2017 and begin 2018. Anything is possible when you dedicate yourself to what is most important.

I hope you all have a very Happy Holiday Season and may the New Year bring many more success stories for our kids.

Thank you Whatchamacallit for Kids!!!

Thank you Whatchamacallit for Kids!!!

A happy place for kids — a toy store — was the setting for an event to aid children in a not-so-happy place.

Sally Ricca and Cindy Cook hosted a reception in honor of Speak Up For Kids, a support group of Palm Beach County’s Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program.

>> SHINY SHOTS: Speak Up For Kids PBC

The reception took place Oct. 25 at Whatchamacallit’s for Kids, Cook’s toy store on South County Road.

The afternoon included cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and information about Speak Up For Kids and the Guardian Ad Litem program.

Speak Up for Kids is a non-profit support organization within the Guardian Ad Litem program that advocates for the interests of the children in the dependency court system.

More than 50 people attended.

Non-Profit of the Year – Speak Up for Kids of Palm Beach County

Non-Profit of the Year – Speak Up for Kids of Palm Beach County

Thanks to Speak Up for Kids of Palm Beach County, the GAL Program reached 100% representation in Belle Glade and Delray!  Speak Up for Kids always goes above and beyond for GAL, this year nearly doubling their budget in an effort to bring 100% representation to abused and neglected children in the 15th Circuit. Speak Up for Kids did the hard work of applying for a Victims of Crime Act grant, won the grant, and have employed four new Child Advocate Managers. This is in addition to another Child Advocate Manager they support!  Speak Up for Kids also provides two attorneys who allow the Program to represent more children.  Every year their commitment grows, and their hearts are open to every suggestion. “What do you need? Let’s see how we can make it happen,” they say.  Speak Up for Kids’ commitment to children has a positive impact every single day!