Six Honored by Casey’s 2020 Excellence for Children Awards

The 2020 winners of the Excellence for Children Awards. From left to right: Victoria Gray, Mel Lambert, Edwin Day, Janis Avery, Brejea Colthirst, Victor Sims. Photo: Casey Family Programs

The Seattle-based Casey Family Programs has awarded six people with an Excellence for Children Award, an honor given out each year by the foundation to recognize “exceptional work and advocacy for children and families impacted by the child welfare system.”

“These awards are a recognition of people giving the best they have to give,” said Casey CEO William Bell, in a statement announcing the awards “They inspire all of us to work together to create hope and ensure every child and their family have what they need in their lives to reach their fullest potential.”

Victor Sims, who grew up in Florida’s foster care system, received the Alumni Award. Sims, who serves on the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council, was an outspoken advocate for the Family First Prevention Services Act, a massive reform of federal child welfare financing that passed in 2018. He delivered a Ted Talk in May of 2018 on the importance of social capital for foster youth.

Sims, 24, is a program supervisor for SailFuture, a Florida nonprofit best known for its residential sailing program for youth referred by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Janis Avery, CEO of the 32-year-old Washington state nonprofit Treehouse, was this year’s Leadership Award winner. Avery has led the organization since 1995, and plans to retire in the spring. Treehouse helps prepare foster youth in Washington for college and careers; its Graduation Success program is currently being scaled up around the state.

Among the other winners this year:

Mel Lambert of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a foster parent whose Sunshine Farm Sanctuary facilitates visits for foster youth to spend time with ponies on the farm.

Victoria Gray of Phoenix, who is raising seven grandchildren and founded a program to help relatives through the early days of a placement in their homes.

Brejea Colthirst, of Oakland, California, who was reunited with her son Love in 2008 and last year became the first senior defense parent advocate for the East Bay Family Defenders legal clinic.

Edwin Daye, of Des Moines, Iowa, a parent partner with Children and Families of Iowa who is raising his son and several of his relatives’ children.

Each of the winners received an honorarium and were recognized at an event at the foundation in mid-January.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.