We LOVE Our Volunteers!

It is National Volunteer Appreciation Week!

What better time to thank the many people and organizations that make Casa Valentina’s work possible?

From delivering dinner to our residents’ weekly life skills meetings, to coordinating renovations to our building, to providing life skills classes, to helping with events – volunteers are the HEART of Casa Valentina.

Thank you to:

Eileen Appelrouth Farr
Alicia Bache-Wiig
Barry University Biomedical Sciences Society
Brandeis National Women’s Club South Miami Chapter
Ann Brody
Teri Golden
International Interior Design Association Miami Chapter
Gayle Jacobs
Adrienne Jalowsky
Marcie Marks
Julie Moxley
National Council of Jewish Women Kendall Section
Susan Price
Melanie Sawyer
Slow Food Miami
St. Philips Episcopal Church
St. Stephens Episcopal Church
Temple Beth Am Sisterhood
Temple Beth Am Tikkun Olam Committee
Mary Anne Young
Amy Zambrano and the Island Angels



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Welcome, Natalia Giordano, our new Program Director!

Casa Valentina is delighted to welcome our new Program Director, Natalia Giordano!

She will be joining us on Monday.

Natalia comes to Casa Valentina from the Children’s Aid Society in New York, where she directed the Next Generation Center, a community-based center in the Bronx that supports older youth in foster care and those who have aged out of the foster care system.

The Next Generation Center serves over 300 youth each year, providing life coaching, life skills workshops, academic support, and leadership and job readiness training.

Natalia grew up in Miami, and received her Bachelors degree in sociology and women’s studies from the University of Florida. She earned a Master of Social Work from the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service, and is a licensed social worker in New York State. Natalia has additional post-graduate certifications in Clinical Practice with Adolescents and field instruction from the New York University School of Social Work.

Natalia said, “I am thrilled to be joining the Casa Valentina team! This is an exciting opportunity to continue working with young people on taking the next step in their lives. I look forward to collaborating with, and learning from, the residents and staff and returning to my hometown.”

Casa Valentina Executive Director Deborah Korge added, ” We are delighted that Natalia has joined our staff as our new Program Director.  Her enthusiasm, background and experience working with youth aging out of foster care will help take Casa Valentina to the next level as it continues to grow and expand.”

Welcome aboard, Natalia!

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The great PACE Program

The young moms in our mother-baby program are learning to celebrate motherhood.

We are so excited to partner with the Institute for Child and Family Health to bring its innovative Parent and Child Enrichment (PACE) curriculum to the young women in our mother-baby program.

PACE is a prevention program targeted toward teenage parents, which addresses the associated parenting risks of poverty, single parenthood, low educational attainment, etc. PACE aims to make parenting more enjoyable, and to show young parents options and alternatives that help them create secure attachment relationships with their children.

The 13-week PACE curriculum is helping our young mothers gain better understanding of their children’s developmental stages, develop appropriate expectations, become better attuned to their needs, and learn to read their cues. The curriculum focuses broadly on parenting skills, positive discipline techniques, stress management, reflective thinking, healthy communication, and other topics. Specific sessions include: Getting To Know Your Baby; Providing Physical, Visual and Tactile Stimulation for Your Baby; Child-Directed Play Promotes Positive Relationships; The Art of Praise and Encouragement; Separation Anxiety; and Effective Limit Setting.

Each session includes a welcome, vignettes addressing the session topic, an opportunity for participants to share their own experiences, structured discussions on several key topics, “quizzes” on important lessons, and homework assignments for the following week. PACE Development Specialists present each session, and evaluate each participant’s understanding of the materials. At the successful completion of the PACE program, each resident will receive a certificate.

The Institute for Child and Family Health is a non-profit organization that provides health, behavioral health, educational and prevention services to families in Miami-Dade County, serving more than 30,000 children per year.

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How to Tell if a Relationship is Good for You, from Represent magazine

What makes a relationship healthy?

When you are connecting with someone who brings out the best in you and the relationship is not based on “What can you do for me?” Both people share ideas, feelings, respect. Both people listen and talk, and they do things to help each other.

Empathy, really trying to feel what the other person feels, is a huge piece of a healthy relationship. It’s not trying to fix their problem, but just listening to them.

Often adults tell young people what they should be feeling or how to fix the problem. Everybody, including teens, needs someone to hear what they are feeling, because it helps us figure it out. We make better decisions when we know what we are feeling.

In a healthy relationship, you can be your real self. You don’t have to act like somebody else to be loved or accepted.

How do you find your real self?

By thinking and talking about your own feelings. If you act from your own feelings, you’ll be true to your own values. You’re not worrying about what other people want you to be or what the media tells you to be.

What questions should you ask yourself about a new relationship?

Here are a few: Is the person able to give and take? Do you feel valued for who you are rather than what you can do for them? Can you be yourself? Can the other person?

Can you have boundaries? Do they respect them? Can you say, “I can’t talk now, I have to do my homework,” or, “I’m not comfortable telling you that yet”? Or, “I don’t want to have sex yet”? You deserve your own space: intellectual space, sexual space, actual physical space, emotional space. And stick to it! Boundaries only work when we enforce them and follow through.

If you’ve been abused, how do you know who to trust?

The first thing to realize is that you are going to have trust issues, and you’re probably going to have them forever. You need to recognize that.

Take it slow with people you don’t know. Give them a chance to prove to you that they can be trusted. Don’t tell them your whole life story the first time you meet them. You can have boundaries around the pain in your life and you get to choose who you share it with.

The more that you learn to trust yourself, the more comfortable you will be in trusting others because your boundaries protect you from people who make you uncomfortable. If we’re listening to our inner voice, we will pick up the red flags of another abuser or any other danger.

How can you get help to begin healing and work toward healthy relationships in the future?

Getting treatment is very important, because abuse can have long-term effects on your other relationships, including repeating the cycle (being abused again and/or becoming abusive yourself). There are a lot of places that provide therapy for free or at a reduced rate.

Because therapy is so important for working through trauma, ask, ask, ask, until you find the resources you need.

Represent magazine is a quarterly publication written by and for former foster youth. It is also a great resource for agencies working with youth aging out of foster care, providing inspiration and information for this population.  All editorial content is available online here.

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Tips from Actually Organized

“With everything in its place and a place for everything, you can regain your space, relax and feel renewed.”

So says Professional Organizer Gayle Jacobs, of AcTuaLLy ORGANIZED.

Gayle recently spent a productive and interesting evening with our Casa Valentina residents. She presented each young woman with a portable file box and an array of labeled folders, and shared tips on how to create an organized and useful filing system.

Benefits of “being organized” are:

  • Relieves stress
  • Saves you time and aggravation
  • Promotes productivity
  • Creates calmness
  • Saves money from lost items, late payments, duplicate purchases
  • Helps you feel good, efficient and in control

By giving our residents a system for their paper “flow”, Gayle is helping them to save time.

She also presented useful and attractive organization boards, created by Temple Beth Am Sisterhood members. The women enjoyed making the boards as a 2013 Mitzvah Day project.

Thank you to Gayle and the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Am!

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Angel SHINEs!


Casa Valentina resident Angel is inspiring people throughout Florida as President of the Miami Chapter of Florida Youth SHINE (Striving High for Independence aNd Empowerment). Youth SHINE is a youth-run, peer-driven organization that empowers current and former foster youth to become leaders and advocates within their communities.

Last month, Angel travelled to Jacksonville for the statewide Youth SHINE conference; attendees shared information on their chapters’ activities and engaged in legislative advocacy training. These lessons will prepare them for an upcoming trip to Tallahassee, where they will meet with lawmakers to support legislation that facilitates contact among siblings after one has been adopted and the other remains in foster care.

Angel recently spoke to law students at the University of Miami, sharing her story and talking about how lawyers can best support youth in care and those who have aged out. She gave a similar speech to case managers at the Family Resource Center, addressing their role in the lives of foster youth.

She is leading Miami Youth SHINE’s efforts to assemble focus groups of youth living in foster homes, group homes, and shelters in Miami. They will use the results to help foster parents better meet the needs of youth in their care.

Florida Youth SHINE supports young people aged 13-24 who have been in the child welfare system in creating solutions to challenges they face. By sharing their stories and experiences, Youth SHINE members aim to improve the system of care for current and future foster youth. Florida Youth SHINE was established in 2005, built upon an existing organization in Miami. There are now 12 chapters throughout the state. Florida’s Children First provides financial and administrative support.

In addition to her leadership of Youth SHINE, Angel is enrolled full-time in the Criminal Justice program at Miami Dade College and working part-time at Children’s Legal Services.

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Alice’s Chicken Salad

During our recent cooking class at Temple Beth Am, chef Alice Palombo taught Casa Valentina residents how to make a delicious and simple chicken salad.

Here’s the recipe – give it a try!

Alice’s Chicken Salad

4 cups cooked chicken, diced small
1-2 stalks celery, diced small
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley (optional)
¾ cups mayonnaise (regular, light, olive oil or canola all work well)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken, celery and parsley (if you are using it). Mix in mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Two young moms receive scholarships from NCJW

Two of the participants in our mother-baby program recently received awards through the the NCJW Greater Miami Chapter’s Higher Ground Scholarship Program. We are so proud of them!

Julie (not her real name) received funds to pay for bus passes, which she will use to take her son to daycare, and travel to and from work and school. She works-full time in food service, while taking the her general course requirements at Miami Dade College. She plans to major in forensic science.

Allison (not her real name) received funds to pay for six months of her daughter’s daycare center fees and two months of bus passes.

We thank the National Council of Jewish Women Greater Miami Section for generously supporting our residents, as they work toward bright futures for themselves and their children – and for being an excellent partner for Casa Valentina throughout the years.

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A Great Work Day with UPS!

Thanks to the awesome crew from UPS, who spent a recent Saturday morning helping us to spruce up our Coconut Grove apartment building.

It was amazing to see “What Brown Could Do for Casa Valentina”!

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Conference presentation: Challenges Facing Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Casa Valentina was honored to participate in 10th Annual Florida Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Conference, held in Orlando last week.

Casa Valentina joined with Our Kids and the Legal Aid Society of the Dade County Bar Association to present a session on “Challenges Facing Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: The Miami-Dade County Experience”.

The Florida Association of Family and Conciliation Courts is dedicated to:

  • Providing an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas to address family relationship issues;
  • Encouraging the development of court procedures that foster effective methods to resolve family disputes;
  • Developing and improving the provision of services to aid in the resolution of family disputes;
  • Protecting the interests of children in legal proceedings.

It bring together family, court and community professionals dedicated to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Members include judges, lawyers, mediators, mental health professionals, court administrators, educators and other professionals who work with families in conflict.

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