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Sunday, 01 February 2015 22:00

Adoptive Family Support Network merges with D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s

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The merger of the Adoptive Family Support Network into D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s brings into one nonprofit organization the support systems needed for a full suite of adoption and post-adoption services. The merger of the Adoptive Family Support Network into D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s brings into one nonprofit organization the support systems needed for a full suite of adoption and post-adoption services. COURTESY PHOTO

After years of working together, two Grand Rapids-based child-focused nonprofit organizations have decided to merge their operations.

The merger that formally brought the Adoptive Family Support Network (AFSN) into operations of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s was completed Jan. 1 of this year, and the group has started letting constituents know about the merger in recent weeks.

The move to combine the two organizations solidifies what had already been a strong relationship between the two nonprofits, said Sharon Loughridge, president/CEO of D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s.

“We’ve been great partners pretty much the entire time AFSN has been alive,” Loughridge told MiBiz.

In essence, the merger will “result in improved post-adoption services and enable the continuation of vital programming into the future,” said Ron Apol, the former AFSN interim executive director.

“I’ve been involved with AFSN since 1991 and believe this partnership will have a positive impact on the adoption community,” he said.

According to Loughridge, the main driver for the merger was AFSN’s small size. The organization focused on assisting adoptive families in a number of ways, but lacked the essential back office support that comes with scale, such as clerical staffing, a human resources department, website support or a marketing team.

Rather than put funds toward those support functions, it made more sense to bring AFSN under D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s, which already had those systems in place, she said.

“All of those things are needed, but it means a reduction in the funds you can pump directly into services,” Loughridge said. “The two agencies talked about the advantages of having those backroom expenses covered by a larger agency, already having the staffing in place to cover those.”

This merger particularly benefits AFSN because the organization now has access to D.A. Blodgett’s larger staff and resources, and the deal provides the security of being part of a larger organization, she said.

“Because (AFSN is) small, it’s really hard to have all those backroom things. All of the support-type things, all those things that cost a lot of money,” Loughridge said. “That’s a struggle for a little nonprofit.”

Small nonprofits can struggle to secure funding for internal support services or office supplies since potential funders would rather put their dollars toward mission-driven activities, said Brooke VanProoyen, program manager for AFSN.

“Oftentimes, community foundations don’t want to fund (the backroom) type of stuff,” VanProoyen said. “(Now we) have the ability to serve without the scary stress of, ‘Are we going to pay our rent?’ You don’t get rent in grants.”

Via the merger, the goal for AFSN is for families to have one place to go for all their child and adoption services, whether it’s fostering or adoption through D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s or post-adoption services and support through AFSN.

“We’ve always offered the childcare, the programming and the family events … but supporting the parent to be strong and healthy to best help that child has been key,” VanProoyen said. “I think we can do more to serve families … than we were when we were trying to have our own separate entity. And that’s the big thing for the families.”

Founded in 1991, AFSN provided support to people looking to adopt or who had already gone through the adoption process. It worked to connect adoptive families with one another so they had someone to talk to who had similar experience. AFSN organized outings and events for the families and sponsored parent seminars, adoption support groups and training for parents and professionals to better understand adoptive families.

“(The families) have gone through a lot of paperwork and a lot of steps and a lot of meetings just to get that adoption finalized that they’re just ready to (breathe) and not have a case worker,” VanProoyen said. “(They’re) able to have a soft place to land.”

D.A. Blodgett was founded in 1887 and was originally intended to assist homeless children. It has since grown to include foster and adoption programs, prevention services for families and mentoring. In 2010, D.A. Blodgett merged with St. John’s Home, which offered emergency shelter for children and treatment for victims of abuse.

The organizations used that previous merger of D.A. Blodgett and St. John’s Home as framework for the most recent deal.

“I pulled out my due diligence pieces and I had a lot of notes and outlines. I even had my communication plan and messaging pieces. So I kind of pulled those out and we started going from there,” said Loughridge, referring to using her prior merger experience. “That was a much bigger merger. D.A. Blodgett and St. John’s Home were each an $8 million dollar organization at the time, so there was property and buildings and all of that, which we didn’t have with AFSN because they are leasing their space.”

Both Loughridge and VanProoyen agreed that the merger has gone smoothly so far, a process aided, in part, by AFSN’s small size. The organization leased space in the Masonic Temple in Grand Rapids and has no assets other than staff computers. Both organizations also shared a similar mission, which also helped smooth the transition.

“When a merger occurs between two organizations and they are clear about what they need from one another, it is more likely that the transition will go well,” said Diana Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

The merger should allow the AFSN to “do their programmatic work much more effectively,” Sieger said.

“Both organizations have similar values and want all adoptive families to be successful,” she said. “It benefits everyone.”

For the families that relied on AFSN, the added support and resources from the merger offers them a sense of security, Loughridge said.

“I think (for families), this is almost an added assurance for them because you can tell them you have this foundational, backroom stuff handled,” she said. “It should say to them, ‘This is a resource I need and I don’t have to worry that it won’t be here tomorrow.’”

Additionally, the families will still receive the same confidentiality they got from AFSN and D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s. Even though AFSN now falls under the larger organization, the work will still be considered separate.

“The assistance that they seek through ASFN is a confidential thing, and that is the whole point of the services,” Loughridge said. “Just because their adoption was done through D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns, there’s no connection between the adoption social worker and the services that they seek through ASFN.”

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