This week, our Executive Spotlight is focusing on an industry leader that is on a mission to bring dignity and respect to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer is recognized for his innovative work as a senior vice president at Rockville, Md.-based Coester Valuation Management Services (CoesterVMS), but he is also the driving force behind Comfort Cases, a nonprofit organization Comfort Cases is a charity that provides children in foster care with a backpack or suitcase filled with personal care items including toiletries, underwear, socks, pajamas and toys. Why is an executive with a major valuation management company engaged in such an activity? This is Chasteen-Scheer’s remarkable story:
Q: What inspired you to create Comfort Cases?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: First and foremost, the adoption of my children. All four arrived in our home as foster children carrying nothing more than trash bags containing tattered clothes and well worn personal items. I personally experienced what they felt as a young adult in the foster system, and suffered a great sense of despair seeing conditions had not changed for these children.
Q: There is very little talk about the subject of foster children in mainstream media or even parenting-focused media. Why is there still something of a taboo in the U.S. about foster children?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: While numerous studies allude to this fact, I personally believe the lack of discussion boils down to two simple concepts: fear and ignorance. People fear what they don’t understand.
The media has a tendency to lend itself to fresh, new stories. Unfortunately, the foster care system’s perpetual systematic failures can only receive so much coverage. As such, research and public relations efforts fall to underfunded advocacy groups, nonprofits, and government entities that do their best invigorate the public, but commonly fall short in lieu of hot button topics.
This leads to the preservation of misconceptions regarding the nature of foster care children, the system in general, and the scale of the issue. Even those with the desire to help in our cause commonly don’t know where to start and feel their efforts may be too insignificant to make a difference.
We’ve got to start somewhere, and hopefully our efforts and those of our peers lead to a greater emphasis on fixing foster care, both in media and Washington.
Q: How does CoesterVMS fit in to the Comfort Cases mission?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: I’ve known Brian [CoesterVMS CEO Brian Coester] for years and he’s always had a big heart. When I came to work for CoesterVMS, we decided the company would give as much to the community as it did to customer service.
We planned quarterly, and often monthly, community service staff outings. These events built an immense bond between our employees, both as coworkers and human beings.
Last fall, we began planning the first Comfort Case drive, and without a single request or announcement, the staff eagerly inquired about how they could help. Comfort Cases would not be where it is today without the great people at CoesterVMS.
Q: To date, how many cases have been distributed? And where are they being distributed?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: We’ve distributed over 900 Comfort Cases throughout Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia. Many organizations, including Child and Family Services, The National Center of Child and Family Services, and Hearts for Homes, have played a key role in distributing the prepared cases to the children in their care.
Q: Are you planning to grow Comfort Cases into a national endeavor?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: Absolutely. With nearly 400,000 children in foster care across the nation as of September 2012, if I stopped now I would feel as though I personally neglected so many by focusing close to home.
We’ve got a strong, well organized team at Comfort Cases and have gained significant momentum over the past year. I plan to utilize this energy to structure and recruit a network of regional chapters across the nation. I understand this may take time and effort but feel obligated to expand our influence, especially in areas lacking the support of local groups.
Q: How can our readers get involved with this worthy cause?
Robert T. Chasteen-Scheer: We’re constantly planning and holding Comfort Case packing parties, drives and other events to support our cause. Readers learn more about our mission and opportunities to participate by visiting our website (comfortcases.org), Facebook page (facebook.com/comfortcases), or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.