Advocacy, Support & Assistance Now (ASA Now) opened Shade Tree Academy in 2020 to provide schooling and resources for children in foster care, and they are raising money to help break even and expand their facility.
There are currently about 14,000 foster children in Arizona, and the organization says that foster kids are more likely to drop out of school than their peers due to traumatic life events, such as losing a parent, instability in the home, or moving placements.
The founders of ASA Now are Anika Robinson, Susan Mulhearn, and Angela Teachout, all of whom have provided homes for thousands of children across the state since its founding.
ASA Now helped pass HB 2442 in 2016, known also as Jacob’s Law, named after someone who was in the foster care system, now 22 and living in a developmentally delayed group home and receiving round-the-clock care for his mental health. The law is “an effort to improve care for Arizona’s foster/kinship/adoptive families receiving behavioral health services” and “establishes timelines to provide behavioral health services to foster and adoptive children,” according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Shade Tree Academy is located in Mesa at Jacob’s Mission Community Center, which the organization established in 2018. Classes opened in 2021 after finishing renovations in December 2019, and this year marks the academy’s second academic year teaching trauma-informed education in a small class of seven foster care students. The school seeks to be a place of healing for foster kids, curbing the effects of the trauma they’ve experienced, creating a therapeutic environment for them, providing specialists to guide them towards successful academic careers, and helping them gain the tools to cope with their trauma. The non-profit hopes to one day expand their facility to serve up to 100 students.
The good will of benefactors allowed the organization and its facilities to grow. Real estate investors Randy and Dell Loy Hansen have donated millions of dollars to help the non-profit and continue to be their advocate.
One Saturday afternoon, Randy Hansen saw the founders renovating a dilapidated church. Impressed and inspired, Hansen wrote a check to buy paint for the building. The amount was $50,000. Robinson called Hansen crying in the middle of Wells Fargo, convinced that it had been a mistake.
“It’s easy to donate money, it’s easy to donate things,” said Hansen. “But donating your life, that to me is the true gift.”
Hansen invited the founders to a Feeding My Starving Children event, and when all three arrived with dozens of foster children, he felt inspired to donate more. In December 2018, Hansen paid off the non-profit’s $1 million mortgage.
In total, the Hansen brothers agreed to donate $4 million to construct the 18,000-square-foot school, including a swimming pool to provide aquatic therapy.
Robinson said that the Hansens have given their school opportunities they may never see in their lifetime. “That is something that we will never know the impact that it will have for the rest of their lives,” she said. “But the Hansen family has done that, not only have they touched our lives, they will touch the lives of thousands upon thousands.”
The non-profit still needs $1 million to break ground for the facility. ASA Now has raised $153,000 as of September 7th, and on September 23rd, they held the Flight Night Gala to raise funds for the school. Tickets for the event cost $100 each, and married couples could get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000.
“I feel like each one of us was tasked in this lifetime with doing pretty big things,” Robinson said. “And knowing that God commanded us to help others, and to leave this world better than when we came in.”