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All About Angels’ Arms Junior Board

Making it happen for “our” kids! ❤️

If you have attended an Angels’ Arms event, chances are, it was orchestrated by the Junior Board (JB). What makes this group one of the most outstanding Junior Boards in the state? Let’s find out!

In 2005, just five years after Angels’ Arms was founded, Board members Tom Smallwood and Jim Ruebsam decided to get young professionals involved in the mission by supporting the organization through fun events.

“That’s when the Bar Bounce came to be,” explained Founder and Executive Director Bess Wilfong. “This energetic group quickly increased in numbers and began to generate more funds than we could have imagined. The members made sure that they interacted with the families and knew why they were committing their time and resources to the organization.”

And that was just the beginning!

Junior Board members hosted a picnic where they collected donations for our foster families in 2015.

Fundraising, Fun and Fellowship

“Year after year the dedicated members of our Junior Board plan and execute three major events, including Trivia Night, Sip and Savor and Bar Bounce,” said Maria Rehkemper, Development and Marketing Manager. “They also host a summer BBQ for all of our foster families and a very special event in the winter called Skating with Santa for our foster youth.”

Angels’ Arms Junior Board members Jessica Duneman, Claire Juodis, and Megan Gordon (past member) at Junior Board’s annual event Sip & Savor in 2019.
Junior Board member, Greg Lewis, stuffing glasses at Sip & Savor 2022.
Junior Board member selling raffle tickets at Angels’ Arms Sip & Savor event in 2022.

This year the Junior Board is planning a new event, Angels’ Arms first Pickleball Tournament on August 28. “They are always thinking of new ways to raise awareness, generate funds and connect with the community. The 20+ members of Junior Board meet monthly to discuss upcoming events, and brainstorm ways to promote Angels’ Arms mission in the community.

“And, they make a real difference. Since its inception the Junior Board has raised over one million dollars for Angels’ Arms foster families!”

Siblings Helping Siblings 

Michaela Karandzieff joined the Junior Board about five years ago. Straight out of college, she learned about Angels’ Arms from a family friend. “I love being part of the JB, and I love what Angels’ Arms does in the foster community.”

Michaela is passionate about the mission of engaging the community and keeping sibling groups together, which may explain why her sister Emily also joined the JB. “When I graduated college and moved back to St. Louis, I wanted to get involved with a non-profit. I’m a teacher and I love kids, so Angels’ Arms is a perfect fit. Michaela really loved being on the Junior Board, I had been to several great events, so I asked to join.”

Michaela explained, “I actually didn’t even know Emily was joining. She told me she had talked to someone on the JB and signed up. And I’m really happy she did. She helped me co-chair Sip and Savor this spring, and it’s great to run things by each other.”

It’s for the Kids

What drew these sisters and the other JB members to Angels’ Arms? “Knowing that everything we do goes to support the kids and families is what I love the most, “ said Michaela. “We have a saying that we use a lot on the JB, ‘It’s for the kids.’ And it really is. Even though we enjoy our events, it is all about helping the kids.”

Emily explained that they also love working closely with the families. “Being on the JB we learn, not only about the kids, but the parents. It’s so great to  know what’s going on. We learn about what is being done for the parents and how everyone comes together. From the time I joined, everyone was welcoming. It felt great to feel like I was part of it, even though I was brand new.”

“Getting to see the kids and parents in different situations is one of the most fun parts,” said Michaela. Emily echoed those sentiments, “I love interacting with the kids and seeing them interact with each other.”

New Members are Welcome

“We meet once a month and we always welcome getting new people involved,” said Michaela. “We need people who are interested in supporting Angels’ Arms and giving back, who will be active participants.”

Maria noted, “It’s a wonderful way to network, meet other young professionals in St. Louis, and of course, further Angels’ Arms mission by making a difference in the lives of foster youth right here in our community.” 

For Emily, “It’s another way to socialize and interact with other young people, and, you are doing it all for a good cause. Now that we are getting out of everything being virtual, it’s another way to get together with others who care about what you care about.”

Our Junior Board members truly become a unit helping local foster children. Here, Angels’ Arms Junior Board members Scott Thomas, Lauren Potje, Lindsey Van Duyne and Jordan Shelton gather at a Junior Board member’s home to create care packages for our foster youth in 2020.

What Makes the Angels’ Arms JB Special?

Dedication, commitment, love for the foster families, compassion – that’s  what this group is made of.

“At one point, we were asked to present to a class at UMSL,” stated Bess. “Sunny Simms (then Junior Board President) and myself shared how we became the most successful JB in the state. This group of young professionals has been and continues to be dynamic in many ways. They devote much of their time to ensure events run smoothly. Their passion for supporting our families remains ever-present; and they use their connections and spread the word about our mission.” 

People are astounded by all they do. “We all work well together and everybody is involved,” said Michaela. “People are involved and engaged, and we give our time when we can. All of our Board members have lives, and other things going on. But we have a Junior Board that participates, they show up, and they want to help.”

One thing Emily learned after joining the JB is how much they can help support the families. “I knew we worked with kids in the foster care system. I didn’t realize how much we support them. It’s an amazing community – we have the warehouse, the houses, maintenance. The JB helps out so the parents can focus on being the best parents they can be to these kids.”

Junior Board members Heather Bockhoff, Tracy Lyons, Jordan Shelton, Lindsey Van Duyne, and Scott Thomas help Angels’ Arms youth pick our brand new shoes at a special event.

As Michaela said, “This is a board that shows up, works well together, is willing to participate, is passionate about Angels’ Arms, supporting foster families, and getting involved.”

And that’s exactly why they are known, not just at Angels’ Arms but throughout the region, as the best Junior Board in the state. ❤️