Our Story

What happens when two PTA presidents embark on a middle school community service project? Our story begins.

Many years ago, Debbie Ellman and Donna Biase organized a one-day makeover of a local shelter for abused, abandoned, and neglected youth. Eventually, their one-day visit grew into involvement as board members and a mission to further education. After meeting with four young men from the shelter who recently aged out of the foster care system, it became clear to Debbie and Donna that something was missing. That they could do better. One of these young men would soon enter his senior year, while Debbie’s own daughter also prepared for this final chapter of high school. The only difference? He did it all while living alone. Debbie offered to help him through this pivotal year, and with necessary support, he went on to participate in senior activities, receive scholarships, and earn college acceptance.

While this young man prevailed, “what do all of the other kids do?” Debbie’s husband asked. If only there was an answer.

Debbie and Donna met the very next day to solve this question. After researching various agencies and strategies from across the country, they pieced together the basis of an unprecedented program devoted to the education of foster care youth. Debbie and Donna stepped up to the challenge and Best Foot Forward was incorporated in January 2010.

BFF’s very first student was a senior in high school with a 1.1 GPA. He never took a foreign language class or a math course above Geometry. If this student had access to Best Foot Forward’s resources prior to his senior year, would he have been able to attend his dream school, FAMU? Debbie and Donna soon opened the program to 9th-grade students to help provide a stronger academic foundation. This worked for a while, but they noticed another concerning trend –– from note taking to test taking, most students lacked the basic skills to succeed. Debbie and Donna then decided to lower the entrance level to middle school to help kids develop this skill set before it was too late.

After a few years, a pattern of poor reading comprehension began to emerge, but Debbie and Donna once again discovered a solution. Research revealed 3rd grade was a vital benchmark in a student’s education, so BFF initiated a 3rd-grade program with a strong focus on reading. The success was immediate and soon expanded to include all elementary school grade levels.

Today, the team of two has grown to a devoted group of BFF staff and volunteers, but our mission remains the same. Best Foot Forward believes every child deserves a fighting chance at educational success and we’re here every step of the way!