Foster Kindness : The Movement to Support Adoption and Foster Care
“I can’t believe that all of these people helped me and they didn’t even know me or my baby. Tell them thank you and I love them.” – 15 year old, teenage mother in foster care
These grateful words were spoken to me after the outpouring of love and graciousness shown to the needs of a teenage mother and her baby, in foster care, visiting our family for the weekend. Last spring, our family attended and volunteered for an Easter egg hunt sponsored by local foster care charity, S.A.F.E. I joked on that way to the event that I hoped the Lord didn’t send me any more “babies that needed a mommy” as we had just adopted a baby several months earlier and I had a hard time turning away children in need of a home.
After sitting down at a table next to a teenager and a woman, I assumed to be her mother, a then freshman in high school, stood up to use the restroom with a very pregnant belly. I quickly learned that following the death of her mother and a health crisis with her grandmother, she was placed into foster care with no next of kin. I left that event in tears, reminding the Lord that I prayed not to learn of any babies that needed a mother. I then joked that He heard my prayers and sent me a teenager instead.
Without going into the failures of the foster care system, I can only share that we attempted to help her and faced an uphill battle met with a lot of unprofessionalism. We continued to stay connected to her, however, and often host her at our home on the weekends. After sharing that her placement was less than ideal, an army of friends and strangers dropped off baby items, new clothing, gift cards, Trac phones and even a computer so that she could stay on top of her classwork and homework. They also offered tutoring, photography and hair styling services.
What I learned from this collective demonstration of goodwill is that people WANT to help children in these situations but often don’t know how. Foster care children are an underserved population of children in our community. Most people are aware of the shortage of foster care homes but there is also a shortage of placements where people open their homes out of genuine concern and not a paycheck. Many foster care children become “lost” in the system, transferring from home to home and then aging out of the system with little to their names. Our son’s biological father went from home to home, then jail to prison, fathering six children along the way. Imagine how different his story, or his children’s story, could have been had he had one adult step up and care for him in a loving, stable and supportive home. These children need a voice and help…. year round help because the child that comes into care on January 1, deserves the same amount of community outreach as the children in care at Christmas.
If you have a giving heart and want to assist these special children, I’ve put together a list of a few things that you can do in your own town and how you can help if you are in the Nashville area.
Ways to Assist Children in Foster Car without Fostering
1. Collect donations at a party.
When hosting a child’s birthday party, ask guests on the invitation to bring necessities for children in foster care in lieu of presents or in addition to presents should they want to donate. Call your local foster care charity and ask what is needed. I have done this several times and guests have always brought a toy for the birthday child AND the requested underwear, socks, toothbrushes, back packs and duffle bags. It is a very simple way to support these children and can be done at any party including Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s.
2. Support a foster care family.
Often times, host families take care of children in foster care in addition to their own children, which can be an overwhelming situation. Call your local foster care organization and ask what family may need assistance with a weekly meal, laundry folding or landscaping need. You may also offer one hour a week of reading to a child, homework assistance or pantry organization. Committing to assisting a foster family, even for one hour a week, greatly reduces the stress of the foster parents brave enough to take on a job that most people will not.
3. Volunteer for a local foster care organization.
My family met our gospel music loving, Honor Roll earning, teenage foster mother by volunteering at an Easter egg hunt for a local foster care charity, S.A.F.E. Most cities have third party agencies, often faith based, and organizations that serve children in foster care. Research which ones align with your interests and simply call them to offer your time. They may have ideas for you or you can offer to:
Coordinate free haircuts by calling salons to see if they would offer a certain number of services one weekend. African American hair stylists are also in demand as the needs of black hair can be a bit more complex. Find a stylist willing to braid, straighten or style the hair of black children. When I needed help with our weekend foster care child, several women stepped up to help.
Call the community relations department of your local professional sports team and coordinate groups of tickets for foster care families. I was fortunate to receive tickets from both teams in Nashville and all I did was send an email.
Coordinate a back to school drive at your church, library, workplace or gym asking people to simply drop school supplies and backpacks in a bin that you drop off to your charity.
4. Offer Service Donations
If you’re a business owner, you can offer your clients select services that benefit foster care children. For example, for every birthday party held at GratiDUDE Ranch, they donate one birthday party to a child in foster care. (We have held three parties at this ranch and kids always love it.) A photographer may offer their services for foster families while a local restaurant or boutique could offer a certain percentage of sales in one month or one weekend to a charity of their choice. Ask a local foster care organization if they know of a child aging out of the system and employ them with an entry level job. Involve the community in your business by advocating for foster care children. People want to support businesses who support children in need.
5. Become a respite provider.
Respite providers are people who offer breaks to foster parents by hosting foster care children in their home for short periods of time. This can be for three days while a child is in transition, during a summer vacation or during an emergency situation where a foster family cannot bring their foster care children with them. Requirements vary by state and agency but it’s a great way to make a difference without making a long term commitment if you are not able to do so.
6. Mentor a child in Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America
Although the majority of children in BBBS are children in single parent homes or children with incarcerated parents, they are working to incorporate children in foster care and a few agencies already do. With BBBS, mentors volunteer two to four hours a month and commit to a child for a year. “Bigs” can either meet with the child at school OR can take them out for activities like sports events, the movies, cultural fairs or holiday outings. A new program being offered in select cities, including BBBS Middle Tennessee, is the E-Mentoring program. A mentor meets with a high school student a couple of times a year and then stays in contact through email, discussing career and trade program options. This is a great alternative for someone who wants to be involved but may have a busy schedule.
Perhaps you are the child of a single parent who dedicated his or her life to raising you….what a great gift it would be, to honor that parent, to register to become a mentor to a child in a single parent home. I think most of us would agree that as parents, we would forgo the robe or slippers to watch our children volunteer with needy children in an effort to make a difference in the world.
In the Nashville area, there are three organizations that I have personal experience with that need our assistance. While we are coordinating a holiday drive for each organization, we also are planning a community event in March to spread awareness year round.
1. S.A.F.E. – Many of you may remember the mini cow born with dwarfism that I “adopted” for my husband’s birthday. The proceeds from that cow went to support one of my favorite organizations in all of Nashville! So many of these animals are used as therapy pets for children in foster care and for special needs children.
S.A.F.E (Safe Affirming Family Environment) is operated out of GratiDude Ranch. SAFE's primary mission includes 1) educating the community on the desperate need of foster parents, 2) connecting those individuals/couples interested in fostering with the Department of Child Services to hopefully begin their journey of certification 3) providing a physical space for special events as a resource for foster families, and 4) providing resources to foster youth aging out of the system, educating them on their options/ benefits, and most importantly helping them prepare for independent living through life skill training.
GratiDude Ranch not only donates parties to foster care children but also offers a Foster a Farm Pet program that benefits S.A.F.E. Our mini cow, Pumpkin, is part of this program! For a minimum monthly donation, you and your family can foster one of their farm pets by becoming 'Farm Friends' of the Ranch. Don’t worry… your farm pet lives on the ranch (YOU DO NOT TAKE THE FARM PET HOME). No hassles, no mess. Your family can visit your farm pet whenever you wish! They currently have FOUR miniature donkeys, TWO ponies, THREE Pyrenees pups, TWO piglets, FOUR goats, TWO Bunnies and SIX chicks available for fostering.
DONATION WISH LIST:
$25 Walmart, Target, Visa Gift gift cards to benefit Monroe Harding foster care children, a placement provider that S.A.F.E. services.
Gift cards to Tractor Supply to support the farm
2. Bloom Family Designs- Bloom creates beautifully designed rooms for adopted & foster children in order to help welcome them HOME. A lot that goes into bringing a new child home, emotionally, physically and financially. Each family nominated and chosen by Bloom is gifted with a uniquely designed, decorated, and furnished child's room at NO FINANCIAL COST to the family. The hope is that their services will help each adoptive/foster family have more means and time to prepare for what truly matters - creating a home full of hope, love, & security for each child. We may not all be able to physically adopt a child at this time however we are all called to care for orphans however we are able, and to support each family who has said "YES" to a child.
I volunteer with Bloom and it is a fabulous organization to be a part of. Founder, Melissa Whitlock, could not be more gracious in her commitment to serve these children. She welcomed me into jointly designing rooms with her and also welcomes volunteers who want to set up rooms, put together furniture or pick up donated items. If you enjoy interior design, this would be a perfect charity to become involved with. If you love the idea and don’t have the time, you can send items to Bloom or even sponsor a $2500 room. Companies and private donors are able to donate an entire room to a deserving family and child.
Donation Wish List -
New bedding sets in twin and full, new nursery bedding/ sheets
Gift cards to HomeGoods, Kirklands and Target
High end, gently used children’s bedroom furniture
If you joined in on my live videos from the campus of TBCH, you’ll remember that this beautiful campus, that used to be an orphanage, houses up to eight children in each of their three homes. Although there are six homes total, there are not enough funds to operate each one. Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes believes every child should experience the stable, nurturing love of a family. (The child we designed the nursery for above was being adopted out of foster care at TBCH.)
They also believe that the most crucial thing they can share with a child is the love and hope of Christ. Holding these two convictions, they provide Christ-centered homes for children in hard places — children whose families are not currently able to provide the day to day care they need. They train foster parents with the mission of not only providing safety and stability but showing Christ’s love to each child who comes into our care. Whether children are in foster care through the state or have been voluntarily placed in one of our on-campus homes by families seeking help, they are committed to helping children and families thrive. Also, although TBCH receives children from the state they do not receive government funding because they are a Christian organization. Should they accept money, families would not be allowed to attend church or pray with their foster children but TBCH takes them anyway because “there is a need.”
Donation Wish List -
Gift cards for activities like the zoo, rollerskating, Top Golf, movies, SOAR, Adventure Science Center, pottery painting, trampoline parks and summer camps.
Private tutoring or gift certificates to Sylvan Learning.
Restaurant gift cards and hair styling (specifically for black hair) are also in demand.
Flat screen TVs and gaming systems are also needed and golf carts would be especially helpful on their campus.
Gift cards to Target, Kohls and sporting goods stores are also needed as children do not always want to wear hand me down, used clothes.
Funds are also needed to rehab current homes and buildings on the property to welcome more children and services. To learn more about donations and impact stories click here.
#FosterKindess Collection Drive
For Nashville locals, we will be collecting donations for all three charities this holiday season. Donations for Bloom Family Designs and Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home will be collected from December 10- December 21 at Coyne Oral Surgery in Cool Springs. Dr. Cathleen Coyne, my neighbor, grew up in foster care, was later adopted, and is committed to serving this population of children. Please label your gift with the organization that you are donating to so that her staff can ensure it goes to the right group.
Pure Barre Westhaven will be collecting donations for S.A.F.E. …mainly Tractor Supply and Walmart gift cards, to sustain the farm animals used for therapy and foster care events. Also consider booking a birthday party there so that one child in foster care may also receive a party.
While we all may not be able to foster or adopt a child, we can make a difference in the lives on children by supporting those who are called to serve these children. Please join our #fosterkindness movement by donating your time or funds to any of these organizations and by fostering a culture of kindness in your own home and community.