Posted by: joshjasper | December 19, 2013

Fostering Community

I opened today’s meeting with a story.  I shared that I bumped into a couple of foster parents this past week.  It had been about a month since we last invited all foster care parents to dinner to get their input on why Dubuque County is losing so many foster homes.  She asked if I remembered her.  “I was the one that wouldn’t stop talking.”  I remembered.  She shared how thankful she was that we were working with the foster care system to improve the relationship between foster parents and foster care organizations.

Toward the end of the conversation, she leaned in and grabbed my arm.  Her eyes started to well up and she told me about her experience going to the mailbox this week.  In her mail she found a hand written note from one of her foster care workers, thanking her for the work that she does and for being such a great support for the children in her home.  Tears were streaming down her face now.  “I’ve never felt so appreciated in all of my life.”  A hand written thank you card washed away all of her frustration and stress.  She no longer talked about how foster care parents are underpaid, because as she later reminded me, “we’re not in it for the money.  Nobody is.  We love these kids.”

We (Resources Unite) were asked to help do some strategic planning around the local foster care system.  Last year our community had more than 100 foster care homes.  Currently, there are less than 40.  (while the number of foster care children continues to climb)  After a few meetings with organizations and a dinner with the foster care parents, we’ve identified some barriers that exist that directly contribute to the diminishing number of foster care homes.

Both the foster care parents and the individuals charged with the daunting task of supporting families are overwhelmed, overworked, feeling not valued, and unheard.  During today’s meeting we focused on establishing tangible ways that will ultimately result in people feeling valued.  Kari and I sat on our end of the table, chomping at the bit, waiting to share the countless ways we (RU) can help connect the Dubuque community to the foster care community.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our short history at Resource Unite, it’s this one absolute certainty: People want to help; they want to make a difference.  And if given the chance, will not only meet your expectations, but will probably inspire you like never before.

Imagine being a foster care parent for a moment.  Imagine having 3 or 4 children that you take care of that are not your biological children.  These kids have often been through the worst of the worst.  Many have behavioral concerns due to issues of attachment, previous abuse, and drug dependent biological parents.  These kids are now in your home and you are doing everything in your power to provide them with a loving home.  But your resources are few and far between.  The money you are paid to support these children is a mere pittance in relation to what is actually needed.  (40% of the cost)  Countless individuals are in and out of your home, inspecting the welfare of the kids and making sure you are following every rule and regulation.  And to top it off, at any time those kids you’ve grown to love could be transitioned back to the homes of their biological parents.

Foster parents are incredible people and should be reminded of this on a daily basis.  But not just from the individuals they come in contact with within the foster care system.  They should be recognized, rewarded, and applauded from every person in our community.  And that is the first objective within our plan of increasing foster care families within Dubuque County.  Statistics prove that the best way to build a foster care base is from word of mouth….the word of mouth from existing foster care families.  These are the individuals that are going to share with their family members, close friends, colleagues, and fellow church parishioners the experience they are having supporting foster care children.  We need to make sure that story is positive.  The current story is not working.  It’s failing.

I hope by now you are asking one question.  The only question that matters at this point.  “What can I do?”

Start here…tomorrow night:

2013 FXB ToyDrive

This is the very first step we are taking with foster care system to help bridge the gap between the foster care system and our community.  Just last weekend, the members of Farrell’s Extreme Bodyshaping held two kickboxing classes for the purpose of collecting gifts for children in the foster care system.

I stopped by today to start picking up the gifts for tomorrow night’s dinner and was in awe of how much had been donated.  Thousands of dollars worth of gifts were stacked in boxes, waiting to be delivered.  Tomorrow night we are inviting the ENTIRE community to join us for dinner at the Eagle’s Club.  All the food has been graciously donated by Carlos O’Kelly’s, and Santa will be in the house.  We’ve invited all foster care families and the individuals that work within that system to join us for dinner.  I would love to fill the room with community members as well.  Even if you can only make it for 30 minutes, please stop by.

If you can’t afford the 5 bucks or don’t have a gift, don’t worry about it.  Just come.  It may not mean a lot to you, but it will literally mean the world to that foster care family feeling alone and not valued.

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