Have you noticed how quickly people tune out when wide-spread needs or overwhelming statistics are mentioned? Our capacity to care has dramatically diminished because we’re constantly bombarded by needs too large for us to meet. We hear there are 400,000+ kids in the foster system. Or how 50% of foster families burn out after the first year. We see systemic challenges that require higher-level responses. Families are working hard to keep up with our own families, financial obligations, and time commitments. The interest to contribute is often pushed aside.
Ever Present Needs
The best way to tackle challenging situations is to break them into smaller pieces. I have the privilege of working for an organization in Northern California called Defending the Cause Regional Alliance. We collaborate with local foster agencies, churches, and nonprofits to protect kids and strengthen families across four counties. We desire to see all children grow up in safe, loving families where they can reach their full potential. Our efforts include inviting individuals, groups, and churches to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families who need support.
Serving Kids in Foster Care
We’ve found that successfully mobilizing people to serve the foster care community involves three key elements:
1. Personalize needs while keeping identities safe-
Donors and volunteers love to feel a connection to those they’re serving. Although, pictures and names of low-income families, children in foster care, or birth families cannot be shared, it’s helpful to provide as many details about the person in need as possible. You can give safe, general descriptions like “a 4-year-old boy in foster care”. Or “a single mom with three kids who recently lost her job” builds empathy in those who might be able to help.
2. Clearly explain real-time, tangible needs-
Instead of general fundraising or item requests, be specific about what each child or family needs. By sharing detailed descriptions or creating an Amazon Wishlist, donors get the enjoyment of giving a gift they know someone else wants.
3. Make it easy-
People are much more likely to help out if the process of meeting needs is simple. Providing one-time opportunities that don’t require significant time commitments allows volunteers to jump right in. It also works well to connect people directly to local agencies and nonprofits.
Showing Up for Youth in Foster Care
To give you some ideas of how this could play out in your city, here are several ways our Defending the Cause team has highlighted the needs of local youth and families. We then watched in amazement as generous members of our community stepped in.
Children who enter the foster care system expect the adults in their lives to be unsafe or unreliable. Instead of being protected and provided for, they learn that their needs are unimportant. Which often leads to the conclusion that they are insignificant.
Ways Our Community Has Helped
Kids in foster care frequently go to school in hand-me-down clothes or lack school supplies. We were thrilled that, upon hearing about these needs, a local Kiwanis Club immediately offered help. In partnership with the neighborhood Kohl’s store, this group collected $3,000, which provided 30 kids in foster care a $100 gift card for back-to-school shopping. We also set up a school supply drive. The goal was to provide 75 backpacks to youth in foster care and 25 backpacks to children of single moms. Within just two weeks of posting a detailed Amazon Wishlist, every single item was purchased. Items were lovingly stuffed into backpacks, and delivered to four different agencies.
Sometimes normalcy for youth in foster care is as simple as a meal. We partner with a foster agency. The agency has a transitional home for teens. Their “eating out” food budget is limited. A local mom wanted to know how she could serve responded to our idea of providing pizza for this group. She donated a $50 gift card to a local pizza parlor. When the restaurant staff heard what this mom was doing, they matched her donation. There was plenty of pizza to go around!
Another local nonprofit provides housing and mentorship for teenage girls that have aged out of foster care, many of whom have young babies. Recently two of these resilient moms were graduating from the program and moving into their first apartment together. They did not have furniture or supplies. That’s where we stepped in. After sending out a list of items to our online community, the donations started rolling in. Everything needed to furnish a 2-bedroom apartment was provided in a matter of days, including a table and chairs, a couch, bedroom furniture, kitchen supplies, and decorations!
Supporting Foster/Resource Parents
Families that open their hearts and homes to kids in foster care are truly unsung heroes. They give of themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically each day to help children begin the process of healing from tough situations. While many people aren’t called to foster or adopt, there are many ways the community can support those that do.
Take Janet, for instance. In light of COVID-19, she reached out to see if any local resource families needed help paying bills. One of our foster agency partners was serving a local grandmother caring for her eight grandchildren. She suddenly had to move and needed assistance with the rent deposit. Janet covered the entire amount. She said, “It’s so incredibly rewarding to know this family is now safely in their new rental!” Inspired by Janet’s generosity and this single grandma’s faithfulness, another donor anonymously gave her a $400 Target gift card to help with food and supplies.
As families received Government stimulus checks this year, some reached out wanting to “pay it forward” to help local families in need. Through the generous donation of one family, we were able to supply a grocery gift card to a birth mom, recently reunited with her 15-year-old son. Plus send a meal to an adoptive mom raising five kids, one of whom just had surgery. In a time where finances are tight, intentional gifts like these make such a difference!
Encouraging Social Workers
Becoming a social worker requires a huge heart for kids. As well as a willingness to step into difficult situations bringing hope and healing. This profession is not easy. Many social workers regularly experience discouragement, but support from the community goes a long way.
Reading to children improves literacy while also enhancing imagination and improving focus. Twice a year, we do a book drive for youth in foster care. Families can purchase Usborne Books for their kids, and the company donates books for social workers to give to kids in foster care.
A local church recently reached out, wanting to make a difference in the foster care community. We suggested putting together social worker car kits. They contained encouraging notes, mints, snacks, and hand sanitizer. Plus items like coloring books and bubbles to use when visiting the kids on their caseload. This church jumped onboard and is filling 75-100 of these kits. Each to encourage local social workers. Helping them serve children in the foster care system.
The Benefits of Stepping Up
We love to be part of stories like these where people and businesses come together to make a difference in our community! People come alive when they’re serving. That’s how Jesus designed it. When we’re caring for others by meeting felt needs, it provides a sense of purpose and connection to our Creator. Stepping up in small ways often inspires individuals and families to do more. I’ve met many people who donated items, prayed for struggling parents, or volunteered at respite nights who later became mentors, advocates, or foster families themselves. There is truly something everyone can do to support vulnerable kids and families.