reLentless Love 2.2: Orphan Care

February 24, 2015

In case you missed it, this week we're focusing on orphan care, both within the U.S. and internationally. We're also in the midst of a GIVEAWAY for a copy of Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, which you can enter simply by commenting on yesterday's post, an interview with Danielle Brower for Children's HopeChest!

Here are a few mind-boggling statistics: Did you know that there are 143,000,000 orphans in the world, and another 20,000,000 categorized as "displaced"? Added together, that would make this population the 7th largest nation on the planet, slightly larger than Russia. Because this is such a huge issue and there are so many great organizations committed to helping orphans, we're featuring two interviews (one yesterday, one today) that give insight into orphan care in the U.S. and abroad.

So often it can be easy to think of orphans as children from other countries, but did you know that there are currently about 400,000 children in the foster care system? Although of course many of the children in foster care have living parents or other family members and are working toward reunification with them, that's not always the case. Of those 400,000 children in the foster care system, 100,000 are hoping to be adopted. Each year, more than 20,000 children age out of foster care without being adopted, and face some daunting statistics:  One in four will be incarcerated within two years of leaving the system, and more than one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age 18. In addition, only 58 percent will obtain their high school diploma by age 19.
So what can we do to help combat these heartbreaking numbers? Today I'm interviewing my friend Amber Perry, who has a huge heart for foster care and adoptive families, and some great ideas for those who would like to help. Here's her story:

TRE: Why are you passionate about this issue? What sparked your interest?

Almost three years ago, I went to my first Hearts at Home conference. At that point, we had been struggling over not getting pregnant, and I knew I needed to sign up for the session called, "What to do When God Says Wait." 

Jami Kaeb was the speaker and, as it turns out, the founder of The Forgotten Initiative. She shared her heartbreaking story of how her family went through a waiting period when they wanted to adopt (not a dry eye in the room after hearing her story!). This led her family to become foster parents and eventually adopt through foster care. She felt led to start The Forgotten Initiative after seeing the rooms kiddos would have to wait in when a social worker was calling to find a placement for them -- often shabby rooms with old, broken toys. They now call those fix-up rooms "Project Sunshine" and it's one of the many ways TFI supports the foster community. My heart broke hearing how these kiddos struggle, even if I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. But after that conference, all I did was "Like" TFI on Facebook and that was it for a while! 

Journey Bags
Stuffed animals we delivered to a Hennepin County
foster family who had just taken in 2 kids
A few months down the road I saw that someone had become an advocate in the Twin Cities and I reached out to her. I became involved in Journey Bag drives (details below, but see that and more here) and built a relationship with Wright County to support their foster community. It was through this relationship that I began to really see some of the needs in this community. I was so incredibly blessed to not only put together backpacks for kids going into foster care, but also by bringing meals to foster families, finding donations for biological parents working to keep custody of their children (cribs, strollers, etc.), and treating the county workers to breakfast. It truly touched my heart to pray for individuals who were "going through it" and not just think of foster care as a big, scary topic

I can see now that God was working on my heart to open us up to becoming a foster family. I wanted to do more, but my husband Mike wasn't ready and I knew that he needed to be 100 percent on board or it would never work. As time went on, something (God!) changed and he became open to attending an information session. As we walked out of that session, he said, "We have to do this."

What can you tell us about what you or your organization does?
TFI is intended to be the connecting branch between the county and those who want to support the foster community. Advocates build relationships with the county in their area and communicate the needs of that county/community to the church body and others who have shown interest in volunteering. 

Bringing meals to a foster family
As I mentioned above, Project Sunshine is a larger undertaking, but just one example of what TFI does for the foster community. There is also a list of "12 Tangibles" that are practical needs TFI works to meet in the foster community:
  • Journey Bags - An awesome way to support the smaller counties. Most kids go into foster care with only the clothes on their back. Journey Bags contain essentials (comb, toothbrush, shampoo, etc) and comfort items (small toy, blanket, etc) to help the kiddos transition and have something special to call their own.
  • Diapers/Wipes/Formula
  • Gift Cards
  • Toys/Art Supplies/Books
  • First Aid Kits
  • Home Safety Kits
  • Caseworker Car Kits
  • School Supplies
  • Clothing Items
  • Worker Appreciation Efforts (like the breakfast I mentioned)
  • College Care Packages
  • Welcome Home Baskets (for those aging out of the foster care system)
Otherwise, there are a variety of other ways to get involved -- service projects, mentoring, and more. Folks can look on the website to learn how to become an advocate in their area, how to mentor a foster child, how to become a prayer partner or how put together journey bags or other practical needs. Beyond TFI, reaching out to support a family who fosters is always a great idea! Prayer, meals, and whatever that family may be in need of is an awesome way to help the community directly. 

Beyond The Forgotten Initiative, there are lots of other great resources for those who are interested in helping others adopt or adopting children themselves within the U.S., including The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (lots of great resources!), Show Hope (they have some great student-related initiatives) or places like The Orphan Foundation (where you can donate to help offset an adoptive family's costs).

This week, in addition to praying for the children in foster care, foster care families, and other orphans both here and abroad, we're giving up a measure of our comfort. Children who are placed in foster care often have their life and schedule upended as they are placed into an unfamiliar home and circumstances. Although we might never know exactly how that feels, we wanted to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone -- so this week for Lent, we're committed to getting up earlier than we normally do. If you choose to join us, the exact amount is up to you, whether it be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour early. In the discomfort of our interrupted routine, may we remember (and pray for!) the children who have had their lives disrupted by their circumstances.

One last thing -- DON'T FORGET to enter our GIVEAWAY by commenting on yesterday's post! 

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