Imagine a child taken from their home because of abuse or neglect… left with only the clothes on their back — forced to leave all their belongings behind. Unimaginable? Sadly, this scenario happens all too often. In Garrett County, there are currently over seventy children in Foster Care, with nineteen new placements since the first of the year. These children have endured that…and far more.
What saves these children are families…families like yours and mine, who have opened up their hearts and homes to children with nowhere else to turn. Now imagine that family, getting a call at 2 AM from Social Services, and needing to be ready at short notice to not only take in these children, but to be able to clothe, feed and oftentimes diaper them.
There is a unique newly-formed organization, Foster Appalachia, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, designed to support both foster children and their foster families. Foster Appalachia’s mission is to promote a feeling of dignity and permanence by providing charitable support and mentorship for children in foster and kinship care in Garrett County and the surrounding communities.
Foster Appalachia is managed by a group of people familiar with the local Foster Care system and was the brainchild of current and former foster parents in Garrett County — people who understood just how much it entailed to take a child into their home. Shaina Saturday, Board Member, has been a foster parent for about ten years, who, with her husband, started by offering Emergent Care in her home. She was the one who would get the 2 AM call and knows firsthand the challenges it entails.
Cody Brill, who is the President of the Board of Directors, has been a Foster parent with his wife since 2017 and also has first-hand knowledge of the unmet needs faced by families opening up their home.
According to Brill, the number of children in foster care has increased by 40% in Garrett County within the past two years. Foster Appalachia works by supporting current foster families, helping additional families become foster parents and making the children in care feel special and loved, and expose them to new experiences. “There are a lot of people out there who want to help but can’t necessarily foster a child,” says Cody. Foster Appalachia provides a way for others to help.
Of course, the goal is always reunification with a parent or family member, but the average stay of foster children is getting longer. Quite simply, the number of kids in the system is up, the number of reunifications is down.
When a child is placed into emergency care the first thing Foster Appalachia does is provide the child with a backpack containing three days worth of clothing and personal hygiene items. If an infant is involved, they also provide formula and diapers. This helps the family survive the first day or two, so they can get their bearings and determine other needs.” says Cody.
As you can imagine, this requires a rather large inventory of items that need to be on hand. To support this effort, Foster Appalachia is sponsoring a clothing drive during the month of May for new and gently used clothes and shoes in all sizes and age groups.
Through Foster Appalachia, anyone can provide support by way of donated items, money or time. “Sometimes a foster parent needs some respite care. An evening or weekend away, help getting the children to soccer practice…sometimes just dinner…anything we can do to provide a break,” Shaina says.
Foster Appalachia is a new organization, just formed in October of last year. Their Board of Directors consists of current foster parents, a pediatrician, CPA, attorney, principal, and member of the Health Department…people that know what a child needs for a happy and healthy development.
Foster Appalachia also works as a support group to help with unmet needs whether that be painting a room, finding furniture, or driving a child to soccer practice. Says Shaina, “We know what is important to foster parents and their children. We know what they’re struggling with and what their emergent needs are, both physical and emotional.”
What can you do? The largest need is for volunteers for both foster children and foster families. In addition to respite care, volunteers can help drive children to school practices or doctor’s visits. These children are also in need of reliable adults in their lives and there are many opportunities to mentor children of all ages. Have a special skill or hobby? Foster Appalachia can match you with a child who would love to learn from you and with you.
“These children need to know there is a bigger, broader community that supports them,” says Brill. “All of us can look back at our youth and remember that one person who took a special interest in them, that’s what our kids need as well.” Not everyone CAN be a foster parent, but there are still a lot of options for people to get involved and help these displaced children. “There are a thousand reasons not to be a foster parent,” says Shaina. But a lot of people still want to do something…and we have many options for those who want to get involved even on a small scale.”
Monetary donations are also welcome. In addition to shoes, clothes, school materials and personal hygiene items, foster families also need help paying for sports and community events for their children. Most children coming into the system has never had some of the most basic of necessities, like bedroom furniture. According to Shaina, foster children mostly just want to be a normal every day child. Your donations can help them feel that way and more. Because Foster Appalachia is a volunteer run organization, there are very little administrative costs. Almost one hundred percent of donated funds are used for children and their families.
Of course, there is a very strong need for more Foster Parents. According to Foster Appalachia, foster children outnumber foster families 3 to 1 in Garrett County…and the need is growing. If becoming a foster parent is something you’ve considered in the past, the folks at Foster Appalachia can answer your questions and concerns. “All that is required is a willingness, a good background, and the ability to provide a secure space for a child,” says Cody. Potential parents are screened by Social Services and must achieve 24 class hours.
While it is time consuming and sometimes mentally exhausting, there are many rewards for foster parents. “We get to enjoy a lot of firsts,” says Shaina, who is foster mother of two boys. “My sons had never had a birthday party or celebrated a traditional Christmas like the ones most of us did growing up. My son remembers the first meal he ever had at a table with a family. He remembers exactly what we ate that night and still requests it as his favorite dinner.”
According to Cody, Foster Appalachia is really about creating a community. “We are here to help each other and to project our needs out into the community. We are a megaphone for the foster community. These kids are the ones your kids go to school with, the ones that live down the street. They have lived in crisis mode for a long time and there is no one to be their advocate. That’s our goal.”
The goal of Foster Appalachia is not only to be a support system but a megaphone for the issues facing foster families and children in the area. Shaina and Cody both see the program extending into Preston and Mineral Counties in West Virginia to help service their needs.
For more information, visit their website at www.fosterappalachia.org. You can also follow them on Facebook for up to date notices on needs and fund-raising activities. Foster Appalachia invites YOU to be the cause: Donate, Volunteer, or become a foster parent today.