May is here.
Attention is now being turned to gardening, vacations by the pool, camping and other fun. Kids everywhere are counting down days until summer vacation.
But there are 400,000 children in the nation's foster care program who are only dreaming of finding a home.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. An entire month set aside to acknowledge and give support to the families, children and workers that are a part of the foster care system. The nation is taking notice of the lives being changed. People everywhere are encouraged to become a foster parent, volunteer or simply wear a blue ribbon in support of the cause.
Local people are stepping up to the plate and making a difference.
Nicole Deatherage is one of those people.
“My husband and I first became foster parents in 2010 and fostered eight children, but decided to close our home after the adoption of our son,” she said. “We always knew we would open our home again, and we did in November 2012.”
After having two daughters of her own, Deatherage knew she wanted to adopt a son. It was during the required classes when she and her husband realized they wanted to do more than adopt.
“Foster parents were needed and God placed it on our hearts that was where he wanted us. So, we took a leap of faith and became foster parents,” she said.
Since the couple re-opened their home, they have fostered nine children of all ages.
“My experience as a foster parent has been very rewarding, not only in my life but for my family and the people around me. It has shown others that children truly needing a loving family is a reality in our own backyard,” said Deatherage.
She describes being a foster parent as an emotional roller coaster that is more rewarding than she ever imagined. Deatherage said she understands people's hesitation, knowing it is a difficult decision to open your home and your heart to children during a volatile time in their life.
“I'm not going to lie, there were many heartbreaks along the way as children came and left our home. We loved each and every one of them from the moment we laid eyes on them,” she said. “But we knew we had to put ourselves aside and help these children as we were called to.”
People have misconceptions of what a child living within “the system” will be like, she said. The children arrive with their belongings in a black trash bag, or with only the clothes on their back. She said the children are usually scared and don't understand what is happening.
“I will say it's not always easy, but it is worth it every single time. Some of these children have seen and experienced things that no child should ever have to. But I always say, if we don't take these kids in, love them, and show them the right way, then who will?” she said.
Deatherage's dreams were bigger, so she created the non-profit group, Fostering World Changers. The group, still fairly new, came from the hearts of parents experiencing the power of foster care first hand.
“The one thing we learned the first time around as foster parents is how lonely it can be. I felt like a little fish in a never ending stream of children needing placement,” she said.
Even if you have the support of family and friends, she said, it takes another foster parent to truly understand your journey. So, she created FWC as a support system.
“It is amazing what God has done with this group since it started just seven months ago. There are a total of 22 families in the group as of today,” she proudly announced.
“We pray for one another, provide support for one another, provide respite care. And we've built up a stash of supplies that we pass within the group such as beds, cribs and clothing.”
She talked about making these children's dreams come true.
“All children have big dreams and even bigger wishes,” she said. “But what happens when a child's only dream is to be loved? When their only wish is to be part of a happy family? The idea of waking up in a home instead of a shelter shouldn't be farfetched.”
Deatherage's dream is to see Fostering World Changers open a local resource center. She dreams of a place stocked with clothes, beds, diapers and basic necessities ready and waiting for foster parents.
“Right now the donations we accept are either passed to a family already in need or stored at my home until someone needs the items,” she said. “I would love nothing more than to have a building filled wall-to-wall with supplies so that every single one of our children would have exactly what they need the moment they are taken into custody. And, more importantly, that no child is turned away because of a lack of items needed to care for that child.”
Northstar Church in Pryor got involved and donated supplies to Deatherage's cause.
She said the group is always accepting donations, and will make the best of their system for now.
Being a foster parent may not be for everyone, but there are many ways to get involved.