How you build community while spreading Christmas cheer

Dozens of Saint Francis employees and volunteers recently loaded, transported, and sorted  4,000 toys destined for children served by Saint Francis Community Services this Christmas. In what has become our largest Christmas for Kids toy collection, Saint Francis staff and Great Plains Manufacturing employees loaded thousands of donated toys Tuesday in Salina, Kansas, and delivered them to Sankey Auto Center for sorting and distribution to children in foster care this Christmas.

Toys at Great Plains Manufacturing await loading.
Toys at Great Plains Manufacturing await loading.

Each year, Great Plains employees donate so many toys that a semi-tractor trailer is needed to transport them to Sankey Auto where they are stored until they can be delivered to children served by Saint Francis.

This year was no different.

What’s more, Coldwell Banker Antrim-Piper Wenger Realtors sent their own truckload of toys and provided an antique fire truck to lead the procession from Great Plains Manufacturing to Sankey Auto, from where Rockin’ M Radio was broadcasting live. Rockin’ M employees also sponsored 50 Salina children and delivered their gifts to Sankey Auto the same day.

Santa helped load toys, then led the procession to Sankey Auto in the Coldwell Banker fire truck.
Santa helped load toys, then led the procession to Sankey Auto in the Coldwell Banker fire truck.

The annual gift collection has grown into an amazing partnership that’s mirrored in communities served by Saint Francis throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.

Collections like this occur all over – in cities, towns, businesses, and homes where people come together in the spirit of community and love.

Simply put, we couldn’t do Christmas for Kids without the support  of our community partners – corporate sponsors, local businesses, and individuals – who donate gifts and money or host toy drives.

Saint Francis employee Kelsie Klotzbach sorts toys at Sankey Auto.
Saint Francis employee Kelsie Klotzbach sorts toys at Sankey Auto.

Every year, Saint Francis employees are both inspired and humbled by the outpouring of Christmas spirit on behalf of children and families in need.

Thank you for all you do.

If you haven’t given yet, but want to, just go here. Whatever amount you contribute helps.

 

 

Saint Francis forms alliance with International Social Service to keep kids safe and families together

Saint Francis has entered into an exciting new partnership with International Social Service-USA Branch to aid children and families separated by international borders.

Here are the details:

SALINA, Kansas – International Social Service-USA Branch has formed an alliance with Saint Francis Community Services of Salina, Kansas, to provide cross-border social services to children and families separated by voluntary or forced migration, adoption, abduction or human trafficking. International Social Service-USA has a network of social work agencies and providers in more than 140 countries, and the alliance with Saint Francis will be twofold:

First, Saint Francis will be International Social Service’s on-the-ground liaison in El Salvador, where Saint Francis already has programs in place. Second, by employing best practices in international child welfare, Saint Francis will help Kansas meet the growing challenge of keeping children safe and, whenever possible, keeping families together. The alliance will reduce the amount of time children with cross-border families remain in state custody while awaiting reunification with family, thus minimizing negative impacts on children and reducing the costs of state care.

Starting in 2018, International Social Service and Saint Francis will conduct joint information sessions for Kansas social workers, judges, lawyers and other child protection professionals, focusing on the international processes required to reunify children with their families abroad. Cross-border services can include:

  • Background checks/child abuse registry checks
  • Comprehensive community surveys
  • Document searches and relative tracing/family notification
  • Home safety and viability checks
  • Home studies for parental custody and possible relative placement
  • Post return welfare checks
  • Protective service alerts

“More than 111,000 children and immigrant families are in living Kansas,” said Angela Smith, corporate director of mission engagement for Saint Francis. “This partnership provides an exceptional and unique opportunity to improve initiatives on child protection and care, both at home and abroad. Simply put, it’s ensuring the safety and best interest of the child remains at the center of placement decisions. Our responsibility to these children does not end at a border. By working with International Social Service, we can better serve the children in our care and strengthen child welfare globally.”

“We have aligned with government agencies in the past, but this is our first partnership with a not-for-profit, faith-based organization like Saint Francis,” explained Julie Rosicky, executive director of International Social Service-USA. “This is a natural alliance because Saint Francis already has an established presence in countries where we want to strengthen our network. Similarly, this allows other states to work through Saint Francis and access our network when handling cross-border cases.”

“Together with Saint Francis, we can strengthen cross-border services to children and families both within the U.S. and in targeted regions of the world. The potential to achieve better outcomes for children – nationally and internationally – is enormous,” Rosicky said.

“We are truly excited about this alliance with International Social Service-USA and honored to be part of it,” said The Very Revered Robert N. Smith, Dean and CEO of Saint Francis. “We know from decades of work in foster care that children have a better chance to succeed when families stay together. We’re blessed to be part of that global family reunification effort and to participate in the safe placement of vulnerable children, no matter the geography.”

 

Saint Francis kicks off Christmas for Kids 2017

Here at Saint Francis, we’ve kicked off our annual Christmas for Kids campaign, which provides presents to children in foster care at Christmas. Each year, Saint Francis and our community partners work hard to ensure that no child served by this ministry goes without a gift under the tree on Christmas morning.

“Christmas for Kids is our major event of the year,” says Vickee Spicer, director of marketing. “Saint Francis staff work closely with our community donors and supporters to brighten the lives of children. We really get excited about it.”

Saint Francis sees to it that each child’s basic, seasonal needs are met – such as winter clothing, coats, and shoes. Christmas for Kids, however, helps meet a child’s wants. Working with corporate sponsors and individual donors, Saint Francis provides Christmas gifts for about 3,200 children each year.

Saint Francis employees have started collecting toys, gift cards, and cash donations to purchase presents in preparation for a December distribution. Organizations and businesses interested in sponsoring toy drives are encouraged to contact us to learn more about Christmas for Kids and to arrange pick-up of collected toys and gifts.

How about you?

If you or your organization are interested in providing presents for Saint Francis children this Christmas, visit here. Or, call us at 800-898-4896.

 

Adoption, when children change everything

On Saturday, in Wichita, during Saint Francis’ National Adoption Day celebration at Exploration Place, Ricardo and Sonja Torres formally adopted Justin, 7, Sean, 5, Isabel, 4, and Jasmine, who turned three years old that same day. For the Torres’, it felt as though all the pieces of a puzzle had finally fallen into place.

Ricardo and Sonja Torres tried to have their own children for years. Yet, when friends told them about fostering to adopt, they didn’t jump right in. They discussed it. Again and again. They also prayed. They had lived so long together, just the two of them, that they wanted to be sure this was exactly what God intended for them. Finally, they took the leap. Licensed with Saint Francis Community Services in 2016, the Wichita couple began taking care of children in police protective custody (PPC).

Children in PPC often arrive late at night, delivered to an unfamiliar house with unfamiliar people. Usually, they’ve already had a chaotic day, so they’re anxious and scared when they arrive. Such was the case when two little sibling boys arrived at the Torres home in April 2016.

“This was our first placement, so it was all new to us,” said Sonja. “We weren’t sure what to do. So, we made dinner for them, and because they weren’t tired, we watched a movie together. Finally, I said, ‘Okay, boys, we need to go to bed because we have a busy day tomorrow.’ They were sweet boys, and went right to bed.”

The next day, the brothers went to the Wichita Children’s Home and then returned home. A few weeks later, Sonja received a text from her Saint Francis worker. The boys were back in out-of-home care – along with their two sisters. Could she and Ricardo take them all?

“I don’t second-guess my wife,” said Ricardo. “I was at work and told her, ‘You know, if you want them all, let’s take them all.’ I don’t believe in separating siblings anyway. We decided we’d take all four and start from there.

Suddenly, a couple who’d never had children was caring for four little ones, ages 6, 4, 3, and 1 1/2. For Ricardo, especially, the experience was an upheaval; the children changed everything.

“I’d never been around children much, so it took me a little while to get into the parent role,” he said. “I just didn’t know how to handle it. My greatest challenge was understanding that each one is a unique person with their own character. Fortunately, I have a good friend with three grown kids  who does some counseling. We talk a lot, and he gives me guidance about how to be a good parent.”

One day, Ricardo and Sonja learned the children would not be able to return to their biological family, which meant they had a decision to make. Again, they discussed and prayed.

“We had to make sure there would be no second-guesses down the road,” said Ricardo. “It had to be something we both wanted to do, we both had to be all in. Ultimately, we realized that these four kids had become part of us, and we just couldn’t let them go. We hadn’t done enough for them. We’ve been praying for this for 20 years; these children are a God-given gift.”

The Torres family
The Torres family

Those prayers ripened on National Adoption Day, when the Torres family finally became complete.

“Our lives have changed, no doubt,” said Ricardo. “When it was just the two of us, we had all this free time to do whatever we wanted. Now, our lives are about the children 24/7. But there’s no way we could ever go back. We would miss them too much. It’s all worth it because no matter how badly my day has gone, there’s always an “I love you, Daddy,” in the evening. I’m so thankful to the Lord that these children are in our lives. It’s awesome.”

 

Saint Francis celebrates adoptive families

The Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners helped Saint Francis kick off our annual celebration of adoptive families with what has become something of a tradition over the last several years.

Last week, Commissioners  signed a proclamation declaring November National Adoption Month. Commissioner Dave Unruh read the Proclamation during the Commission’s Wednesday meeting.

Commissioner David Dennis listens as Commissioner Dave Unruh reads the Proclamation declaring November National Adoption Month in Sedgwick County, Kansas.
Commissioner David Dennis listens as Commissioner Dave Unruh reads the Proclamation declaring November National Adoption Month in Sedgwick County, Kansas.

This Saturday, more than 30 children will formally receive “forever families” during Saint Francis’ annual National Adoption Day celebration at Exploration Place in Wichita. Saint Francis staff, along with judges, attorneys, and clerks from the 18th Judicial District, will gather with adoptive parents and children to finalize adoptions and celebrate adoptive families.

Another friend of adoptive children and families, former KAKE News anchor and adoption advocate Susan Peters will be the featured speaker at the event, which will also include a special blessing for children and adoptive families performed by Saint Francis chaplain The Rev. Canon Phyllis Flory.

The adoptions of about dozen Saint Francis kids were finalized earlier this month in Salina, and more will be adopted at events in Great Bend on Friday and in Hutchinson on Saturday.

As you can see, we get excited when children and families come together.

Over the last four years, the adoptions of more than 200 Saint Francis children have been finalized at the Wichita event alone.

But that’s just part of the story.

Since last year’s National Adoption Day celebration, nearly 300 children have found their forever families through Saint Francis.

Yet, we serve more than 208 children in Kansas alone who still need adoptive families. Thankfully, some of those are on their way to adoption. But many others are not.

Right now, you can find children on the Adopt Kansas Kids website who desperately need parents and a family to call their own.

As it says, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.”

From left, Sarah Robinson, senior advisor for community relations; Chris Garnica, adoption supervisor; and Kristie MacMeeken, director of adoption; with the Sedgwick County Commission’s National Adoption Month Proclamation.
From left, Sarah Robinson, senior advisor for community relations; Chris Garnica, adoption supervisor; and Kristie MacMeeken, director of adoption; with the Sedgwick County Commission’s National Adoption Month Proclamation.

Perhaps you’ve considered adoption, but you want to explore it more.  You can learn a lot about adoption through Saint Francis here. We’re happy to answer any questions you might have.

Do you have an adoption story you’d like to share? Let us know. Your story might be the one that inspires another to adopt.

Lots of children need permanent homes and loving families just like yours. They’re out there, waiting.

 

How to navigate Halloween safely

About this time tomorrow, streets and sidewalks in communities across the country will be filled with all kinds of odd little creatures hauling sacks and buckets door to door in a quest for bite-sized sugary treats.

For many of us, Halloween was one of the highlights of childhood – and it’s no different for our kids.

Yet, wandering around in the dark with a mask on does have its risks for both children and adults.  It’s always a good idea to pause and consider how we can keep our kids safe this Halloween – so it remains a fun memory for them and for us.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, twice as many child pedestrians are killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Yet, only about 33  percent of parents discuss Halloween safety with their children.

Here are some tips from Safe Kids to help ensure all the trick-or-treaters have a safe and happy Halloween:

  • Children under the age of 12 should be accomanied by an adult.
  • Stick to sidewalks and paths.
  • No sidewalks? Walk facing traffic.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them.
  • Look left, right, and left again when crossing.
  • Cross at street corners, using traffics signals and crosswalks.
  • Watch for cars that are turning or backing up.
  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape. Wear bright colors.
  • Choose face paint and makeup instead of masks that can obstruct vision.
  • Wear glowsticks or carry flashlights.

If you’re driving, please be alert, particularly between the evening hours of 5:30 and 9:30.  Children are excited and distracted on Halloween, and it’s hard to predict their movements, especially mid-block.

Let us know if you have any other safety suggestions, and we’ll be happy to share them.

Be safe, be seen this Halloween.

Most of all, have fun!

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi – What More Can We Do?

Blessed are the peace makers.

Be a peace maker.

Friends,

In the wake of two more acts of violence this week that have left three young people dead in Lawrence, Kansas, and scores dead in Las Vegas, Nevada, what more can we do — how many more anguished cries will need to be lifted to the ear of God?

At moments like this, I re-embrace a prayer I know many of us hold dear:

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

… Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

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We have peace building to do.

Considering what happened in Lawrence over the weekend — where many of our children attend the University of Kansas (including one of mine) — and given what happened in Las Vegas, I feel compelled to do more to create a peaceful community.

Violence is an ever present reality for most of the children and families we serve. Gun violence, in particular, is a common occurrence in the lives of those given into our care.

In a real way, a way I know many of our employees and most of those we serve can understand, I know the reality of violence and I know its lasting traumatic effects. Because of the example of Dr. King, Gandhi, Tutu, St. Francis and the life and ministry of Jesus, I also know the power of nonviolent action.

The mission of Saint Francis calls us to offer hope and healing. One way we can do that is by committing to end the use of violent language in our workplaces, homes, and communities. We were created for love and compassion and in choosing to intentionally use nonviolent language it reminds us of how we are meant to relate to one another; living and being in such a way as to affirm the best of humanity.

What do I mean? Here are some examples:

  • Please, don’t shoot the messenger.
  • Should we take aim at a problem or should we seek to solve a problem?
  • Can we use dot points instead of bullet points?
  • Do we have targets for our families to shoot for or can we set goals to achieve?
  • Will I take a stab at a situation or will I be the first to address one?
  • Ever hear someone called a deadbeat?
  •  … to be brutally honest, have you ever known someone who was gun shy?

The list is long. Language does matter.

In a time of hyper-charged political rhetoric; in a time of mass death and destruction, I ask that you join me in embracing our mission to offer hope and healing in a fundamental way. I ask that you join me in making Saint Francis and our communities more peaceful through the use of intentionally nonviolent language.

I know it is not everything. It is something more. While those in elected life will debate what should or should not be done concerning public policy, you and I can do something powerful – right where we live and work.

We can be the peace makers Christ spoke of; we can be the instruments of peace St. Francis calls us to be.

May God bless you, always –

Fr. Bobby

 

Saint Francis and Kansas Wesleyan collaborate to address social worker shortage

The need for qualified social workers has been evident in Kansas as well as at the national level. To help strengthen the field of social work, Kansas Wesleyan University and Saint Francis Community Services are partnering to develop a Bachelor of Science in Social Work program that provides field experiences throughout a student’s course of study.
Fr. Bobby and KWU President Matt Thompson sign the partnership agreement that will create the bachelor's degree program in social work at KWU (photo courtesy The Salina Journal).
Fr. Bobby and KWU President Matt Thompson sign the partnership agreement that will create the bachelor’s degree program in social work at KWU (photo courtesy The Salina Journal).

“There is a need across the state of Kansas for social workers, especially in the area of child welfare,” Saint Francis Community Services CEO/President Fr. Robert Smith said. “The new Social Work program will be designed so that students will have multiple observation and practicum opportunities built into the curriculum. They will be more prepared for the challenges of the job when they graduate.”

Saint Francis and Kansas Wesleyan will collaborate on developing the program to meet the needs of Saint Francis and other area partners. They will work together to develop internships for KWU students, not only in social work but also in other appropriate areas, such as nursing, addictions counseling, psychological services and management of not-for-profits.

“The partnership with Saint Francis will benefit students in many service-focused majors,” Kansas Wesleyan’s Interim Provost, Damon Kraft, Ph.D., said. “We have learned from the success of our Teacher Education program that real-world experience spread throughout the course of study leads to more confident and knowledgeable graduates. We are fortunate to have partnerships, like this one, that enrich the educational experience at KWU and produce professionals ready to meet the needs of the community.”

Saint Francis will underwrite the initial hiring of the Director of the Social Work Program and Director of Internships positions at Kansas Wesleyan. Kansas Wesleyan will pursue accreditation for the program through the Council on Social Work Education, which is a three-year process. The first students could be accepted into the program as soon as fall 2018.

 

How Saint Francis families spent Saturday

More than 300 foster and kinship families from across the state traveled to Hutchinson Saturday to spend a free family day at the Kansas State Fair  and to be honored for the work they do on behalf of children.

Inaugurated five years ago, Saint Francis’ annual Resource Parent Appreciation Day gives families a day at the Fair so they can relax and have fun without worrying about the cost. Saint Francis pays for their admission and provides a free BBQ meal catered by Hog Wild. Saturday, we fed 1,000 people.

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What’s more, the last couple years, employees with the Kansas Department for Children and Families have raised money to provide carnival tickets for the kids. Thanks to DCF in the West and Wichita Regions, about 850 children were able to enjoy the midway for free.

Why do we do this? Because being a foster or kinship parent is hard work. Rewarding, but challenging.

Every day, foster parents shuttle children to doctor appointments, parental visitations, and school events. Every day, foster parents make time to listen, console, nurture, and teach a child. Every day, foster parents provide safe, secure spaces so children can heal, grow, and find hope again.

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We want foster parents to know that their hard work, dedication, and commitment to children don’t go unnoticed. They deserve to be celebrated.

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That’s why we do it.

How about you? Want to be a foster parent? Go here to learn more.

 

 

 

 

Here’s how you can give a child in foster care a summer to remember

In just 10 days, kids from around Kansas will begin to gather at Camp Webster in Salina for another KidzKamp, Saint Francis’ annual summer camp for children in foster care. This year, more than 70 young people are registered to attend the popular three-day event.

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“For many of these children, KidzKamp is the highlight of their year,” says Todd Hadnot, director of community outreach. “It lets them forget – if only for a while – the difficulties in their lives. They get to make new friends, reconnect with siblings placed in separate foster homes, and simply be kids for a few days.”

Every year, Saint Francis staff, volunteers, and donors provide a full slate of outdoor summer activities for boys and girls ages 8-12 who otherwise might not have the chance to experience summer camp.

Working together, staff and volunteers coordinate activities like trips to Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park, outdoor games, crafting sessions, an indoor carnival, and the annual talent show, a KidzKamp tradition.

“We simply could not provide KidzKamp without our volunteers and donors,” says Hadnot. “Their dedication to children and the respect and love they have for those in need are what make the camp such a memorable experience for every child who attends.”

You can help. It’s easy.

To learn about volunteer opportunities, contact Todd Hadnot at todd.hadnot@st-francis.org.

Or, to support KidzKamp with a financial gift, visit here.

Whether you choose to donate time or money, know that your support, like KidzKamp, means the world to the children who attend.