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.

 

How a Garden City couple fosters with just two rules

Our Spring/Summer issue of Hi-Lites is finished and will soon be in the mail. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak – a story about two amazing foster parents – Ambrosio and Patsy Balderas, Saint Francis’ 2016 Foster Family of the Year.

They have just two rules: You must go to school, and you must work. If you do those two things, you can stay. If you don’t, you must go. It’s as simple as that. The other stuff – your age, ethnicity, legal troubles, past mistakes – doesn’t matter. Follow those two rules and you’ll have a fighting chance. Follow those rules, and Ambrosio and Patsy Balderas will have your back for as long as you need them.

“I don’t care what you did in your past,” says Patsy. “I’m not proud of it, but I also did a lot of stupid things when I was a kid. Everybody deserves a new beginning. I don’t need to know what you did to get here, but I can tell you where you’re going from this point on.”

In 2009, the Garden City, Kansas, couple lived through the most boring, depressing six months of their 35-year marriage. Both their sons had grown and gone, along with two nephews they’d helped raise. What once had been a noisy, vibrant house filled with boisterous neighborhood teens, fell quiet. Ambrosio and Patsy spent many evenings staring at each other across the room in silence.

Ambrosio and Patsy Balderas foster with tenacity and tough love.
Ambrosio and Patsy Balderas foster with tenacity and tough love.

One day, Ambrosio rushed into the house brandishing a newspaper clipping. Excited, he said to Patsy, “They’re giving kids away, and they’re going to give us some.”

“I looked at the article and said, ‘You know it doesn’t really work that way, right?’ He said, ‘You just call them. They’re going to give us some kids.’”

The story was about Juvenile Justice Foster Care (JJFC), a special kind of foster care for young people who’ve made poor decisions. Youth in JJFC are in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) for engaging in illegal activities and behaviors. Working with KDOC, the courts, the Kansas Department for Children and Families, and Saint Francis Community Services, Juvenile Justice foster parents give young people ages 10-22 a chance to turn their lives around. Foster parents like Patsy and Ambrosio are specially trained to provide the structure, guidance, and skills that troubled youth need to get back on a productive path. It’s a difficult job, and it takes tenacity to do it well.

“Most of the kids we place with them won’t be going back home to reintegrate,” said Vanessa Roybal, JJFC program manager. “They’re typically kids who are going to age out and then live on their own. Patsy and Ambrosio do an excellent job of preparing kids for life by teaching them job skills and pushing them to get their education. Patsy makes it clear from the beginning that education is their first priority, then working, and then getting out on their own. Their home is our most successful with that age group.”

“I tell them they can work for money or they can work for free,” says Patsy. “They can do community service or get a job. If they don’t have a job, we’ll find one for them. Either way, they’re working.”

For some, that has meant employment at the Tyson Foods plant in Garden City, where Patsy and Ambrosio both work full-time. Patsy is a superintendent at the plant and has helped 11 of their foster kids get jobs there once they aged out. Seven still work there. And Ambrosio knows virtually every restaurant manager in town.

“I started by going into Burger King and telling the manager that we take care of kids, teenagers, and asked if he had any openings,” says Ambrosio. “He said ‘Bring me all you have.’ Now, all the restaurant managers know me by name. I’ve asked them to call me if they have trouble with any of the kids so we can try to work it out. And they do. They let me know.”

He also teaches them life skills like how to properly sweep a floor, wash dishes, clean house, use tools, and cook on a budget. Their kids learn through instruction and by example. They soon learn that Patsy and Ambrosio are on their side, and that they will settle for nothing less than each kid’s success. Working with Roybal and her staff of two JJFC case coordinators, Patsy helps foster youth find a place to rent and get the documentation they need to live independently. She says it’s surprising how many kids in JJFC don’t have a birth certificate, social security number, or photo ID. She makes sure they’ve paid their debts and learned to budget their money.

“We’ve been lucky,” says Patsy. “By the time they leave, I’d say at least 50 percent of our kids have paid their fines and saved enough money to go out on their own. They’re not perfect, they make mistakes. But you can say the same about any kid. They become like our own, and we celebrate their success. Most of ours have also graduated from high school. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like seeing a kid walk down that aisle to get that diploma. If that’s the only reason I do this, it’s worth every minute.”

Want to read more? You can find the rest of the new issue of Hi-Lites online here.

 

How you can help young girls heal

Saint Francis’ own Melanie Miller Garrett recently returned from Tennessee where she led a workshop at Vanderbilt University titled “Your Role in Serving Young Survivors.”

The Clover House director shared with attendees at the Thistle Farms National Conference how Saint Francis is responding to human trafficking through prevention, identification, and restoration.

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Clover House Director Melanie Miller Garrett presents at the Thistle Farms National Conference at Vanderbilt University.

Founded by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest, Thistle Farms helps heal, empower, and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addition by providing safe and supportive housing, opportunities for economic independence, and a supportive community of advocates and partners. Clover House, Saint Francis’ restorative, residential program for adolescent girls who have experienced the trauma of sex trafficking, was inspired in part by Thistle Farms.

The annual conference brings together individuals and organizations committed to helping survivors of human trafficking become empowered and find healing. Attendees learn tools and strategies that enable them to  create “survivor-centered” communities across the country.

Clover House, Saint Francis’ own survivor-centered community, provides restorative, residential care for adolescent girls who have experienced the trauma of child sex trafficking. By focusing on the whole person – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual – each girl receives the time and space she needs to grow and heal.

You can help the healing. Visit here to learn how.

If you’re not attached, you’re not doing it right

May is National Foster Care Month, so today we’re sharing the story of Chuck and Ginny Samples, one of Saint Francis’ Foster Families of the Month.

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“Let’s just try it out,” were the words Ginny Samples used to get Chuck into foster parent classes. “We don’t have to decide now, but at least we’ll see if it’s where we need to be.” By the third session, they knew.

“In the classes, they tell you all kinds of stuff to watch out for, what to expect with foster children,” said Chuck. “We realized that a lot of those things are what you’d see in any family. It broadened our focus beyond adoption. We began to think less about what we want as a family and more about what these kids need.”

Ginny’s co-worker at Emporia Middle School was in the process of adopting her foster child and had suggested foster care as an option for the Samples. Unable to have more children after the birth of their daughter, they’d been thinking about adoption. Isabella wanted siblings. And Ginny and Chuck wanted a larger family.

But soon after starting the classes, they knew they would foster for fostering’s sake – whether they eventually adopted or not.

“There’s just so much need,” said Ginny. “I’ve worked with lots of middle school-aged foster kids, and there’s nothing wrong with them. People often think they’re bad kids, but they’ve done nothing wrong. They’re just in a bad situation.”

So they discussed it with Isabella, who was immediately onboard. At six years old, she already understood that her parents were proposing helping children.

“We warned her that they might not stay long, that they could leave at any time to go back home,” said Ginny. “But she was perfectly fine with that. I think she probably wanted playmates more than anything.”

Not long after licensing in August 2014, the Samples received a call from Saint Francis saying they had a 2-year-old boy in need of a place to stay. What’s more, he had a sister, yet to be born, but who would also need a home – mostly likely after spending a couple months in the hospital. Could they handle it? They had the weekend to decide. Chuck and Ginny went for it.

That was more than three years ago, and they still have the siblings, now five and three years old. They’ve cared for them while providing emergency and respite foster care for several other children.

“When they came into our house, Isabella took care of them and showed them around,” said Ginny. “She’s very caring and loves them so much. She’s always treated them like siblings.”

And now they are.

Ginny and Chuck finalized Hunter and Sophie’s adoption in March. And though they’ve grown their family through adoption, they remain committed foster parents – working with birth families so they can get their kids back home and helping fellow foster parents navigate the system.

About a year into fostering, the couple began to think it might be helpful to share experiences and advice with other foster parents. They asked if there was support group in town and learned there wasn’t. They mentioned it to their Saint Francis caseworker, who said, “Let’s start one.”

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“She helped us get the word out, and we started having support group meetings right after our quarterly training meetings,” said Ginny. “Anyone at the training is welcome to stay for the support group. There are no case managers, no Saint Francis staff. Just foster parents. We all voice our opinions and support each other. It’s been so nice to know that we’re not alone. It’s helped tremendously.”

“It just keeps growing,” added Chuck. “It’s given us a place to bounce ideas off each other, gripe, celebrate, hug, cry, cuss, whatever we need. And it gives us the language to share our story with others. We were a bit surprised to learn that these kids just need love, stability, and guidance more than anything else. I think if potential foster parents could see that, more would be receptive to trying it.”

“Just try it out,” said Ginny. “The way I look at it, you shouldn’t say ‘no’ until you’ve at least tried the classes. You don’t have to be perfect. We’re certainly not. And, no, it’s not easy – especially when they leave. I hear people say they could never foster because they’d become too attached. But I tell them, ‘If you’re not attached, you’re not doing it right.’”

Learn here how you can give a child a forever family.

 

How to be awesome

Each year, Saint Francis throws a celebration for all the foster and kinship families who work with us. In Kansas, we host a Foster Family Appreciation Day at the State Fair. We also hold celebrations in Oklahoma and Nebraska for our families in those states.

Our invitations for these events always go out in May because this month is National Foster Care Month. We want to use the opportunity to tell our foster and kinship family partners just how important they are to Saint Francis and to the children we serve.

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Today, about 400,000 children across the nation live in foster care. Kansas and Oklahoma each have about 7,000. Nebraska has roughly 5,000.

Each one of those children depends upon a relative or a foster parent to provide them with the security, structure, understanding, and love they need to thrive and grow – hopefully, until they can return home to families better equipped to care for them.

Fostering isn’t easy. It takes patience and passion, compassion and courage. It takes a generous spirit and a wide open heart. But the people who do it, aren’t any more special than the rest of us. They’re actually pretty ordinary.

They just care enough to act.

They’re willing to step of their comfort zone to help a child. They’re willing to share their home and their lives with children who need help. And in that is where their awesomeness lies.

This month, we’ll feature stories about some of Saint Francis’ most awesome foster parents. You’re going to meet some neat people.

Hopefully, their stories will inspire you to become a foster parent. Or, at least, to check out one of the free training classes Saint Francis offers monthly.

Fostering may be the most challenging job you’ll ever have. But it might be the most rewarding, too.

Learn how you can be an awesome foster parent by calling 1-800-423-1342.

 

How you can make summer special for a child in foster care

More than 70 Kansas kids will gather again at the Webster Conference Center in Salina July 28-30 for KidzKamp, a free summer camp sponsored by Saint Francis Community Services for children in foster care. Each year, Saint Francis staff, volunteers, and donors provide three days of outdoor fun for boys and girls ages 8-12 who otherwise might not have the chance to experience summer camp.

“For many of these children, KidzKamp is the highlight of their year,” says Todd Hadnot, director of community outreach services. “It enables them to forget for a while the difficulties in their lives, to make new friends, to reconnect with siblings who might be placed in separate homes, and to simply be a kid for a few days.”

Hadnot added that it takes many dedicated volunteers to help make KidzKamp a success. Saint Francis relies on volunteers to help supervise the children and coordinate activities like trips to Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park, outdoor games, crafting sessions, and the annual talent show, a KidzKamp tradition. All volunteers receive free training, meals, and lodging.

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

Todd says there are opportunities for individuals, church groups, and businesses to sponsor activities and events at the indoor carnival that caps the three-day event.

Want to volunteer? Call him at 785-914-5244, ext. 4312, or email todd.hadnot@st-francis.org.

Visit here to make a financial gift.

 

How to learn more about foster care and adoption: attend a Saint Francis forum

Want to learn more about foster care and adoption? You can by attending an informational forum hosted by Saint Francis this Sunday, from 2-5 p.m., at Journey the Way, 147 S. Hillside, in Wichita.

Attendees will hear from actual foster and adoptive parents as they share their experiences. They can also meet and ask questions of Saint Francis staff and several state and local child welfare partner organizations.

“Not only do I work in social services, but I’ve been a foster parent for many years,” says Julie White, foster care home recruiter for Saint Francis. “So, I see the need for more foster parents every day. We hope that through this forum, we can raise awareness about the need and encourage more people to become foster or adoptive parents. I invite anyone who’s interested in learning more about foster care to come to the forum. It’s a great educational opportunity.”

This event is free of charge and open to the public. For more information contact Julie at (316) 217-3832 or at julie.white@st-francis.org.

We’re hosting another forum on March 21st, from 6-7:30 p.m., at 301 N. Pomeroy, in Hill City, Kansas.

You can learn more about that event by contacting Marla Baumann at (785) 476-8501 or at marla.baumann@st-francis.org.

We hope to see you there!

 

 

Telling our Story at the 2017 Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes Conference

Saint Francis Community Services has been helping children and families since 1945. But it’s never had a dedicated giving arm. That changed in 2016 with the creation of The Saint Francis Foundation. We recently had the privilege of telling our story in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Our audience: the 2017 Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP).

Foundation President, The Reverend David B. Hodges, kicked off the presentation Thursday evening, February 23. Longtime board member The Honorable John R. Pera followed with his moving, personal testimony. Fifty years ago, he was a kid on the wrong path, running the streets and failing in school. In the spring of 1964, he says Saint Francis helped turn his life around.

Then, he played this video, illustrating the Saint Francis philosophy of praying then getting our hands dirty:

The Very Reverend Robert Nelson Smith, President and CEO, went on to talk about faith and working with power structures to help heal the lives of children and families that suffer unique traumas. We see it every day – through the gifts of more than 1,200 employees, in five states and El Salvador. Annually we serve more than 11,000 children, adults, and families in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas and El Salvador, representing seven dioceses of the Episcopal Church. The Saint Francis Foundation helps fund and expand this growing outreach.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus says that the children of light – the Church, you and me – must be wise in the ways of the world, that we must understand power structures. At Saint Francis, we believe scripture teaches us that we must be smart and sophisticated in the ways of politics and economics so that we are ready to work the system to transform power structures and be agents of a God who is on the side of the powerless and the poor. Fr. Bobby shared a number of specific instances of our work in action. None are more moving than our new Clover House ministry.

We designed Clover House to be a place of love and healing for young survivors of sex trafficking. In addition to Fr. Bobby’s remarks about Clover House, we also had the chance to talk about Clover House at a CEEP luncheon on Friday, Feb. 24, and to share more information at our booth. Before the girls – ages 12 to 17 – moved into Clover House early this year, it was blessed as a sacred space. We captured the event on video:

We also created nature-inspired notecards, available with a donation, to generate funds and awareness for Clover House.

When Fr. Bobby called on the audience to pray and then get their hands dirty – he handed out gloves to reinforce the let’s-get-to-work message. The glove wrap-around did double duty as a brochure, with program and contact information. Our bold booth graphics further reinforced the pray-work message throughout the three-day event.

It’s a message we never tire of sharing. We hope you’ll help us get the word out, too. Let’s pray, and then stand up and get our hands dirty – together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Francis’ Bridgeway program wins national award

Saint Francis’ Bridgeway Apartments, an independent living program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Picayune, Mississippi, has been named a 2016 Community of Quality (COQ) national award winner by the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA).

Entrants are judged on how they manage the physical, financial, and social conditions of their properties, and on how well they convey their success in offering the highest quality of life for their residents.

Bridgeway Apartments won in the category of “Exemplary Development for Residents with Special Needs.”

“This year, we had 30 entrants proving that the Communities of Quality Awards program continues to thrive and to be a point of pride for all the contenders,” said NAHMA Executive Director Kris Cook. “There is no other award that focuses so comprehensively on the everyday life and management expertise of affordable housing properties.”

Bridgeway Apartments provides supervised living, supported employment, and job discovery services to adults ages 18 and older with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Receiving this national recognition is a testament to the diligent work of Saint Francis Community Services and the local efforts of the Bridgeway staff to ensure residents have every opportunity to live happy, independent, and fulfilling lives,” said Director of Operations Jason Kirkland. “It’s a big honor to be in the same category with other facilities across the United States. We knew we did a pretty amazing job here, but to be honored nationally is a big step for us.”

Saint Francis staff and members of Bridgeway’s property management team, The Columbia Property Group, will travel to Washington, D.C., in March, to receive the award during NAHMA’s annual winter meeting.