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.

 

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.