Making progress

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’re sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Today’s story of blessing comes from Courtney McConahay, one of our foster care coordinators. Courtney cheers on our foster youth wherever they are in the journey.

I just have to brag on one of our foster teen boys. I was concerned about him at first, for building up his mental health and overcoming personality conflicts. He has been working with his foster dad on painting jobs, making money and saving up with a plan. He bought himself a lawn mower to mow lawns and a bike! He still owes $100 toward his bike and has a few upcoming jobs that will pay it off. This young man is so proud of himself. He was also talkative and in a great mood when we connected last week. He even took initiative to show me some new kittens in their family. I could see his countenance lifted, and I’m so proud of him for making progress! Way to go!

One of Encourage’s greatest needs is foster homes for teenage foster children. Our heart is for each teen to have someone cheering at their side for progress moments like this one and for achieving major milestones. If you would like to talk with one of our staff members about what it would like to welcome a teen into your home, Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist, would be honored to process this decision with you. Reach out today at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Little seeds of faith planted

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’ll be sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Today on the blog, seasoned foster parents Kathy and Bryant Smith share their heart to foster through faith. They are intentional about modeling God’s love in words and actions. Through the years, they have watched little seeds grow.

We have been foster parents for many years but more recently with Encourage after our move to Ohio from California. Through our connections with previous foster children who are now grown and have reached out to us recently, we have seen lives forever changed. Those little seeds of faith planted in young hearts have continued to grow. And these children have grown up to make personal choices in their faith and lives that make every trial and tear worth something. This is our ministry. We love giving these children love and connection.

In fostering, days will be physically and emotionally exhausting. There will be sleepless nights. There have been days I wonder if I am truly connecting–do these children feel loved? And then there are days or moments that you see their hearts open, they see God’s love and ours.

We will continue this ministry with fostering in the hopes that we can plant more seeds of faith, that we can give them a glimpse of God’s love through us. We pray that God can continue to use us to reach more children. We want to always be more than a warm dinner, a soft bed and a roof. While those are important, we want to be a warm hug, a soft shoulder and a trusted adult for these children.

If you have a blessing to share, or would you like to inquire about fostering with Encourage, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Blessing of saying yes

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’re sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Today’s story of blessing comes from Maria Reina, one of our foster care coordinators. She sees firsthand the joys and sorrows that our foster children and families experience.

I am so thankful for the heart and responsiveness of our Encourage foster families. Our agency recently received a referral request for a foster home for two young boys. The county truly wanted to keep the brothers together. One of our families without question took this placement. They did not doubt it for a minute. I was on call that day and had the privilege of placing these siblings together with this family. I hope they know what a blessing they are to these young kids.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -Romans 10:17

Encourage foster families are a blessing to children and teens. Regardless of the length of their time together, they truly have a lasting impact. Learn more about what it takes to be a successful foster parent. The need for foster parents is great. To inquire, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Major milestone

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’re sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Today’s story of blessing comes from our Clinical Supervisor Jessie Berry, MSSA, LISW-S. Through her therapeutic role, she connects with children as they vulnerably and bravely share their stories.

One of the greatest blessings I have experienced so far during my time with Encourage is the strength of our foster youth. Although it is very difficult for many, a big part of the healing journey for our foster youth is being able to be open and honest about their past. Trauma work may occur early on in therapeutic process, however, most kiddos take an extended period of time to feel safe enough and ready to share their deepest, darkest secrets.

This week I had a foster youth finally feel safe enough to share much of her past trauma, disclosing things that she has been holding in for many years. She was very proud of herself as she hit this major milestone in her treatment. Just as parents have to heal and work their case plan, our youth have to heal and accomplish their goals so when reunification occurs, the family unit as a whole is as healthy and resilient as it can be.

“Shame gets unspeakable power only if it’s unspeakable. Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.” -Ann Voskamp

If you have a story or blessing to share, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Noticing each moment

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’ll be sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Enjoy these reflections from foster parents Alisha and Matt Everhart. Each moment matters for connecting and building comfort as they care for children in need of safety and love. Each moment matters as they prepare their own hearts to serve well.

When the call comes.
That moment the phone rings and you know it’s your agency worker. You weren’t expecting the call and when you answer they tell you they have a possible placement and ask if we are interested. The info is usually very limited, and yet, this call has so much meaning and emotions with it. Excitement for what could be. Sorrow that a child is entering the system. Nervous about what will happen if we say yes. Countless questions. How will they act? Will we bond with them or will they hate us? What will they look like? What is their true story? Wondering what they have been through…

Then the children come.
Usually just with the clothes they are wearing. Sometimes not matching, often not fitting properly or fitting the current weather. Some with a coat and others not. Your first few hours are usually spent getting them cleaned up if needed, fed, change of clothes. Trying to help them feel comfortable in a stranger’s home. Then the first few days generally include sleepless nights as we all adjust, a shopping trip to get the necessities, clothes and shoes. What a moment this can be. Some have never had new clothes or had a say in choosing what they wear. It also means shopping for school supplies again and again as we’ve had to buy supplies for all of our foster children.

Then there are birthdays and holidays.
Our first placement came to us on a Friday night and the youngest of the siblings had a birthday just two days later. Talk about rushing to celebrate her so she would know her birthday is a special day indeed. And then her older sister had a birthday within a month. Talk about lots of changes.

Eventually we all get into a routine and things settle down some but adjustments continue.

Meeting a kiddo and the kiddo meeting us causes me to have butterflies. We’re sure they do as well. Wouldn’t you if one minute you are with your family and the next you are told you’re going to stay with another family who is coming to get them right now? You try to make the house perfect and their room inviting. You try not to ask too many questions, and yet you wonder inside. Should we give them a hug or shake a hand? How did they sleep? Did they have a bed? Are they afraid of the dark?

So many unknowns and navigating in those first weeks together.

If you have a story to share, or if you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Things I know about God

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’ll be sharing a new series–”Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Enjoy this story from foster mom Sheila Wagler-Mills as she helps her foster children manage well during the health crisis.

With her foster children being home due to coronavirus, Encourage foster mom Sheila gave a journal to each of them with questions to spur their writing. One day Sheila left instructions to write “Five Things I Know About God.” Her preteen foster daughter responded to the task with seven noteworthy answers. (more…)

Children’s books about foster care and adoption

We don’t always have the vocabulary to name or describe our feelings or situations. Sometimes emotions are strong. Other times we trip over our words. Having a tool such as a book or a story can be a helpful way to start a conversation especially with children. Molly Woods, LSW, a school-based Encompass Christian Counseling therapist serving students and families in Orrville, recommends these children’s books to help you talk with your kiddos about foster care, adoption and diversity.

Emma’s Yucky Brother” by Jean Little (ages 4 to 8)
This children’s story is about a young girl and her family who are adopting a little boy. The book discusses many important factors for children, such as their expectations and what to do if/when reality doesn’t match the process, sibling relationships or social workers. Within the pages, the reader will also look at life from the new brother’s perspective. This warm-hearted story gives a realistic outlook on adoption with a child from foster care.

“Heartfelt and honest; an adoption story from the viewpoint of the older sibling [with] simple words and clear, expressive illustrations.” ―Booklist

A Mother for Choco” by Keiko Kasza (ages infant to 5)
This spin off of “Are You My Mother?” follows the journey of a little bird named Choco on his quest to find his family. Choco starts looking for someone who looks similar to himself, but realizes that looks are not the most important thing in a family. Choco decides to join his new mother after she shows him she can make him laugh and comfort him like he wishes his mother would. This story is a great conversation starter on differences and how they can be celebrated. We hope you’ll find this book to be a great teaching tool that families do not need to “match” to be the right fit.

“The message is warm and reassuring, particularly to adoptees, stepkids, and other children who for various reasons don’t resemble their caretakers.” ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz (ages 4 to 8)
This feel-good story is about a young girl named Lena who wants to paint pictures of herself. As she runs into friends during the day, Lena realizes that not everyone’s skin tone is the same. This story promotes acceptance and how our differences are part of what makes us each uniquely beautiful. The author created this book for her daughter, Lena, whom she and her husband adopted from Guatemala.

“Bold illustrations celebrate diversity with a child’s open-hearted sensibility and a mother’s love.” ―Kirkus Reviews

For additional resources in talking with kids about foster care and adoption, please reach out to us today. Or if you have a book you love, please share it with us. Message us at inquire@encourage.family.

Give all of you

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’ll be sharing a new series–”Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Enjoy these words of wisdom from foster mom Amber Buchwalter. She and her husband Phil became foster parents for the first time in 2019. We love having them in the Encourage family.

Fostering is caring for children as if they were your own and not worrying about the possibility of them ever leaving your home, yet still being prepared in the heart for that day to happen, should it. There is no cookie-cutter recipe. It’s not for those who want to do the minimal and still graduate. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

I’ve learned that basic needs and consistency take much effort. I am constantly troubleshooting how to get a toddler to sleep at night and trying to figure out how a five-year-old does or doesn’t think 🙂

I’ve learned so much about patience. Everything slows way down with kids—especially getting them ready to go outside with shoes, coats, gloves, etc. What a process! However, each day is new, and God has supplied me with the strength to get up and do it all again. God also allows me to give them grace when they have off days and aren’t the kind boys that we know they are. There are ups and downs, there are really fabulous days, and there are days when I crumble. I’ve learned to walk away and do breathing exercises that I acquired from my preschooler’s Head Start program. Sometimes I just pray and collect myself.

I’ve learned that we all are human. Little kids develop quickly up to age two, and then they start gaining independence and learning how to really test / push / try to do stuff on their own without permission. I’ve learned not to be a drill sergeant and yet not be too relaxed because then they don’t take me seriously.

I’ve learned from fostering that husbands and wives go through very separate issues with feelings of guilt, blaming each other, feeling stuck, not feeling like we are in the same boat, not knowing how to talk to each other about parenting choices, or even undercutting each other’s authority. Asking questions and talking to my husband about these concerns and how we can accomplish parenting together has really helped us unify our thoughts and direct our energies in the same direction. Whew!

I’ve learned that I love-love-love being a mom, and these kids need-need-need stability, consistency, love, physical touch, and yes, the basics. But if you only give basic needs, you hold back. You have to give all of you because they notice. The sleepless nights, the whining, the attitudes, the hardest days will always be worth it when I put my all into it. Seeing the boys’ progress and development change because we provided a stable atmosphere is mind blowing. I’ve seen connection points throughout this last year. I’ve gotten hugs I didn’t think would happen. I’ve even gotten a kiss on the forehead. I’ve received love letters from my older boy that are still taped to my door where he put them. I have seen so many improvements and developmental milestones in one year, and it’s so exciting! Especially the tenderhearted moment when I led my five-year-old in a prayer to accept Jesus in his life.

I’ve learned that fostering has drawn me closer to God. In my weakest moments, I’m asking / calling / begging for help. I have treasured the networking of experienced foster parents and staff from Encourage. They have been a lifeline when I need advice or have questions. Meeting new foster parents with kids has opened up my world of friends and taught me valuable lessons I will never forget.

I’ve learned that messy toy-filled rooms don’t bother me anymore. Picking up toys with the boys is a way of connecting with them. I look around our home and see how the boys have rerouted our routine and we are part of theirs. They have food, toys, clothes and little friends that we will get to see again after this virus ends. I see healthy children who have learned to sleep in. They know they are safe, loved, liked and accepted. They know that their feelings matter and that they can run to us whenever they want.

If you have a story or blessing to share, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Now is the time

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’re sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Today’s message comes from Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist. Heather finds blessing in each person who considers becoming a foster parent. And she loves talking through the possibilities with individuals and families. This role may not be for everyone, but there are opportunities for everyone to help children in need. Watch the video and learn more.

If you would like to get more involved in meeting the needs of youth in foster care, Heather would be honored to process this decision with you. Reach out today at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Blessings found in fostering

President Ronald Reagan issued the first presidential proclamation establishing May as National Foster Care Month in 1988—that’s just one year before Encourage Foster Care officially began. While we serve foster families all year round, this is a great time for us to acknowledge and celebrate these special families and all that they do to help kids heal from neglect, abuse and trauma.

We are grateful that God has prompted our network of foster parents to open their hearts and homes to children and teens in this meaningful, supportive way.

“From our 30 years of caring for youth in foster care, we have seen how a safe and stable environment with caring adults is a critical piece to their healing and growth,” said Encourage Director Shawn Pedani, LISW-S. “We hope you know how much you are appreciated for the day-to-day support that you provide.”

Throughout this month, we’ll be sharing a new series–Blessings Found in Fostering. We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way.

View all of the foster care blessings stories.

Let’s use this month to connect and encourage one another as we are apart more often than we would like. If you have a story or blessing to share, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.