Making art, making progress

The goal for most youth in foster care is reunification with their biological families. While apart from each other, bio parents focus on their own healing work while our staff and foster parents provide safety and therapeutic care to the kids. It’s complicated work helping kids process confusing emotions and trauma as well as helping them navigate relationships and family visitation.

One of the preteen girls in our program recently demonstrated huge progress and a kind heart. “When someone receiving treatment can see outside of themselves to want to help others—that is a significant marker in their treatment,” said Shawn Pedani, director of Encourage.

Here is Veronica’s* story.

Veronica is very smart, caring and sweet. She was welcomed into care by an Encourage foster family last summer. The goal for her and her siblings is reunification, but their bio parents are struggling a lot, especially with visits. Sometimes they don’t show up, sometimes they do, but then don’t behave like they’re supposed to. When this happens, Veronica gets understandably upset.

However, she recently came up with an idea. Being very artistic and crafty, Veronica has been working on a project to identify and recognize her emotions and better cope with her anger. She has been representing her daily emotions with emojis through construction paper art. This creative expression helps her keep busy and forget about her anger, which also helps her manage anxiety.

Veronica asked her foster care coordinator to show her art project to other kids so they could try it too and be comforted. “I am so proud of her,” said Maria Reina, foster care coordinator at Encourage. “It’s amazing that a child can come up with an idea like this by herself and she is so kind to share with others in order to help them.”

Learning how to manage emotions and behaviors is challenging for youth from hard places. Our team and foster parents come alongside our kids to teach and model this important work. When we see children implement strategies and experience success, we are overjoyed! These life skills are so beneficial to their healing and overall well-being.

If your family tries Veronica’s emoji art project, would you kindly let us know? We’d love to share your story with her so she can be even more encouraged. Send us a note at inquire@encourage.family.

*Name changed for privacy.

The biggest joy

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. Jessie provides therapeutic support as a staff member and she is also a foster mom with her local foster care agency.

The biggest joy my husband and I have experienced as foster parents has been getting the opportunity to show the kiddos their worth in Christ. When we got placement of our two little boys, they had never been introduced to the Lord. This seems to often be the case with our foster youth. One of the greatest responsibilities we have faced as foster parents has been raising them in a Godly household, teaching them the power of prayer, and fostering their relationship with the Lord.

While grief and anxiety are emotions foster parents frequently experience as reunification nears, the knowledge that Jesus is now in their hearts, whether they are at your house or in their biological home, gives a much needed sense of peace and comfort. What could be more powerful and reassuring than that?

Encourage families are fostering through faith. They are responding to a ministry that God has called them to. Their heart is for each child to experience their worth in Christ. For more information about fostering with Encourage, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

View more stories of blessings from Encourage staff and foster families.

Change of plans

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 Home Study Supervisor Emily Engman, LSW. Emily sees the faithfulness and compassion of our foster families. Even in the midst of uncertainty, they have willingly changed their plans and followed Jesus.

During the course of COVID-19, we have seen many Encourage foster families step it up to take care of children in need in our communities! One of our families opened their home to care for a sibling of one of their current foster children. Another one of our families opened their home to take care of 7-year-old and 9-year-old sisters who were no longer able to stay with their current foster family.

Neither of these families had planned on having additional children in their home a few months ago, but, when the need was there, they showed up. We are so grateful for our foster families and all the work they do to help foster children.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” -Proverbs 16:9, ESV

We have a heart for keeping siblings together and we are so grateful for our foster families who help make this possible. Learn more about our ministry focus and connect with Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist, at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118 with any questions.

Giving back

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 Whitney Beougher, LSW, Foster Care Assessor and Trainer. Whitney welcomes and trains our newest foster parents and gets to know their heart for children in need.

I have recently had two women in our Encourage Foster Parent Prep Courses that were once in the foster system and adopted into supportive homes. They offered such great insight and questions during the training classes. Both women shared their experiences and it really helped the other parents understand the need and perspective of youth in foster care.

They have both created successful lives and have biological children. They both expressed the heart to bring foster children into their families to help them heal and give back. These women, soon-to-be foster moms, are excited to provide a stable home for children, even if the foster children are able to be reunified with their families.

To learn more about foster parent prep courses, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Blessing of relationship

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 Logan Truax, one of our foster care coordinators. She sees firsthand the relationships that develop between our foster and biological families.

My positive experience involves the Hawks family — one of our Encourage foster families. I’ve seen an awesome blessing because of the positive relationship that foster mom Jen has with her foster son’s biological mother. When she found out she was pregnant and her county was taking custody, this bio mom felt comfortable saying she wanted the Hawks to care for this baby too. Now the siblings can be together while they are in foster care and their biological mom works on her own plan. I am so grateful for the kindness of the Hawks family and their heart for bio families.

At Encourage Foster Care, our purpose is to help people experience their worth in Christ. This certainly includes the biological families of youth in foster care. When possible, our foster families build a relationship with birth moms and dads. We pray for their healing and growth. We ask God to provide opportunities to show His grace. Connecting with birth parents can be the unexpected story God writes.

View more stories of blessings in foster care.

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.

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.

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…)

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.