Growing faith in a pandemic

Today’s blog post comes from Jessie Berry, clinical supervisor at Encourage. She shares a powerful story of fostering through faith. See how God is at work in a young man’s life as well as his bio family because of a loving, praying foster family.

As I have stepped into my new role as clinical supervisor, I have had the opportunity to meet most of our Encourage foster parents. Each foster family has their own unique strengths which they use daily to care for children in their healing journey.

I have gotten to work closely with the Kirkbrides, one of our newer foster families. John and Cheryl had a young man placed with them not long after they were licensed. Bobby* arrived the week before everything shut down due to COVID-19.

Once placed with the Kirkbrides, Bobby adjusted well despite the pandemic and all the changes associated with it. The couple supported him during the transition and immediately began to prioritize both his faith journey and his relationship with his biological family.

Bobby’s faith journey began before being placed in the Kirkbride’s home. While living in his hometown, a bus would come around the neighborhood each week and take the children to a program at the local church. Bobby’s foster mother, Cheryl, reports that the seed of his faith and understanding of who Jesus is definitely started there.

Due to the Kirkbride’s church not holding in-person services during the crisis, Bobby began watching church with them online on Sunday mornings. He would ask them many questions and was very interested in learning how the church service worked. Bobby also enjoyed memorizing Bible verses, and Cheryl would hear him proudly reciting them to his mom during their phone calls. Bobby’s bio mother was very receptive to this and encouraged him to do so. During the past few months, he has read through the Old Testament with his foster parents and is looking forward to reading the New Testament next.

Bobby informed John and Cheryl that he was very interested in being baptized. He recently met with the children’s minister and is preparing for his baptism. His foster parents have assisted him in completing a baptism study. Bobby shared a desire to have his biological parents attend the baptism, and the Kirkbrides have fully supported this. They plan on scheduling his baptism once his parents are allowed to attend/have out-of-agency visits.

The Kirkbrides expressed that Bobby has also developed an interest in listening to Christian music, his favorite band being MercyMe. Cheryl has seen Bobby dancing to “Happy Dance,” “Shake,” and “Grace Got You.” One day he listened to “Grace Got You” over 25 times while playing with Legos. She’s also heard him belting “Waymaker” while in the shower, and he loves wearing the “Waymaker” shirt his foster parents ordered for him. The Kirkbrides feel music has helped Bobby heal and connect deeper to his faith.

John and Cheryl pray for and with Bobby each night, requesting that God give him faith like David. Encourage is very thankful for all the Kirkbrides do, selflessly taking on a foster placement during the COVID-19 pandemic and working hard to ensure that Bobby sees his worth in Christ.

*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.

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.