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.

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.

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.

Loving in the in between

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO), the parent organization of Encourage is celebrating 50 years of ministry this year! Throughout 2019, we will be sharing 50 Stories for 50 Years of Ministry to demonstrate the transformational work God has done through our family of ministries (CCHO, Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling).

In story 45, we will share the foster-to-forever journey of the Bostick family. They are one of several Encourage families who will finalize adoptions this year. We are so happy that 12 children will now have forever families due to the work we do at Encourage.

This special adoption story began when April Bostick was a young teen. God softened her heart for youth in foster care through a friend at school. Her faith has played a significant role in loving her daughters well throughout the journey from fostering to adoption.

Less than three weeks after being licensed, April received a call about two young girls in need of a safe place to stay. She chose to immediately go and pick up the girls rather than postpone until the next day for a drop-off. April reflects that this was both the happiest time and the saddest time as she entered the halls of the county’s child and family service office.

(Read the full article.)

This post also includes an introduction by Foster Care Assessor Emily Engman, LSW to acknowledge the meaningful time of adoption for kids and parents.

You can find our entire 50th anniversary story series at ccho.org/fifty. We hope you’ll be encouraged.

The unexpected story God writes

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO), the parent organization of Encourage is celebrating 50 years of ministry this year! Throughout 2019, we will be sharing 50 Stories for 50 Years of Ministry to demonstrate the transformational work God has done through our family of ministries (CCHO, Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling).

Today, Amanda Beery, Encourage foster parent, shares her family’s journey of foster care to adoption. Amanda first believed their family would help children in need through private infant adoption, but God had other plans.

In story 41, Amanda tells of her experience with honesty and vulnerability. Through a special relationship with a birth mom, God transformed her heart.

Loudly and clearly, He asked me to break down the walls and open my eyes to see that this road was never just about loving a baby. It was about pouring out the love He has poured in me to the point of empty. He reminded me what He values, birth families included.

Read Amanda’s full story and consider the significance of the relationship between foster families and biological families. Then let God write your story.

You can find our 50th anniversary story series at ccho.org/stories. You’ll have the opportunity to share your own story as well.

The power of connection

This summer, Encourage Foster Care offered Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) training to all of our foster families. TBRI was developed at Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, which defines TBRI as “an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory-processing and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.”

Encourage uses the TBRI approach because connecting and belonging is central to the human heart. It is central to how we were created in God’s image. Out of that is a deep desire for connection with those near to us. TBRI is consistent with Scripture’s message of a loving God who offers grace and redemption for both our spiritual condition and our physical and relational brokenness.

TBRI offers practical tools to effectively empower and connect with children from hard places. Its roots are found in Attachment Theory, the idea that infants create special bonds with their caregivers. Children with secure attachments have healthy social functioning and fewer behavioral problems at school, and they often become competent leaders within their peer groups. TBRI teaches caregivers to develop mindfulness strategies about their own attachment styles and how to best connect with children who come into their homes from hard places.

Our foster parents feel empowered by TBRI because it’s helping them strengthen relationships with their foster children. We love to hear how foster parents are growing themselves by developing a more secure attachment. Many of our foster families have their own broken histories, and like all other families, may have struggles with their biological children. TBRI offers hope to families so they can take better care of themselves, and in turn, take great care of the kids in their home.

TBRI principles are also used across our family of ministries. CCHO’s Children’s Residential Center uses TBRI to develop trust with new residents. The residential cottages and many of our foster homes use the empowerment principles to help children build trust through nutrition and hydration. Many of our kids have food issues. Staff and foster parents are finding that offering healthy snack options is a great way to engage and connect. Encompass Christian Counseling utilizes Attachment Theory. Helping parents develop self-awareness of how they attach to others and how they can work on themselves improves their relationship with their children.

Encourage case managers reinforce TBRI principles with foster parents to ensure they are utilizing this method daily with their youth. Going forward, TBRI will be included in our pre-service foster parent training.

Trainings such as this one are just one way that Encourage equips our foster parents to be successful in what God has called them to. For additional information about becoming a foster parent, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

The Ziegler Family

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO), the parent organization of Encourage is celebrating 50 years of ministry this year! Throughout 2019, we will be sharing 50 Stories for 50 Years of Ministry to demonstrate the transformational work God has done through our family of ministries (CCHO, Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling).

Story #36 in our series highlights another of Encourage’s families. Brian and Susie Ziegler responded to Scripture’s call in James 1:27 to reach out and show love to children in need. In opening up their home, they have grown as parents and learned new ways to connect with youth in foster care. They are truly building up and affirming the children in their home.

Watch their video to learn more about their family’s foster-to-adopt story and how they have appreciated working with the Encourage team. We are grateful that God has used them to help children experience their worth in Christ.

You can find our 50th anniversary story series at ccho.org/stories. You’ll have the opportunity to share your own story as well.