There is a dire need for help with local children

There are not enough foster homes in Marion County. Can you help? A nationally-renowned minister recently noted if every church in America fostered one child in need, there would be enough homes for every child.

Marion County has a lot of churches. Maybe it’s not possible for every church to help support a foster family, but every church can add the need for more local foster homes to its prayer list.

And perhaps members might want to mention the upcoming foster parent classes to a neighbor or a co-worker. And for the fortunate few who are gifted with the skills and gumption for social media, might you possibly consider also helping to spread the word? See our story on the classes and need in this edition for more information.

And it’s not just churches, we are calling for help from everyone throughout the county. It’s been brought to our attention that there are 53 children in foster care, with only 19 licensed homes.

Heartbreakingly, some of our local children are having to be placed in different counties. We’ve recently heard some pet organizations are now choosing to transport pets out of the county for adoptions, versus trying to find local homes. Are we doing this with our kids now, too? Appears so.

Everyone in this county has been known for pulling together. I suspect now they are being made aware of this situation, they may have a sleepless night like we did. And like the rescue roundups and support stampedes after horrible tornado outbreaks in the past, perhaps everyone in the county will rally around those in need. A few new local foster homes will make a big difference. Is there room in your home? Is there room in your heart?

You can find out by attending the upcoming foster parent classes beginning next week. Taking these classes does not mean you commit or sign a contract. Foster parent, child advocate and founder of Kids for Life Melissa Mathieson explained, “Really, the classes are designed to see if foster parenting would be a good fit for your family, for where you are in your life. They are very informative, but they are not a commitment.”

Let’s change gears for a moment. Let’s talk about legacies. We are discovering through Melissa that Kier Vickery, the former director of the Marion County Department of Human Resources, was instrumental in helping her kickstart Kids for Life.

Kids for Life and its partner organization, Restoration Family Services, are local non-profits that help support children in care, their foster parents, birth parents and transitioning family units.

When she started working closely with DHR as a foster parent in 2021, Melissa noticed an overwhelming need for resources for the kids in care. 

“We’re a smaller county, so we don’t have access to a lot of the resources you would find in bigger cities,” she said. “I asked Kier how we could help in a greater way. She said they had need of a visitation center and asked if I would consider starting a foster parent association, as well.

“Once we moved toward getting these ideas off the ground, Kier was a driving force in making both of these projects a success. She made sure I had all the contacts I needed to get started and sent me useful ideas in weekly emails. Her encouragement and support in that first year of operations made a big difference.”

Kier gives all the credit to Melissa. “She had the vision for both those entities, and I just jumped on her coattails and rode along for that great journey,” she said. “Melissa is a phenomenon unlike any I’ve ever known. She has created such a great community awareness and responsiveness. We always knew a lot of people wanted to help, but didn’t know how. 

“Melissa presents opportunities all the time so the community can step in and give. She’s really precious and sweet. She’s one of my favorite people. She’s giving me more credit than I deserve.”

So there is a way you can help, even if you can’t foster a child yourself. So there are people already helping and doing everything they can. We are so grateful to hear that. We are so proud of everyone who is helping. And we are extremely grateful and proud of BOTH of these ladies for making these organizations possible.

Thankfully, you will have some local support if you decide to become a foster parent. You’ll have Kids for Life, Restoration Family Services, an association and a local  support group. You can find out more information by contacting Melissa at 205-430-2674 of finding them on Facebook at Kids for LifeAL.

You’ll also have the full force of the department of human resources and all its “resources” available to help you. Including the free 10-week course where all the materials you need are provided.

Let’s applaud DHR and all the hard workers, with hearts of gold, who do their jobs for the love of children. Also in this edition, we have a story about one of them, Shane Harris, who recently won supervisor of the year in his division. Shane actually got the ball rolling for us on the foster care situation. He deflected any hoorays for his award onto the needs of children. That got our attention.

Then we learned there was an upcoming class, so we added another story. And now, an editorial. Shane, you did well--again! You’ve created a trifecta of publicity in your county newspaper we are hoping will be spread through word of mouth and social media--towards your ultimate goal--helping increase the number of local foster homes and funding needed for local foster care. Congratulations on your award!

While we are handing out kudos, we’d like to include current DHR Director Dwan Madden. She has been a joy to work with on these stories. She is also doing a great job in her director’s role, as well as spreading the news about the local need for foster care. You can contact Dwan, Melanie Norris or Misty Miller at DHR at 205-921-6000 if you have questions about becoming a foster parent, questions about the classes or to register.

More information to perhaps spread, please, includes the fact there  is no age limit on becoming a foster parent. “Anybody who has a place in their house and a place in their heart--is really all they need,” Melissa said.

She explained single parents are welcomed, including those who’d always wanted children and were never able to have their own. Grandparents whose children live far away or in other states, but who wish to help nurture a new generation, are also welcomed.

And let’s talk a little more about Melissa before we conclude. Melissa currently has two children in foster care in her home, but she has housed 39 during the last three years. She said she recently had three of the children in her care leave suddenly and “wonderfully.”

“When the children are able to be returned to families, that’s always exciting,” she said.

And what about the organization she founded? When Kids for Life began in 2022, there were only five licensed foster homes in the county. Now there are nearly 20, with local support, a route for required training classes and a multitude of other helpful services available that previously did not exist.

Wow, Melissa! We only needed a paragraph about how to make donations, per Shane’s request, when we reached out. Now, we’ve learned so much more! You’ve worked your magic on us. Thank you!

We are sincerely hoping some of the seeds planted here by Shane, Dwan, Kier and Melissa find ground in your heart and soul. And that you help do what you can and help share their messages and goals.

Most importantly, let’s see if we can boost the number of class attendees and the number of local homes. Melissa has noted it’s best to keep children in local areas near their families, in order to help them keep their connections and attachments.

To facilitate, she said Restoration Family Services assists with supervised visits in their office, along with hosting birthday parties and holiday get-togethers for local children in care. Again, among its other services.

Kier noted the organization is also very supportive and encouraging to birth families, as well as the staff and workers at DHR.

“Anybody who needs a helping hand, Melissa finds a way to help them,” she said.

Kier explained Melissa and her family have allowed themselves to be instruments of God.

“It’s all Melissa and her family. They are being Jesus’ hands and feet. They are doing what Matthew 25 tells us to do. They are taking care of the least of these.

“When Jesus talks about when you did it unto the least of these... you did it unto Me... He’s talking about these children. The least of these are right here. They’re in our churches, our schools, our neighborhood. People just need a way to help.”

See complete story in the Journal Record.
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