Introducing AGAPE's Newest Board Member

KAREN BLAKESLEE has joined AGAPE of NC’s Board of Directors this year! With more than 15 years working in the mortgage industry (and a career as a math teacher before that), Karen is currently Prime Lending’s Executive Vice President, East Division. She brings to her work with AGAPE valuable skills and talents in the areas of fundraising, budgeting & financial management; networking & public speaking; marketing & media; and strategic planning.

Karen Blakeslee Board of Directors

Karen Blakeslee Board of Directors

“Our happiness is greatest when we contribute most to the happiness of others.”

Karen says her career in the mortgage industry is “a natural fit for my passion for helping people develop their skills, discover their gifts and fulfill their potential.

She volunteers with the Raleigh Area Habitat for Humanity initiative and is active in the NC Food Bank organization. The mother of 6 kids, ranging in age from 18 to 28, Karen also plans to volunteer with AGAPE’s Young Adults Foster Home in Raleigh.

Staff Spotlight: Mary Arnold, Director of Social Services

Leah Tripp

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On January 1st of 2019, Mary Arnold officially stepped into her new position as AGAPE of North Carolina’s Director of Social Services.

The position is new to AGAPE. Previously, the work done by a Director of Social Services was being carried out by Executive Director Kimberly Scott in addition to her responsibilities as director.

To delegate these responsibilities, Arnold, previously a social worker with AGAPE, began training in August to accept her upcoming role as Director of Social Services.

Arnold’s responsibilities include managing and directing AGAPE’s contracted social workers, facilitating intake of children from various counties, communicating with foster families regarding potential placements, keeping foster family files up to date, managing licenses, and being available to social workers if they need any assistance.

While Arnold admits this position has been a learning experience, her passion for the job and the people she works with is evident.

“I love it. I love being very personal and getting to know the all the social workers and so many families... I get to know them and talk with them”

In addition to working closely with social workers and families, Arnold also has a hand in deciding where a foster child should be placed, an aspect of her work that is new to this job.

Arnold explains that placing children is often a complex process; factors like age, location, family dynamics, and trauma history are all at play when she is making the decision of which family would best match a particular child.

“It’s like putting puzzle pieces together,” she remarks.

The job can be difficult, and Arnold does not shy away from this aspect of her position, explaining that getting placement calls and not being able to place children is one of the hardest parts of her job. She sees trauma and pain come through her email inbox regularly.

Despite this, Arnold says those heartbreaking emails and phone calls “remind me why I do what I do. It’s what makes me passionate about recruiting foster parents.”

This passion for children bleeds into Arnold’s personal life as well; she explains that her job has caused her and her husband to consider becoming foster parents, explaining that she cannot do the work she does and not take a moment to look at herself, to reflect on how she could be a potential solution to a problem.

When asked what she would tell potential foster parents who are afraid to take the first step into foster care, Arnold says:

“Trust in God. I know that’s so much easier to say than do... but there’s so much more reward when you take a leap of faith and go through the valleys... When you walk with these kids, when you are Jesus to them, when you come to the other side with them, you’re going to get the greatest reward.”

How Can My Church Serve Foster Children and Families?

Leah Tripp

While not everyone within a church will be called to be a full-time foster parent, there are other ways that your church can care for foster families and show Christ’s love to children in foster care. In addition to praying fervently for foster children and their families, churches can also serve in the following ways. 

Respite Care Teams

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Respite care providers are trained individuals who can offer babysitting services to full-time foster care parents. Respite care is important to the overall wellness of foster parents and their children, and provides a qualified, consistent support system for families. AGAPE of North Carolina offers training courses for respite parents. If someone in your church or small group is a full-time foster parent, consider supporting them through respite care. 

Mentoring

There are several programs in North Carolina and across the country that recruit mentors for older children and young adults in foster care. Mentors can make connections with foster youth and guide them in a variety of ways, including tutoring, job skills, college readiness, emotional wellness, and many other healthy lifestyle habits. Encourage your church family to serve foster children by signing up for a mentoring program. 

AGAPE of NC is licensing Young Adult Foster Homes that are in need of mentors from local congregations. To learn more about this opportunity, email Mary Arnold at marnold@agapeofnc.org. 

Care Packages

Care packages can be helpful for both foster children and potential foster families. There are a variety of organizations that sponsor care packages for children in care. Programs like Comfort Cases and Project Shoe Box provide care packages and/or suitcases with hygiene items, books, school supplies, and toys to children and youth in foster care. Churches can donate supplies and/or completed care packages to organizations such as these. 

Care packages can also be helpful for foster parents. Foster care placements can often come at short notice, which means new foster parents may be lacking in supplies for the child they just received. Consider having items like diapers, gift cards, and other necessities ready for any foster families in your community or congregation. 

The “Little Things” 

If there’s one thing I’ve heard consistently from my conversations with people involved in foster care, it’s that scheduling and time management can be really difficult. Foster parenting is a time commitment, which can make it easy for smaller tasks to fall to the wayside. If you know someone who is a foster parent, offer to bring them a hot meal, cut their grass, or pick up their groceries. Small acts of kindness go a long way, and there’s no telling how grateful someone will be to have the “little things” taken care of. 



What Happens After 18?: Aging Out of Foster Care

Leah Tripp

I remember the excitement I felt leading up to March of 2016.

I was turning 18, and I felt like I had the whole world in front of me. I was a senior in high school, I knew where I was going to college, and I felt like I had plenty of options open to me as I moved forward into legal “adulthood.”

18th birthdays should be full of promise and expectation, but for many young adults in America, turning 18 marks a time of great uncertainty.

Each year, over 23,000 children age out of the US foster care system.

Aging out of foster care can be traumatic for a variety of reasons. From a logistical standpoint, many children who age out of foster care become effectively homeless the day they turn 18 if they do not have a support system that is willing to provide them care and housing. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, homelessness impacts 20% of youth who age out of foster care.

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For those who avoid the immediate threat of homelessness, there are a range of other obstacles related to employment, education, and emotional health.

Youth who age out of foster care go to college at a significantly lower rate, as they may not have adults who are willing to guide them through application processes, academic requirements, and required testing.

Their lack of participation in post-secondary education is not due to lack of ability, but to lack of awareness.

In terms of employment, 50% of foster children who age out of the system will have gainful employment by the age of 24. Statistically, the other half of these youth will struggle to maintain stable jobs. The lack of consistent employment can contribute to cyclic patterns that keep foster youth from being able to own their own homes, pursue educational opportunities, or achieve career advancements.

Ultimately, foster youth are in great need of those willing to guide them, care for them, and invest in their lives and growth.

This care can come in the form of full-time foster parenting, mentoring, respite care, or volunteering.

Many Young Adult Foster Homes are beginning to address the challenges associated with aging out by providing care and guidance to foster youth ages 18-21.

These homes allow those who have technically “aged out” to have time to develop necessary skills and a support system in a familial setting.

If you are interested in learning more about helping foster youth, or about Young Adult Foster Homes, visit agapeofnc.org

Appreciation for Volunteers and Ways to Get Involved

We are extremely grateful for the work our volunteers perform and the ways they minister to AGAPE of NC! We try to make each volunteer’s experience enjoyable by offering opportunities that match individual skills, interests, and passions.

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Some of our current volunteer projects involve working “behind the scenes,” helping with many administrative tasks while other volunteers take on jobs where they may become a “face and spokesperson” for AGAPE. Areas where AGAPE heavily relies on our wonderful volunteers include:

Foster Care Backpack Volunteers

These folks organize donation drives; collect, inventory and store donations; periodically coordinate a group to fill AGAPE’s backpacks with those donations; and deliver the filled AGAPE backpacks to Department of Social Services Offices in various counties a few times a year.

Beth Storms, Kenitra Williams, Teresa Jenkins, and Carol Woollens (together with a lot of other helpful servants) have been instrumental in helping us to grow this ministry.

Newsletter Contributors

We are always looking for newsletter content and welcome anyone who has a foster care and/or adoption story to write and submit an article. We express appreciation to some of our recurring authors: Kia Carter, Erica Asbury, Lydia Huth, Beth Storms, and Jordan Upton.

Time and talents shared by Angela Hardison are also invaluable. For the last couple of years, she has diligently worked on lay out, editing, and printing of AGAPE’s newsletters.

Mail Distribution Administrators

Although AGAPE delivers our newsletter & other information via email to those of you who have e-subscribed, the numberof people interested in AGAPE continues to grow. So, we still send a lot of mail through the postal service.

We appreciate Latrelle Dechene, Mallory Scott, and JaimeTodd for all their work stuffing, folding, stickering, labelling, stamping, and going to the Post Office.

Event Planners & Hospitality Coordinators

Volunteers from all over North Carolina coordinate AGAPE events at their churches and in their communities to raise awareness about the needs of the children, teens and families AGAPE serves. We recognize we could not do it without these tireless individuals.

If you would like to Volunteer with AGAPE of NC in one of the capacities described above, or if you have other ideas about ways you want to get involved, please contact Kaye Orander at korander@agapeofnc.org or 919-810-7178. She would love to talk with you about having a vital impact on AGAPE’s mission to serve children and families in North Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions

By Jordan Upton

Are you or someone you know interested in becoming a foster parent? We at AGAPE would love for you to be involved! Before getting started, here are some general requirements and frequently asked questions that may help you make the amazing leap into the world of fostering.

General Requirements:

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●  You must be at least 21 years old. There is no top age limit.

●  You must be in good health.

●  If married, you must have been married for at least two years.

●  Both parents are allowed to work outside of the home.

●  You can be a single parent.

●  You must be a Christian.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Who are the children in need of foster care?

Children placed in foster care are those that are temporarily removed from their birth family. This is sometimes due to the child being in an unsafe environment where they have faced abuse or neglect. Or, the child could have been surrendered to an adoption agency and, while waiting for the legal process to be completed, need a temporary home with a foster family. Children’s ages can range from a few days old up to eighteen years old. Sometimes it is a single child in need of a home and sometimes it is an entire family. Occasionally some children face serious medical concerns or physical maladies. Most foster children have experienced great emotional or physical trauma, which makes the need for them to be placed in a loving, caring, understanding home even greater.

2. How long are these children in foster care?

While every situation is unique, the average time spent in foster care through AGAPE of N.C. is eight months. Some children will spend a few days with a foster family and others will spend a few years. Both during the licensure procedure and when a specific child is being presented to a foster family, the potential length of stay will be fully discussed, and the foster family will participate directly in making the decision of what is right for them. Foster care is by definition temporary, but the length varies with every child and his/her circumstances.

3. What happens if I become too attached to my foster child that I do not want to let them go?

Bonding and becoming attached is a natural and necessary part of fostering. Without these things, the child would feel unwanted and unloved. Foster families feel as if they are sending a piece of their heart with their foster child when they leave. This is an important part of the process and your caseworker is sensitive to this. AGAPE will help you prepare for this sense of loss and how to adjust after your foster child has left. AGAPE believes that God has given foster parents an even bigger heart so they are able to give so much of their love away to these children in need. If you feel as if you would be too easily attached to a foster child and would experience a tremendous loss when your foster child is placed in a permanent home, AGAPE feels as if you would be the best candidate to participate in this loving service.

4. What is involved in the licensure process?

AGAPE uses state regulations and agency policies to ensure prospective families are a right fit for becoming foster parents. Foster families submit an application and will be put in touch with a caseworker. This caseworker will begin the evaluation process and preparation period, usually lasting three months. Additionally, the caseworker will spend many hours interviewing the family in the AGAPE offices as well as in the potential family home. Home inspections and background checks are given. In the end, the caseworker will assign a specific number of foster children to the home (one to five), a specific age range (from birth to 18 years old), specific gender when applicable, and the family will be informed of any special needs or circumstances for the children if the family feels they are equipped to handle such situations.

5. What if I have never fostered before? How will I know what to do?

During the licensure process families will undergo a minimum of 30 hours of training for the specific type, situation, and age of children in which the family is placed. While fostering, the families also receive more training. Most importantly, the family is never on their own. Their caseworker is always available and will visit on a regular basis. Additionally, the AGAPE staff is on call and available 24 hours a day, ready and willing to help with any question or concern that arises.

6. Is this a paid or volunteer position?

This is strictly a volunteer-based process. The agency does provide a set reimbursement per month per child to cover expenses directly associated with the child. This money is not treated as income by the IRS and does not need to be reported since it is reimbursement of actual expenses. Foster families report that this is an adequate amount to meet basic needs. With older children, there is often a clothing allowance once or twice a year. The foster home is not responsible for medical expenses related to the child.

7. How can I get started?

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or have additional questions please contact AGAPE at 919-673-7816for a no obligation information meeting. This meeting will serve to help you “count the cost” of such service, and to decide if this is right for your family. At that time an application will be made available to you. Please visit AGAPE’s website at www.agapeofnc.orgfor more information and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with news and relevant information.

My Reflective Experiences with AGAPE

By Jordan Upton

As the school year begins again and my summer interning with AGAPE of N.C. draws to a close, I felt it would be appropriate to reflect on my experiences working with the organization. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the privilege of working with AGAPE. Everyone involved with the organization is compassionate, helpful, knowledgeable, and each person cares about the work they do and the children they help. This is true about every staff member from the social workers such as Marilyn Bredon, to the Board of Directors members like Joe Hall, to the executive director Kim Scott.

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Not only do the staff members work tirelessly to promote the mission of AGAPE, but the volunteers, donors, and community members work just as hard and are just as passionate about helping children find loving homes. Take 11-year-old Meredith Finch, for example, who began selling lemonade in her town to raise money to donate to AGAPE. People like that are special, and they recognize that the people at AGAPE are special, too.

When I began working with AGAPE, I had not heard of them and I knew very little about adoption and foster care experiences. Now, by having spoken with those who have adopted, been adopted, and foster children themselves, I have grown a deep appreciation and respect for these people.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to get to know everyone involved with AGAPE, and for all of the people I was able to speak with who were so open and honest about their experiences, and for the chance to share their stories with the public. I only hope I was able to convey their messages and stories in a meaningful way and that they were heard and appreciated by those who read them as much as I appreciated hearing and sharing them. I am excited about the future of AGAPE and can not wait to see what the future has in store for everyone involved.

Helping School-aged Children in Care

By Jordan Upton

Did you know. . .

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●  Children in foster care are far more likely to change schools during the school year, to be in special education classes, and to fail to receive passing grades than their general population counterparts.

●  High school dropout rates are 3 times higherfor foster youth than other low-income children

●  Only about 50% of youth in foster care will graduate from high school

●  Over 40% of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties

How can you help?

●  Donate school supplies so that students are well-prepared and have one less worry

●  Become a school volunteer to support and encourage youth in the classroom

●  Offer tutoring services for struggling students

●  Become a foster parent and advocate for the most vulnerable children every day

If you’d like to get involved and help promote the educational success of these children, please contact AGAPE today!

Facts from the National Foster Youth Institute: https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/

Why You are So Important!

By Kimberly Scott

Director of AGAPE of NC

In 2017, experts warned that North Carolina’s foster care system is in a predicament. The state’s Division of Social Services began noticing in late 2012 that the number of children coming into foster care was exceeding the number exiting the system. With over 11,000 children in NC already in foster homes, our foster care rate is reportedly the highest it has been in the last 10 years and is steadily rising. Many causes factor into the situation:

  • physical and mental trauma, abuse or neglect;

  • parental substance abuse, including the opioid crisis

    we hear so much about;

  • parental incarceration;

  • a reduction in federal funds for mental health services.

    The bottom line is that the number of children currently in our North Carolina foster care system is rising faster than the number of foster families available to support them. It is AGAPE’s Christ-focused mission to fill as much of that gap as possible with Christian counseling and foster homes where these children will be loved and come to know Jesus.

At present, AGAPE of NC has over 30 kids in care with our 25 foster families. Thankfully, we are blessed with another 25 new families pursuing licensure right now. We also have at least a dozen families providing respite foster care. But AGAPE needs more of YOU because the children need more from us.

So, when AGAPE of NC asks YOU to

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  • consider becoming a foster parent or a respite care provider;

  • donate items or funds needed to supply SALEM HOUSE;

  • start saving your spare change now because AGAPE’s 3rd Annual CHANGE FOR LIFE! fundraising campaign will kick off in September 2018;

  • volunteer your time & talents; and

  • pray for AGAPE and those who need us...

    know it is ALL for the children and families God wants us to serve. “And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

"First-Night in Foster Care" Backpack Blessings

By Beth Storms

AGAPE Backpack Coordinator

Since January 2018, AGAPE Volunteers have delivered 100“ first-night in foster care” backpack to Department of Social Service offices in 5 North Carolina counties! The DSS workers have expressed gratitude for AGAPE’s outreach to ease the transition for children entering foster care. They tell our Backpack Distributors stories illustrating how important AGAPE’s “comfort bags” are to these kids at one of the most difficult times in their lives.

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To prepare for the next round of deliveries, AGAPE urged a few churches to hold a Backpack Donation Drive in March and April and a “packing” party was held on the heels of that drive. Your kindness has enabled another 194 backpacks to be filled and ready to go (with several leftover items, just in need of blankets, to fill more)!

Thank you to members from the following congregations who generously donated during our Spring 2018 Backpack Donation Drive: Biltmore Church of Christ, Asheville, NC; Cary Church of Christ, Cary, NC; Deep River Church of Christ, High Point, NC; Jericho Church of Christ, Mocksville, NC; Brooks Avenue Church of Christ, North Raleigh Church of Christ, and Raleigh Church of Christ, Raleigh, NC. We also want to thank an individual Friend outside of these fellowships who donated beautiful homemade blankets along with other items. We deeply appreciate ALL the Church Leaders and Volunteers who promote this AGAPE Ministry; collect, organize, store and transport donated items; and deliver these first response backpacks to DSS!

Book Recommendation: Another Place at the Table

By Jordan Upton

Kathy Harrison used to struggle for an answer to the common question, “What do you do?” After decades of experience, Kathy now has a ready reply: “I do some writing and some teaching, but my important job is being a foster mother.”

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Kathy explores her family and life choices in her highly rated book, Another Place at the Table. Published in 2003, the book details many of Kathy’s experiences fostering children in need. At the time of publication, she had fostered 100 children. Now in 2018, she has fostered 153.

In her book, Kathy describes how she found her calling to “offer a small island of safety in an unsafe and terrifying world.” After raising three biological sons, Kathy went to work in a Head Start program. She dealt daily with children in need, seeing them placed in foster care and fast-tracked for adoption. She and her husband decided to foster-to-adopt a pair of siblings from the Head Start program, after which Kathy began her full-time commitment to foster care. “I chose to devote myself to caring for the state’s neediest children,” she wrote.

Kathy and her husband were awarded Massachusetts Foster Parents of the Year in 1996. In 2002 they were awarded the Goldie Rogers Memorial Award for embodying Goldie’s ‘spirit of dedication and commitment to foster parenting and advocacy efforts’. In 2003, Kathy was featured as one of People magazine’s ‘Heroes Among Us’.

Another Place at the Table is an excellent read for current foster parents, those considering becoming a foster parent, and those who are curious to know more about the system in general. Kathy writes about heartbreaking situations and difficult children but manages to keep a positive attitude and a sense of hopefulness. She believes in the goodness of people and the ability to make a positive impact on children’s lives through patience and compassion. Through her writing, Kathy empowers readers to “live a life that matters, a life that makes a difference”.

Read reviews and see why Another Place at the Table has been rated 4.2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/391081.Another_Place_at_the_Table

Read more about Kathy Harrison here: http://www.helpourkidsinc.org/foster-hero-kathy-harrison/

Board of Directors Profile: Meet Vice Chairman Joe Hall

By Jordan Upton

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AGAPE of North Carolina could not run as efficiently or productively if it were not for the help of our amazing and diverse staff, volunteers, and board members. The board of directors is made up of various members of the community who help maintain AGAPE’s pursuit of excellence. Each of these members bring a unique yet equally important aspect to the organization, which allows growth, new perspectives, and expert problem solving. The board is made up of various positions, each of which holding a particular purpose and integral for the board to function well. The positions rotate every few years allowing for new faces and fresh ideas to be brought to these posts. The members of the board, who live across parts of North Carolina and in various states across the U.S., meet quarterly either in person or via teleconference to discuss the future plans with AGAPE and to ensure the organization is running at its highest potential.

One of these board members is Mr. Joe Hall, of Claremont, North Carolina. Mr. Hall is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Air Force. After spending 20-plus years traveling the country, Joe and his wife of 34 years, Cathy, ended up in Kansas. There, the couple with their two biological children, fostered a two-month-old daughter, Kimi. Shortly after, Kimi had three other siblings brought in to be fostered by the Hall family. Three years later, all four children were adopted by Joe and Cathy. The family then moved to North Carolina where Joe teaches JROTC at Bunker Hill High School.

Lt. Col. Hall became involved with AGAPE after viewing a presentation former Director Tom Slaughter made at a church service one morning recruiting potential volunteers, foster families, donors, and sharing the message of AGAPE. Shortly after Joe became a board member where he has now served in various capacities including Vice Chairman and Chairman over the past seven years.

AGAPE is blessed to have people such as Lt. Col. Hall be a part of our organization and thank him and his family, as well as families like his, for all of the work they do for AGAPE.

Making Lemonade for Those Given Lemons

By Jordan Upton

AGAPE of N.C. is incredibly blessed to have such helpful, thoughtful, and compassionate donors and volunteers. This help comes in various ways, whether it be by donating monetarily, donating their time, or even sharing AGAPE’s social media posts to raise the public’s awareness of the organization. While any and all support for AGAPE is greatly appreciated, one of the most special stories of our volunteers is that of 11-year-old Meredith Finch.

In June of 2017 the Finch family, Craig, Cara, and their daughter Meredith had three foster children placed with them from AGAPE. After the arrival of the three children, the then 10-year-old Meredith saw that children in foster care have very few personal effects to call their own and was determined to help in any way she could. This led her to build and paint, with the help of her grandfather and mother, a lemonade stand. Meredith sets up either at home or outside of a family friend’s store in town. The money made over the course of a few months from September of 2017 to the end of the year was over $300. With the profits, Meredith bought toothbrushes, pajamas, blankets, toys, and anything else she felt foster children would need. The remaining funds Meredith had were donated directly to AGAPE.

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So far this year, after only being open twice, Meredith’s lemonade stand has raised close to $300 and shows no sign of slowing down. Meredith’s mother, Cara, explained that the kindness of strangers has led to the accumulation of the money donated to AGAPE. After learning the money is going to the organization some people do not even purchase the ice cold lemonade or delicious cookies. Meredith advertises AGAPE’s website and those who simply want to give are directed to the donate page of the website.

AGAPE is honored to have people like Meredith and her family associated with the organization. If you or anyone you know would like to help donate time, supplies, or money to AGAPE please visit https://www.agapeofnc.org/donate/.

A Call for Partnerships

By Jordan Upton

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AGAPE of North Carolina offers a lot of impactful programming for youth and families, and we would love to share more information about our organization with you!

In March 2018, we were pleased to attend the Southern Women’s Show at Wake Technical Community College and connect with women in the Triangle area.

We were excited for the opportunity to outreach more recently in western North Carolina. Early in June 2018, we were able to speak with members of the Abilene Church of Christ in Statesville.

We appreciate the opportunity to meet with people and have important conversations in person. As we increase our efforts to recruit potential foster families and spread the mission of AGAPE, we would welcome the opportunity to share our message with similar organizations.

For example, later in June, we’ll be visiting with members of the Kannapolis Church of Christ. We will also be participating in the annual Juneteenth celebration in Durham on Saturday, June 16.

If your church or community organization would like to hear more about AGAPE and our mission, please contact us! Call our main office at (919) 673-7816, or e-mail our office manager, Kaye Orander (korander@agapeofnc.org) to discuss the opportunities for partnership.

There are children in need in our area, and we believe our community can join together to positively impact their lives.

YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM IS A KEY TO YOUR LONGEVITY AS A FOSTER PARENT

By Jonathan Rockoff 

Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work.

For years I had the honor of working alongside some of the most selfless people I have ever met, individuals who opened their homes and hearts to children with a multitude of needs. These unheralded heroes I refer to are the foster parents of North Carolina. They are without doubt one of the most precious resources in the child welfare system.

When someone makes the decision to become a foster parent, they embark on one of the most rewarding journeys they will ever take. Yet if they aren’t prepared, this journey can be surprisingly brief. Consider this: one study of data from three states found that between 47% and 62% of foster parents quit fostering within one year of the first placement in their home (Gibbs, 2005).

What is it that enables some families to make it past that first year? In my experience, one of the most important factors is a strong support system.

Your Support System Is Key

During pre-service training, agencies ask prospective resource parents to think about who they have in their life that will support them as they face the challenges that come with fostering. Though this makes a lot of sense, many new resource parents don’t realize how critical this is to their future success. Their vision of a support system is limited to someone to provide occasional respite, answer a question here and there, and be a sounding board.

A support system can be all these things, of course, but it can and should be much more. Each child in care is different. So is every foster family. Each has different needs and types of support that will empower them to success.

Family and Friends

Family and friends are the foundation of support for many resource parents. For example, I have seen a single mother with no prior parenting experience and a full-time job beautifully parent two children under the age of one in large part thanks to her support system.

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While this was an extremely strong-willed and resilient parent in her own right, before accepting the placements, she already had an established and benevolent support system in place. She had a dear family friend and a sister nearby she knew she could rely on, even when times were tough. They were fully on board. She spoke to them before becoming a foster parent and explained what she would need help with. They told her they would help whenever possible, and they lived up to this commitment.

 

Community Groups

The community can also play a big role lifting resource families up. For instance, I have seen families rely on church networks for reassurance, guidance, and support. I’ve also seen businesses and volunteer organizations donate time and tangible items to resource families. At one appreciation dinner, various groups gave their time, food, gifts, and talents to give foster parents an enjoyable evening and to let them know they are valued by their community.

Here’s another example. I knew several families that participated in a support group for foster and adoptive families called Mercy for America’s Children (http://www.mac-cares.org/), which is based in Wake Forest, NC. Once they became licensed, this group gave families opportunities to obtain continuing education, participate in events and trips, and be a part of a network of other foster and adoptive families that could provide support and genuine empathy.

The Role of Agencies

Agencies’ role in supporting foster families should not be overlooked, either. Agencies can best support their families by valuing them, providing trauma-informed training, listening to them, and being responsive. Turnover is less likely when foster parents feel heard and backed by their agency.

I have worked with several families who felt comfortable reaching out to their supervising agency for assistance with challenging child behaviors, guidance, and to serve as a sounding board to constructively solve problems. The families that felt more comfortable openly communicating with their supervising agencies were more likely to stick around and care for more children over time.

Well-supported foster parents are also more willing to share their experience with others in the community, which helps with recruitment.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it may take two villages to raise a child who has experienced trauma. When a foster parent has a strong support system within their family, friends, community, and agency, they gain confidence, are empowered, and can focus on meeting the needs of their children.

I would encourage any foster parent who does not feel supported or who feels stretched thin to reach out to their agency and their natural supports. Regardless of when you read this, there are children in foster care in North Carolina who need you.

 

Source: http://fosteringperspectives.org/?p=1378

What Can Churches Do to Help AGAPE of N.C.?

By Jordan Upton

One of the greatest assets AGAPE of N.C. has at our disposal is the support and friendship of local churches in our community. The encouragement, volunteer time, and donations received from local, state, and nation-wide partners are invaluable resources that help AGAPE of N.C. provide the greatest possible care in fostering, adoption, and counseling services.

If you are new to AGAPE and are wondering how you and your church can help further our mission, here are a few easy ways you can help be an advocate.

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Donations

AGAPE is grateful for any and all monetary donations that support our continued programs. Gifts may be made online or via check. For more information on donations, please seehttps://www.agapeofnc.org/donate/.

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Normalize the Idea of Fostering and Adoption

There’s a joke about newlyweds constantly being asked by family when they’re going to have kids. It’s played out on television and movies, even in best-selling novels. When these conversations happen in real life, you have the opportunity to discuss alternative family planning. Fostering or adopting isn’t the first idea that comes to most minds when planning for children, but with open, honest conversations, the ideas can be more normalized in today’s society. A better understanding of and a more accepting attitude toward fostering and adopting will benefit those in the system.

Encourage Fostering

Talk to your friends, family, and fellow church members about fostering. Explain how children in crisis could benefit from a stable, nurturing, secure, Christian environment. Encourage others to explore the option of providing comfort and care to children in need.

Volunteering

AGAPE welcomes volunteers who wish to share their skills and passions with us. We hope to create a valuable experience that will benefit both the volunteer and our organization. Please check our list of current volunteer opportunities here: https://www.agapeofnc.org/opportunities/. If you don’t see a role that fits you, please contact AGAPE’s administrative assistant Kaye Orander at 919-673-7816 or korander@agapeofnc.org to express your interest in volunteering and to discuss how you can become part of our mission to serve the children of North Carolina.

Support Those Who Foster

Ask how you can be there for current foster parents: physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually. Monetary donations to AGAPE support our foster parents, but you can be their advocate in other ways too. You could be a shoulder to lean on or a compassionate, listening ear. Pray for the foster parents and their families. Refer them to AGAPE if you feel they need more professional support than you can provide.

Help Spread the Word About AGAPE

The more people who know about our organization, the more people we are potentially able to help. Sharing our blog posts, liking our Instagram posts, following our newsletter, and liking and sharing our Facebook updates will allow us to reach a wider audience. You never know who may see a post you share and how it may affect them. Your sharing could indirectly lead someone to AGAPE to become a donor, volunteer, or foster parent! Spreading the word about AGAPE will help bring awareness to our mission and garner more support of it.

Staff Profile: Meet the Mentor of Salem House

By Jordan Upton

With the help of donors, board members, and the community, AGAPE of NC was able to open the Salem House in 2017. Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this house allows for young men aged 18 to 21 who are near to aging out of the foster care system to reside with a house mentor. Here they gain invaluable resources such as job training, resume building, and life skills that will be utilized after their stay at the Salem House.

Currently there are four residents at Salem House under the tutelage of Mr. Larry Dais. Mr. Dais, a recent retiree from the electronic industry, is the foster parent who serves as guardian, teacher, and mentor to these four young men. When asked how he became involved with AGAPE, Dais explained, “There’s a gentleman I go to church with, Joe Hall, and he is a member of the board of directors of AGAPE. And he approached me one day and asked if I would be interested in fostering these 18 to 21 year old boys. And I thought about it for a week or so, and thought it might be something I’d like to do.” This was only the first step on the path that would lead Larry to the Salem House.

The next step for Mr. Dais was to become certified in Foster Care, which is a North Carolina statute to serve in this capacity in the system. After training alongside Mrs. Grace Hepler for ten to eleven months, which included exhaustive and extensive research on scenarios, state rules and regulations, as well as understanding the values associated with AGAPE, Mr. Dais passed his state licensure test in June of 2017.

When asked what a typical day at the Salem House looks like, Larry explained that school and work are first and foremost. Any remaining time available around those two areas include family-type interactions with each other where adult responsibilities such as chores and budgeting are discussed. Additionally, Larry stated his intent to teach the boys skills like writing a resume, how to perform well during an interview, and how to properly fill out job applications. Larry also has hopes of bringing in volunteers to show their certain areas of expertise, such as cooking, to the residents of the house.

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When asked about what members of the community can do to help the Salem House and the foster care community as a whole Mr. Dais said that they need “volunteer[s] to teach these boys about life; how to be adults. We could even have families come in to talk about family dynamics. Hopefully one day these young men will become dads or fathers. And with these break-ups and disconnects they’ve gone through in their lives, I’m sure a lot of them have no real model for how to be a dad, how to be part of a family. So I would just really encourage folks to get involved.”

Whether you are in the Winston-Salem community and are willing and able to volunteer your time to help these boys learn how to expertly navigate adulthood, or you just get the word out about the Salem House, Mr. Dais strongly urges to be an advocate for not only AGAPE and the Salem House in particular, but of fostering as a whole and describes his short time fostering as incredibly satisfying. Donating your time, money, or materials to worthwhile projects such as the Salem House benefits all involved and helps to maintain a community of love, care, and fellowship. Even if it is as small as donating a jar of peanut butter. As Mr. Dais told me, “We could always use another jar of peanut butter.”

Backpack Blessings

By Beth Storms

“These backpacks can seem like a tiny thing to us, but they can mean so much to a child with nothing; it says someone cares for them.” Sandi B

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It takes many caring hands to fill a little backpack 14” square. These first response foster care bags are just big enough to hold a child’s blanket, small stuffed animal, coloring/activity book, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a note of encouragement.

Before these little yellow backpacks with the AGAPE logo on the front can be filled, a call is made, donated items are purchased, a collection area is set up, and arrangements are made to transport. Upon arrival, the items are sorted into bins and gently used items are washed and sometimes mended.

Packing day arrives! Fran described her August backpack packing experience this way...what initially looked like an amazing amount of items sorted across two long rows of tables, came to mean so much more after learning how they would be used; maybe a little boy would like a superhero themed backpack or a little girl might like a pretty pink princess themed backpack. Sandi shared how she and her husband were once AGAPE Foster Parents; perhaps their loving example is a reason their son and his family are now fostering through another organization where they live in Arkansas. Sharon appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how the AGAPE ministry touches the lives of children placed in foster care as she worked. While Carolyn feels physically limited in how she can serve these days, she was glad to able to help.

Hands help in many other amazing ways. Carolyn also serves with the Raleigh Bear Ministry; both Raleigh and Brooks Ave provide bears. A Quilt Ministry at Deep River creates beautiful quilts and graciously donates several to the AGAPE Backpack Ministry. Sarah is a stay-at-home mom of an active toddler who often feels like her life has been reduced to an unending round of laundry, dishes, and story time. Making comfort blankets for the younger foster children when her schedule allows helps fulfill her desire to serve.

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Two fall youth rallies hosted by the Cary and Raleigh youth, produced over 150 encouragement cards to slip into the AGAPE backpacks by simply setting up an area for kids to get creative. Geri, the coordinator of this activity at Cary, said several stayed to make cards specifically because the cards were for AGAPE; many already knew about the ministry because their congregation had collected items to go in the backpacks. One girl, about 12, not aware of AGAPE asked Geri about the activity; after learning what it was for, she shared with Geri that she was currently in foster care and intently proceeded to make several cards. Each card was designed with a sense of caring and, while Geri said she struggled with what to say to a young child she did not know, most of the kids had no trouble with what to write.

Teresa became a Backpack Distributor last July; upon following up with the Social Worker Supervisor a few weeks after her first visit she learned all the backpacks were given out within
a week which was heartbreaking for her to hear but also solidified her reasons for volunteering. The supervisor shared that many children they place only come with the clothes they have on and how she was blessed to personally witness the happiness these backpacks can bring when she had the opportunity to hand out two herself.

And then, we begin again! A spring donation drive is in the works. We tend to run out of blankets when we are packing; winter clearance sales may be a good time to help us stock up! Five Below or thrift stores may be other good resources. 

Giving Whole-Heartedly!

By Alandya Warren

It is a universal truth that Jesus is the one friend who will stick by your side for eternity; I believe this wholeheartedly.  In the four gospels, more specifically in Mark chapter two, we learn that a paralyzed man desires to see Jesus once he hears of the Messiah's arrival in town. Everyone else in Capernaum shares that same longing and a crowd soon surrounds Jesus as he shares the Word. The paralyzed man garners his four friends to accompany him to see Jesus, but they cannot get to Jesus because of the crowd. At this point, many people would have turned back and settled for something less than what they wanted. But the paralyzed man's friends were adamant about getting him to Jesus. The friends climbed the dwelling place all the way to the top, dug through the roof, and lowered their friend down to the Lord. 

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It is in this story that I, Alandya Warren, long to be that type of friend to those around me. The friends found in the Gospel of Mark saw and knew how to meet their disabled friend's needs, and it was with Jesus. If we genuinely want to be like Jesus - to love the unlovable, forgive the unworthy, and do good to those we can never repay you - it is one of the greatest gifts you can give and experience yourself. 

AGAPE of NC was the organization that was quintessential in the meeting the needs of my heart; which was to give wholeheartedly. 

Note: For her Sweet 16 Birthday in November 2017, the author asked her family and friends to gift donations to AGAPE in lieu of presenting her with gifts! Let us all be so inspired! 

Blanket Buddies

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Several ladies from the North Raleigh Church of Christ (representing their Keenager’s Group) met at the home of Sharon Anguish in early March to make blankets for AGAPE of NC.  The ladies had a good time of fellowship and working together to complete the blankets.  These blankets will be placed in cinch bags and given to AGAPE for incoming foster children.  We love all our volunteers and all they do for the children in foster care across North Carolina.  Thank you, ladies!  

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