Volunteers: Supporting the Family Along with the Children
Shane and Kris
Volunteers Shane and Kris say that Safe Families for Children (Safe Families) is different in its mission to help families become stronger and to keep them together. “It’s an organization that is concerned with development instead of relief only,” said Kris. “Safe Families for Children is that hope for our family and for families who are desperately in need.” Shanice, whose son was cared for by Shane and Kris, says she has benefited greatly from their relationship and feels they motivate and teach her. “I call them family because of all of the things that they’ve done.”
Rachel and David
Rachel and David welcomed infant Hiroki into their home during a difficult time for mom Amy, always keeping the end goal of reunion in sight. “A Safe Family takes in a child and loves them like you would with your own and then send them to be with mom and dad, where they belong.” Amy said to Rachel, “You’re the best support I’ve had. It was really easy to talk to you about stuff, because I had a lot going on. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I really felt like I was alone.”
The Mussers felt it was a community effort to envelop families with the kind of support they desperately need. “Being a Host Family, it’s very vital to have what are called “family friends,” which [are] other people who are not necessarily able to take a child into their home but still want to help.” Mrs. Musser noted that the commitment to care for a child had far-reaching effects: “In a way, you’re helping stop this cycle of abuse. You stop the kids from continuously going in and out of foster care, and you invite this whole family into your family. It’s really beautiful.” Mr. Musser echoed her sentiments, saying, “One of the biggest things is the follow up of continuing relationship even if we’re not caring for the child anymore.”
Families in Crisis: Support in Parenting as well as in Life
For Donna, Safe Families provided the family support for her two daughters that she was unable to provide while she struggled with alcohol and drug dependence. “I was depressed, and things had gotten to the point that I almost didn’t care about anything.” Mike and Katy cared for Donna’s daughters Alexandria and Taylor while she finally addressed the issues at the root of her substance problems during regular sessions with a counselor. However, Donna was also welcomed into the Wrights’ home along with her children. “Katy wouldn’t give up on me and wouldn’t let me give up on myself. She challenged me to think differently about life and my kids and God. Katy was exactly what I needed in order to change.”
Lauren was diagnosed with cancer in May 2013 when her son Carter was less than a year old. As a single mother facing 26 months of chemotherapy, she knew she needed help. Carter thrived in the care of the host families. “He talks about all these families. He talks about them every time he’s home with me. He talks about the boys. One of the families has three boys, and he absolutely loves these boys. It’s like he’s got extra brothers and sisters,” says Lauren. She credits Safe Families for giving her the chance to take care of herself as well as her son when she had few options. “They’ve been absolute angels to our family, and I just want to say ‘thank you’ a million times.”
Clarissa’s own mother was a drug addict, and she grew up in the foster care system. When she found herself incarcerated after a recent divorce and without a job or help caring for her kids, she truly felt hopeless. “I kind of started a spiral of emotional chaos. I didn’t have a job. I now had an arrest record, charges were pending, and my kids were in the foster care system. There wasn’t enough antidepressant drugs to help me combat that at all.” Clarissa found help in Linda’s family, who would care for her son, Noah, while she got back on her feet. “They made it so easy that I felt guilty, and it wasn’t only for my children. They offered me help, too—somebody to talk to, somebody that would listen to me and not judge me,” said Clarissa.
Alisha was a divorced mother of three and pregnant with her fourth child when she lost her job. She had always been able to provide for her family without child support but she was struggling when she was introduced to Safe Families. Though she ultimately didn’t need a Host Family to care for her children, Safe Families did send her older boys to church camp two summers in a row, enabling her to spend time with her younger son and giving her older sons the opportunity to build a relationship with God. “My boys cannot express enough to this day, how much that camp has impacted their lives. They even still keep in touch with a few children they met,” she says. Families helped her with prayer, mental support, and even a little money to pay her cell phone bill. One Safe Families volunteer even added a phone to her cellular plan and let Alisha use it for a month. “I was so nervous and couldn’t wait to hand it back to her,” she recalls. “I am forever grateful to the people who looked at me with faith and love and supported me, contributing to my life and the lives of my children.”
Agencies Working Together to Keep Families Together
Safe Families often works collaboratively with local agencies, as was the case with Samantha. At the time of her daughter Africa’s birth, she was living with her mother and brother who were dependent on and dealing drugs. To keep Africa from this environment, Samantha initially contacted an adoption agency, but the counselor referred her to Safe Families after meeting her and seeing how much she loved and desperately wanted to provide the best care for her daughter. Chad and Holly took Africa into their home directly from the hospital after she was born, for which Samantha was immensely grateful. “I told her that we were willing to sacrifice for her because Jesus sacrificed his life for us,” said Holly. Because of Chad and Holly’s willingness to help, Samantha was able to find housing, enroll in a work-study program, and reunite with her daughter just 5 days later.
An employee at a Salvation Army shelter praised Safe Families for its role in keeping a family together when the mother was scheduled to deliver her second child with no one to care for her toddler. After the child’s father broke his commitment to care for the child and with no one else in her life to offer help, the hospital suggested she call the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), but this would mean a lengthy process before she would be able to regain custody of with her child. The shelter had support available to the mother after she was discharged from the hospital, but there was a critical gap the shelter did not know how to fill. After contacting Safe Families, this Salvation Army employee was able to find the help for this mother that could keep this vulnerable family as a unit. “Your services literally kept a family intact and saved a child from entering the system needlessly. The mother grew up in the DCFS system, never knowing her own family until she was an adult. She was paralyzed at the idea of turning her baby over to them. Thank you for what you do and for the way in which you do it!”