Did you know that El Paso County is currently facing a shortage of 100 foster parents? While our city has a number of organizations working on behalf of families, finding safe homes for foster children is a city-wide challenge. Last month, we spoke with two individuals engaged in supporting foster parents in El Paso County.
Jenni Swogger, Assistant Manager of Kinship and Foster Care Programs at El Paso County Department of Human Services (DHS) spoke about the needs facing the foster community. “Material needs are huge,” she said. “The kids come into placement without anything, just the clothes on their backs.” These needs not only apply to the kids, but the foster families supporting them. “If we’re placing a child with relatives, the family doesn’t get much warning and they’re not prepared,” said Swogger. “They only have a few hours’ notice, and that’s tough financially. Beds, mattresses, bedding, and clothes can place a huge burden on that family.”
DHS can meet many of these needs through CarePortal, an online platform which connects service providers with local churches and community members. DHS submits requests on behalf of families, which can then be viewed by CarePortal participants. “CarePortal is our largest resource,” said Swogger. “They provide anything: beds, car seats, clothes, transportation costs, or boxes of food.” While DHS can provide some support for foster families, their resources are limited. CarePortal is a way for the community to support foster families directly. “It’s encouraging for foster families to know that their local community has stepped up,” said Swogger. “It creates a sense of stability.”
Building Bunk Beds
Pulpit Rock Church partners with CarePortal in uplifting foster families through their outreach program, Love Your Neighbor. With the help of volunteers, Love Your Neighbor builds bunk beds and provides bedding for foster families in need. Luke Wrobleski, Pulpit Rock staff, explained his passion for this ministry: “I grew up always having a bed to sleep in, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for these kids. To give them a place to sleep speaks to my heart.” Love Your Neighbor started out as a small project run out of Wrobleski’s garage. After recently receiving a large wood donation, they set up a workshop at the church.
The Love Your Neighbor program delivers beds to foster homes and builds them onsite, which can be done in as little as 20 minutes. “We bring everything,” said Wrobleski. “The beds, mattresses, and full bedding sets. We talk with DHS to find out what the kids like. It makes it fun if we can walk in with Cinderella bedding for a three-year-old.” A simple gift like a bed can mean so much to foster kids, as Wrobleski explained: “They never have anything new, so they get a sense of pride and they want to take care of it.” The staff at DHS hear plenty of stories from the kids they work with. Swogger talked about the impact from their end: “It’s amazing to see a child pull their case worker into their bedroom and say ‘Look, this is my bed! My blanket, my space!’” Each of the bunk beds are branded with wooden slats that say, “You are seen, you are known, you are loved,” a much-needed message for foster kids.
COSILoveYou had the opportunity to get involved with the Love Your Neighbor project throughCityServe Day. 46 volunteers helped to build 26 beds – double what Love Your Neighbor normally makes. “It was great to work with people from other churches and from around the community,” said Wrobleski. Love Your Neighbor looks forward to partnering with COSILoveYou at next year’s CityServe Day.
“This is what CityServe and COSILoveYou are all about,” said Stu Davis, COSILoveYou’s Executive Director. “We love to get behind great organizations providing great support to people in need throughout our community, and do our best to highlight them and breathe life into what they’re doing.” COSILoveYou continues to connect people to meaningful service with ministries like Love Your Neighbor year-round. Davis added, “If we can help people get off the sidelines and get active by volunteering, we feel like we’re all winning together.”
Want to help foster families in Colorado Springs? There are many different ways to get involved, here are a few ideas:
Get connected through CarePortal, individually or through your local church
Support a local foster family or become a host family through Safe Families
Volunteer to build beds or provide supplies for Love Your Neighbor
Connect to foster parents through Foster Together
El Paso County is currently facing a shortage of 100 foster parents. The best way to help with this is to become a foster parent!
Volunteer to register as a respite provider through Fostering Hope. This is a great option for families who aren’t fully ready to commit to fostering but are interested in opening their homes to foster kids.