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Fain Winner: Foster Care Outreach

Foster Care Outreach

Mar. 3, 2009

Pairing congregants with foster children to provide gifts, arrange special events and help subsidize costs for foster parents in need.

 

Community Contact Information:

Congregation Or Ami

Calabasas, CA

www.orami.org

 

Goals:

  • Improve the dignity and quality of life of local foster children.
  • Partner with government and religious groups to address pressing problem.
  • Create a mitzvah program so compelling it continues to engage congregants.

 

Overview:

The Foster Care Outreach program pairs congregants with foster children for birthday celebrations, prom preparation and back to school events. In addition, Congregation Or Ami holds information sessions for Jewish adults to explore the possibility of becoming foster parents as well as subsidizing costs for foster parents in need. By building coalitions with other agencies and engaging in political activism, Or Ami is helping to alleviate the suffering of society’s most vulnerable.

 

Preparation:

This annual, multi-event project, results from the combined efforts of congregants, clergy, other synagogues/churches, local businesses, and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Consumer Relations personnel at local department stores open their doors and provide deep discounts for Childspree days. Program directors and social action chairs at local synagogues and churches partner for Prom Prep 101.

Development committee grant writers worked all year to gain foundation support. In addition, for the Childspree events, we appeal to the congregation through email in the summer and during an appeal in the Chanukah family service to raise funds to sponsor additional shopping sprees (at $100 per child).

The Communications committee oversees publication and marketing through the electronic newsletter, on the website, on the rabbi’s blog, in flyers and monthly bulletins, and an email tree which ensures that congregants receive personal email invitations from people they know. The Publicity subcommittee writes press releases and places articles post-event in the local press.

 

Project Implementation:

Every November, as a Mitzvah Day project, congregants create over 400 duffle bags for children (ages 5-16 years) who go into emergency foster placement unexpectedly. Volunteers staff each table while others travel through different stations and create age-appropriate comfort bags complete with pillow cases personalized with messages of hope, clothes, toiletries, games, toys, journals, blankets and stuffed animals.

For the Adopt a Child-Abuse Caseworker (ACAC) program, the congregation “adopts” two case-workers from the Department of Children and Family Services. Congregational families sponsor each child on the case-load and send them birthday and holiday gifts throughout the year; so that these kids are remembered, feel cared about and special. When big items are needed (cribs, car-seats, beds), congregants locate and deliver them.

The congregation organizes two Childspree Shopping Sprees during the year, one for Back to School supplies and clothes, and one for the winter holidays. These events take place at a local department store. Department stores have donated gift cards, and congregants also fundraise for these events. Congregants chaperone children through the store and help them shop.

Prom Prep 101 helps for teen foster girls unable to afford the expense of Prom. Congregants escort the girls through various stations: dresses, shoes, jewelry, shawls, purses, and hair and make-up artists. At the end, the girls walk the red carpet, transformed into beautiful princesses (though they learn from a guest speaker that their true beauty is within) and sit down for high tea with their volunteers. Often, the volunteers are women from the congregation and their younger daughters. Very special moments occur when the young child looks up at the teen, smiles and tells her how beautiful she looks.

The Foster Care Parenting workshop invites congregants to explore the possibility of becoming foster parents.

The Political Activism project reprints information and links from the Religious Action Center’s eNewsletters in the congregations electronic newsletter to involve congregants in advocacy on issues related to children’s health, education and welfare.

 

Results:

Children are among the most vulnerable in our society. We have known that since the Torah separated them out (in addition to widows, stranger and the poor) as a special group needing special attention and support. The caseworkers often say how far these efforts go toward bringing normalcy and self-esteem back into foster care system that is meant to help children but sometimes leaves them behind. The congregants, including many children, gain a new appreciation of the Jewish value of caring for the most vulnerable and of giving to those less fortunate. When giving tzedakah takes on a human face, it becomes gemilut chasadim, a very personal act. In addition, our congregants begin to form close connections with these kids.