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A bright light in a dark time

by MOLLY ROBERTS
Staff Reporter | January 20, 2023 5:10 AM

KELLOGG — Author Tonia Christle once wrote, “You might be temporary in their lives; they might be temporary in yours. But there is nothing temporary about the love or the lesson.”

To give an idea of the number of children in the foster care system in Shoshone County, statistical reports show that the average number of children in foster care in the county is often higher than the statewide average, as reported by the shared data from Fostering Court Improvement.

The transition time between a child being taken from their home and placed into a foster family can be incredibly lonely, frightening and traumatic. This is exactly where the grassroots organization Fosterful comes in.

Fosterful is a nonprofit 501(c)3 volunteer organization founded in Vancouver, Wash., in 2013 when a co-founder, Sarah Desjarlais, also a foster parent, attended a meeting at the child welfare office. While at the meeting, she noticed a little boy sitting alone in the conference room, not touching his meal or playing with his toys. She began to think about all the difficult work the social worker had to complete while also attempting to give a child enduring trauma the attention and comfort they desperately need.

Desjarlais met with the CPS supervisor to form the “Office Mom and Dads,” which would have volunteers come in and spend time with the children during this transition period.

The program began with five volunteers in Vancouver and has grown to nearly 500 volunteers in 26 offices throughout Washington and Idaho, with offices in Boise, Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene, and most recently, Kellogg.

The Shoshone News-Press spoke with Fosterful’s Idaho Regional Manager, Lindsay Morgan, to talk about how she got involved with the organization, some of the best parts of being a volunteer, and the importance of being a bright light in a dark time in a child’s life.

“I started with Fosterful in October last year, and prior to that I was a victim advocate for four years. Before that, my entire adult career has been working in the courts one way or another,” Morgan said. “Frankly, I have a well-rounded view on the issues that these children face and that’s why I’m so passionate about this organization to begin with.”

The organization partners with social workers in the Department of Health and Welfare offices, acting as in-between support and comfort for the child that is in their care. The room is set up to create a nurturing environment, described by Morgan as “a calming and playful space for a young one to land. While we take care for it to be aesthetically pleasing, it has many tools to keep the children we serve busy, happy, calm and distracted during their wait for placement that in most cases take hours.”

She explained that she asks people to imagine their living room and their favorite things in their living room. Now imagine the items in your living room you find most comforting on your worst day. Then, break that down to a child’s perspective.

“That’s the space we create for our youth during this dark time for them. I think that if we can interrupt the effects of trauma, even for a little while, we are all better off in our families, in our schools, and in our communities.”

The program is also beneficial for social workers, who are in charge of multiple tasks to ensure the proper placement and assess the child’s needs.

“The social workers need this program. They really do. They’re the magic workers. They have the difficult task of taking children from a horrible situation and are also tasked with finding a good place for them to live. So the in-between is us. To come in and give them that comfort.”

Morgan explained that although it can be challenging, the work is gratifying.

“Children just want to be loved and supported. And they will gravitate toward that. Nobody asked these kids if they wanted to be abused or neglected, just like nobody asked them if they wanted to leave their homes. It’s confusing. As a volunteer, you are coming in at a pivotal moment for them.”

Volunteers must be 18 years or older, pass a criminal background check, pass the child welfare system check, and complete a 90-minute training session scheduled over Zoom.

“We ask our volunteers to have some availability Monday through Friday from 8-5, and we ask that you volunteer at least an hour a month. It’s a pretty low commitment, so we encourage volunteers to do whatever they can.”

The social worker will request and provide important information, “It could be something like a 5-year-old boy is missing his mom,” Morgan said. “If they have any special needs, or allergic to something like peanuts.”

A text message is sent out to all volunteers registered in the location and has a link that takes them to the request page. The site will show all pertinent information, and the volunteer can choose a time they are available and accept or decline a time. If a time isn’t claimed, the volunteers will remain alerted.

“We don’t encourage volunteers to be there for more than two hours at a time. We want to make sure our volunteers stay mentally healthy and don’t experience burnout,” she said.

Morgan is currently working on renovating the room located in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare building in Kellogg, with the support of a generous sponsorship from Dave Smith Motors.

“We are able to do all of this because of the generous sponsorship from Dave Smith. We were able to renovate the room, paint the room and get ready to open. They have been very generous, and able to make this possible in Kellogg,” Morgan said.

Morgan and a fellow volunteer will take the time to paint the room in the aptly named color, full glass, a calming shade of purple.

“It was kind of poetic to choose the paint and see the name. With a full glass," she said.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering for Fosterful or want more information, you can visit www.fosterful.org or email Regional Manager Lindsay Morgan at lindsay@fosterful.org.

“The mission is really simple,” Morgan said. “It’s about being a bright light in one of the darkest times of a child’s life, and showing up for these kids. And frankly, they deserve it.”

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