Foster Source: Celebrating two years of support for foster parents
The Foster Source board of directors (from left to right) Kristin Mann (Foster Source North), Al Spies (Strategy and Vision), Brian Bernhard (Secretary/Treasurer), Renee Bernhard (President/Executive Director), Maria Avila (County Liaison), Kim Farnsworth (Education Specialist). Not pictured: Nate Wangerin (Community Engagement).
Renee and Brian Bernhard, foster and adoptive parents from Adams County, started Foster Source two years ago to make fostering a little easier for families. Knowing that sometimes the best way to help a child is to help their parent, the couple began organizing support groups, coordinating trainings (topics can range from child sex trafficking to trauma-informed yoga), and collecting and distributing donated items, including 30,000 diapers, from their home. Two years in, and with new office space alongside A Precious Child in Adams County Human Services, we asked Renee to tell us more about the foster families the organization serves, what’s next and ways you can help.
Q. When did you realize an organization like Foster Source was needed?
A. Before Foster Source, my husband and I were fostering for Adams County, and we had already started hosting support groups in our home. The county was very supportive, and as our group continued to grow, we all recognized the healing power of a group of individuals who can really understand what you’re going through. Our fostering journey ended after three years, but we were still very passionate about the foster care community. Our support group had been so successful in our neighborhood, we knew foster parents throughout Colorado could benefit from a similar experience. Our initial little support group still meets! We’ve all adopted in the meantime, and we continue to lean on each other as we all walk a similar path.
Our job at Foster Source is to make the foster care experience softer for foster families, nurturing and supporting them so that they feel confident to continue to foster. We provide free trainings and support groups, meet needs like beds, strollers, car seats and weighted blankets, and grant wishes like summer camp, bikes or zoo memberships. All of our trainings and support groups are free for foster and kinship parents. We also provide free childcare at all of our trainings and groups. This makes such a huge difference because it allows both parents to attend the session together, gives the parents two hours of respite along with their training hours and allows the children in care the rare opportunity to spend time with others in care.
Q. You don't have to be a superhero to foster or adopt, and you don't have to be ready to start a nonprofit on top of that. What would you say to someone who is thinking about foster care or adoption?
A. I’m often asked what foster parenting is really like. I describe it like this. Foster parenting is being willing to take on grief and trauma in exchange for the possibility of planting a seed of safety and stability in a vulnerable child. If you “get too attached,” you’re doing it correctly! You definitely don’t have to be a superhero to foster or adopt. My husband and I are as ordinary as the next couple. Is foster parenting challenging? You bet. Is it worth it? Absolutely, yes.
Q. Of your experience as a foster and adoptive parent, what was most helpful in starting and running Foster Source?
A. The most helpful aspect for us is that we have been where these parents are sitting. We have wondered what would happen at court, worried about how a visit would go, stressed over how a child’s life will be affected long-term by this experience. When foster parents celebrate or mourn at our trainings, we are sitting right next to them. We know. We have been there. We understand.
Q. In your first two years, what are you most proud of? What are your plans for the next few years?
A. Yes! June marked our 2nd birthday, although we like to celebrate in September since that’s when we had our first events after all of the paperwork was complete. We are proud of so many things. We are proud to have hosted over 50 events in our first two years. We’ve met hundreds and hundreds of needs and have served well over 1,000 foster parents. We’re proud to have distributed 30,000 diapers since May of 2018 alone! We’re proud that we have been welcomed and embraced by so many counties and private agencies as well as fellow nonprofits. When agencies collaborate, everyone wins! But we’re probably most proud of the little thank you notes we receive from foster parents telling us what a difference our services have made in their journeys. It’s validating to know that it’s working. Our feedback is showing us that 92 percent of our foster parents feel confident that they will foster longer than they anticipated thanks to our services.
In the next few years we will get even bigger and even better. We will expand our services to Colorado’s rural communities. We want foster families to continue to foster, and we want to help make that happen. We are currently in talks with new collaborators, and we are excited to continue to add new opportunities to our events. We want the children to be just as excited to come to Foster Source as the parents. At a recent event, our friends from the Five Points Theatre Club came in and did a free acting workshop with the kids while the parents had a roundtable with local elected officials. We have a lot of new opportunities for both the parents and the children.
Q. How can folks support Foster Source?
A. There are so many ways! Our program depends completely on private funding. We have been very blessed to have so many donors and sponsors really value and support our work. We have donation options throughout our website at fostersource.org. We are hosting The Foster Source Experience coming up on September 29, 2018. This isn’t a typical fundraising gala. This is a more casual, interactive approach to fundraising where guests will get a chance to get to know several of the families, as well as the counties and agencies we work with. Have you ever wondered what a weighted blanket feels like? Come and try one and talk with foster parents whose children have benefited from weighted blankets we provide. Interested? Register here: https://thefostersourceexperience.eventbrite.com.
We also have several volunteer opportunities. It takes a village to support foster families! We need childcare volunteers, driving and delivery volunteers, fundraising volunteers and general volunteers. We often post current needs like used strollers or car seats, cribs and beds on our Facebook page. Foster parents aren’t picky! Folks can support us by liking and sharing our Facebook and other social media accounts to help spread the word. We are grateful for any and all support!
Q. What do you want people to know about foster and kinship parents?
A. The families we have had the pleasure of serving have all been such warm, wonderful and supportive families. We are always touched by how giving and grateful the families are. They are the ones doing the hard work! Foster and kinship families aren’t superheroes. They are everyday families who have chosen to nurture Colorado’s most vulnerable children. They are caring and helpful, generous and kind. It is our pleasure and joy to serve them. When we pour services into foster and kinship parents we can alleviate their day to day worries and let them really focus on the most important part of foster care: helping children heal and thrive.
What to help? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Renee.