A Director’s Resolution: Finding Ways for People to Help Beyond Donations

“I’m not a therapist, but I’d like to help.”

When we get calls and e-mails like this throughout the year, I often find myself stumped, not wanting to give the lame response: “Well, you could make a donation.”

I figure that most people didn’t reach out in order to be told that they could give money. To start the New Year, I resolved to try to be a little more creative and think of ways that people might be helpful to foster children in general and A Home Within in particular.

I’m also assuming that most people know that there is a continual demand for foster parents and would be calling another organization if they wanted to explore foster parenting. This still leaves the question, “What can you do to help?”

Support a Foster Parent

Parenting foster children is hard, often thankless, work. If you know a foster parent, you might consider inviting him or her for coffee or for a walk. Foster parents often forget to take care of themselves. A break from the routine and a show of appreciation can help to brighten a day.

Build Community

If you don’t know a foster parent, think about contacting a local foster parent group and offering to help with childcare at an upcoming meeting or arranging to supply snacks for both adults and children.

Entertain a Foster Child

Many foster parents have access to respite care for an overnight or a weekend, but taking a child to a park or a movie can be a gift for both parents and children.

Bring Siblings Together

It may be difficult for brothers and sisters living in two or more foster homes to get together because of distance or time constraints. Periodic outings can be memorable events for separated siblings.

Mentor a Foster Child

Mentoring and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) programs are always in need of volunteers. Through programs like these, community members can provide important relationships to foster children and teens.

Acknowledge Caseworkers

Caseworkers manage large caseloads of vulnerable children and parents through a myriad of rules and regulations. It’s often hard for them to leave the worries of their work at the office. Consider recruiting a friend or two to adopt a unit in a child welfare agency and arrange to provide lunch or afternoon tea once a month. The message that people are thinking of them will be as important as the food.

Create Awareness

Help spread the word about the needs of the foster care community by hosting an educational event. Contact A Home Within or an organization in your community to invite someone to speak to your friends and neighbors about the needs of the foster care community and the work they are doing to meet those needs.

Offer Your Skills

Non-profits need volunteers of all ilk, from board members committed to fundraising to people who are happy to spend an afternoon stuffing envelopes. If one organization doesn’t need the help you have to offer, call another.

Toni Heineman is the founder and executive director of A Home Within, which matches volunteer therapists with current or former foster youths.

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