At 28-years-old each, Eric and Mindy Shamp are already well on their way to building a big loving family. In the past year-and-a-half they have welcomed 11 children into their home.
On this balmy Mother’s Day high in the hills above Topanga Canyon, Calif. they have four children in tow: four-year-old Jasper, three-year old Ja’corey, two-year-old Hazel, and one-year-old baby Jadain. That the Shamps are white, the three eldest siblings are black and that Jadain is Latino, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
After all, this isn’t your typical Mother’s Day: it is Foster Mother’s Day.
“When our kids’ social worker told me about this, I was like what?” Mindy says, incredulous of a day like this one, where foster parents are celebrated. “Because sometimes you feel like people think you [foster parents] are the bad guy. I feel really appreciated.”
Soon, 26 busloads, with as many as 1,500 foster mothers and their families will climb the steep, narrow canyon road up to Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker’s private residence, where they will be greeted by a 100-person-strong battalion of green-shirted volunteers. Mothers will be primped and pampered at massage tables and make-up stations. The children will have all the food they can eat; magicians and clowns to entertain them and endless craft tables set out by the tennis courts.
Among the throng of foster families will be a Member of Congress, TV stars from ABC Family’s new show about foster care, aptly called “The Fosters,” corporations stepping up for kids and leaders in public administrations and non-profit organizations that work to improve the system.
For a full day, those lucky enough to find themselves on top of the hill will get a glimpse into the best of what foster care is and can be.
Foster Mother’s Day, in its fifth year, is the brainchild of Jeanne Pritzker. Through the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, Pritzker created Foster Care Counts, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting agencies that serve foster children, while building public awareness around issues in the foster care system.
“When the message comes from multiple places it becomes more powerful,” Pritzker says, with particular emphasis on the corporate partners that have joined Foster Care Counts to make Foster Mother’s Day possible.
Pritzker, who has a background in banking and hails from the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, has quickly shown her ability to take an easily and unduly marginalized issue like foster care and put it in the center of mainstream, corporate conversation.
“When the corporations step up it sets an example for everyone,” she says. “When Nestle says step for these children everyone hears it.”
This isn’t the first year that Nestle has been a part of Foster Mother’s Day. The company’s manager of community relations, Stephen Leach, is wearing one of the green Foster Care Counts tee shirts that all the volunteers have on. “This is a great opportunity for our employees to give back,” Leach says between shifts at the check in table.
Over at the make-up stations where a dozen cosmetologists nimbly apply eyeliner and lipstick, Meredith Soichet, VP of Marketing and Sales for Jouer Cosmetics, explains that this is the third year the company has been involved in Foster Mother’s Day. “Initially we just thought this was a fun day for the moms,” Soichet says. “But then we saw them sit in the chairs and watched their confidence grow. It is important to see them get pampered after all they give day after day.”
Staff from Disney and ABC Family mix in with the crowd, distinguished by their white tee shirts. Among them is David Ambroz, an alumni of foster care, who now serves as a director of corporate citizenship and social responsibility for ABC Television. Just this month ABC launched a series of public service announcements created by a coalition of foster care advocacy groups and agencies assembled by Ambroz and the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation. The ads are airing four times an hour on Disney owned stations across the country. Ambroz giddily reports that Times Square is saturated with the FosterMore.org campaign.
Dotted on the broad lawns of the Pritzker residence are TV cameramen, photographers and the occasional note-pad-in-hand reporter. By the end of the day, stories will have been beamed on most of LA’s local television stations.
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif), co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, offers a simple message for the guests. “People always ask me what we can do for foster kids,” she says. “It’s simple. What would you do for your own kids?”
For the Shamps, fostering children is an easy equation. “We see it as a chance to provide kids a safe and loving home,” Mr. Shamp says plainly. The family walks off towards all the days’ amusements. The young, smiling Mrs. Shamp has Jaidan on her arm and leads Hazel by the hand. Mr. Shamp, Jasper and Ja’corey dawdle just behind.
Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the Publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change.