A few years into leading a church-based orphan ministry, I was approached by the singles group, asking what they could do to make a difference for local kids in the foster care system. Mostly in their late twenties or early thirties, not yet married and many still finishing college degrees, they were not in a position to take kids in themselves, but they were enthusiastic about helping. We already had a close relationship with the Loomis office of Koinonia Family Services and a quick call to their staff revealed a need this group could tackle!
Each child who enters the foster care system has a court-ordered care plan that outlines the services they will receive and the access they can have to their biological family. Many foster kids spend hours each week in agency visitation rooms where they can connect with siblings, birth parents or extended family members. Yet limited budgets and other pressing needs left the Koinonia visitation room out of date and lacking a variety of games or toys the kids could use.
The team jumped into action almost immediately, making a trip to the office to take measurements of the room and to learn from social workers what things the kids typically did during visits. Using the $1,000 budget I had given them, they began to shop for furniture, decorations, arts and crafts supplies, games and more. They looked for deals, ran a toy and book drive and collected other donations to stretch their funds. Just like the design crew on the HGTV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, this crew researched what paint color would boost kids moods, put together an idea board and set up plans for the big renovation. They hired a professional carpet cleaner, moved out the old furniture and spent 2 full days painting, hanging decorations and stocking the activity cabinet and bookshelves. Each person who served lent both their time and creativity to the project, knowing that they were serving not only the kids but also the birth families and social workers. As a result, while the kids now had LOTS of fun options of activities to do, the birth parents benefited from an environment conducive to making positive connections. Even the social workers task of observing and guiding the visitations became easier!
The theme of the room was "follow your dreams" and these before and after pictures say it all. A group of young adults who previously were not sure what they could do to help a foster child ended up making a significant difference for the kids, their birth families and the agency staff who spent time in that room. It was a labor of love with tangible results!