JEFFERSON CITY – Although the state assists foster families, individuals and churches can help fill emotional, spiritual and financial needs for foster parents and the children in their care.
Assistance doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate, explained Robbi Haynes, recruitment and marketing director for the Missouri Baptist Children's Home Children and Family Ministries division.
Something as simple as allowing MBCH staff to speak during a worship service or other church event, or providing space for the 10 weeks of training new foster parents are required to complete.
"There are churches all over the state that are letting us do informational meetings and provide training where there isn't a Children's Home office close by," Haynes said. "Many are helping get families interested and licensed."
Salem Avenue Baptist Church, Rolla, is among those that offer training space. Several member families minister as foster families, and the church sees the training opportunity creating interest among other members.
"It's a vital ministry and what we need to be about," Pastor Mark Johnson noted.
Many congregations provide special events, such as Christmas parties for the families or a children-only program or outing that provides foster parents a respite. Or they take up a one-time offering or collect items at specific times, such as the start of a new school year.
For some churches, something – perhaps members who are foster caregivers or who had been foster children themselves – triggers the desire to minister to children in the system and their families.
Though a couple of families at Memorial Baptist Church in Jefferson City are fostering children, a connection with the Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association has led the congregation to minister in a variety of ongoing ways, broadening member participation.
The church already had opened its facilities to the area's foster parents support group and assisted other churches with events, including an annual Christmas party. Participating congregations have begun offering a meal for the monthly support group meetings.
When the local association began looking for a home about two and a half years ago, Memorial offered to lease a house it owns to the group for just a $1 per year.
When an association partner needed a food distribution point, Memorial allowed the use of its parking lot. A couple of deacons decided to help with the monthly distribution. Now several deacons and their wives assist.
The association provides a clothing closet, and Memorial members assist in "flipping" it from winter to summer styles and back with the seasons.
Several members served on the association's board, and three – Tisha Spencer, Stephanie Martin and Niki Hughes – are mentors with its Transitions program for students aging out of the foster care system.
When a call went out for furniture to assist Transitions participants who graduated from high school in May, the church responded with enough to outfit seven apartments.
Participants also have been able to complete community service requirements by working in the church's community garden and assisting their mentors in the nursery.
Even the congregation's children have responded to the need. The children's department uses a "marble race" to encourage students to read their lesson before coming to Sunday School. Each child who is prepared on Sunday gets a "marble" worth 25 cents placed on a "track" along a wall. When marbles fill the track, the children decide on a mission project.
The latest race, which started in June, will provide bedding for a couple of foster students aging out of care, Children's Minister Kari Sullivan said.
And increased visibility of foster care needs has sparked more interest in members in becoming foster families. Two Memorial families opened their homes last year. Three more families have responded this year; one has completed training and two are about to start.
Haynes said individuals also can assist foster families by providing the "extras" that the state doesn't cover, such as a gift card for a meal or covering the cost of music lessons. Contact her at Robbi.Haynes@mbch.org for a list of possibilities.