Heart Gallery: Past and Future
IT'S AMAZING HOW FAR WE HAVE ALL COME TOGETHER!
What started as our first and sole project, The Heart Gallery, has blossomed into 10 incredibly successful programs. None of this could have occurred without the wonderful support from the community, including volunteers, sponsors, photographers, in-kind donations and much more.
Oregon is full of generous and giving souls who want to make a difference, and many have stepped up. The following is a result of what can be done when we are all on the same team working TOGETHER.
HEART GALLERY: The Heart Gallery is a portrait exhibit to raise awareness of the needs of foster children. Foster children waiting and hoping for their own adoptive family, mentor or CASA to love and protect them. Professional photographers volunteer to take compelling portraits. These beautifully framed and matted portraits are then displayed along with the children's bio in various venues. We are now in 50 locations statewide.
WEB SITE: Our website, www.afamilyforeverychild.org, receives over 50 calls a week from out-of-state families who already have completed home studies. There are so many inquiries as a result of the websites, that some of the kids intended to be a part of the Heart Gallery, are placed prior to even being photographed!
BUSINESS ADVOCATE PROGRAM: This program was developed for those businesses that may not have ample room for a large display, yet wanted to be an advocate for the Heart Gallery. These businesses have included banks, dental offices, real estate offices, retail stores, markets and more. Each business highlights a child in their office or store window. In 2008 we began displaying photos in digital frames so more children can be seen in more locations.
HEART GALLERY FAITH-BASED PROGRAM: The Faith-Based component of the Heart Gallery was designed specifically to reach out to local churches and faith-based organizations, and, in turn, allow them an opportunity for outreach into the local community. Our primary method of reaching local congregations is to bring the Heart Gallery exhibit, a beautifully framed easel-displayed collection of professional photographs of actual children awaiting adoption displayed, to the church for a month-long gallery. We offer an information table with knowledgeable staff to answer questions, a touching three minute DVD that can be played during a church service, bulletin inserts and church follow up.
HEART GALLERY MENTOR PROGRAM: As a result of the huge response from our community to the three older teens in our original Heart Gallery who were in search of mentors, we now have completed over 200 successful mentor matches. During our interview, we evaluate children for potential permanency including existing family and connections. We also work on an independent living program to give teens the tools they need to have successful futures. Our goal, if we cannot find an adoptive family, is to have them leave foster care with a permanent adult connection in their lives.
FAMILY FINDING: We sponsored a six month training that brought Kevin Campbell to Eugene. The internet was used to search and reconnect foster children with lost relatives and others who may have been in their lives when they entered care - DHS, CASA and others were invited to be a part of this training - that successfully reconnected youth. We are currently working on 15 cases. Kevin has also offered us the opportunity to participate in a national research project to track kids who have been given this service. This research project, along with the commitment of our local children services, will allow us to jumpstart our program and give us national recognition.
FAMILY BUILDING: Nationally 95% of the families who begin the adoption process get discouraged by the lack of support and contact from their local social services department and do not complete the process. In Family Building, we match pre-adoptive families with successful adoptive mentor families, who act as a friends and provide support for these new families. We have Adoption Meet-N-Greet meetings once a month so families can gather with others going through the same process, as well as learn from guest speakers/professionals. We also offer a resource for services and subsidy information needed by adoptive families. We have two goals: 1) to keep potential adoptive families in the process, and 2) to insure that completed adoptions are not disrupted. Our core belief for this program is that you can't ask a family to STEP-UP, if you are not willing to support them.
HEART GALLERY LIFE BOOKERS: Each child leaving foster care must have a Life Book that was created for them to preserve their past. Caseworkers are happy to have someone to complete this large task for them and scrap bookers are pleased to find a ways to contribute.
Our future will focus on continuing the strong successful programs we have already built -- while we look for other ways to help find Forever Families for children in foster care.
A primary focus of the coming year is the "aging out" group of teens. These are 18 year-olds who "age out" of the foster care system and are abruptly on their own to finish school and to find housing, food, clothing, resources, etc. Many young people who age out of foster care struggle in the face of these new challenges. Too many become homeless, unemployed, suffer from physical or mental problems or go to jail shortly after leaving foster care. Only half of aging-out youth will graduate from high school; fewer than 3 percent will graduate from college.
We focus on children ten and older by helping provide life time committed parents, adoption services, and a teen permanency program to include Family Finding and access to mentoring.
In addition to the mentoring, the Independent Learning Program (ILP) helps these teens learn life skills. The ILP includes teaching youth basic skills such as personal care, driving (permits, insurance, etc.), education (financial aid, college apps), career/employment (resumes), money management, goal planning, available resources and more.