by Amanda Beights
I never intended on being a foster parent. In fact, I actually never intended on being a mentor either. Like most, my biggest concern was that I just didn’t “have enough time.”
Over the years, however, I continued to learn about the need in Collier County. It seemed every year I heard Big Brothers Big Sisters always had a deficit with mentors and that many children were on the waiting list.
If you have a heart for children, you can only heart that for so long before you decide you will be a part of the solution.
After a presentation from the Big Brother Big Sisters, I pulled over the presenter at the end and asked, “Okay, tell me the commitment.” She was so excited and said “at minimum just 4 hours a month.” She also explained that I could be a “Big Couple” with my husband, so we could spend our time together and help a child.
From there I learned, probably not surprisingly, that older boys were in the greatest need of mentors. With that in mind, we agreed to be matched.
About 2 years into our mentoring, we received a phone call that our mentee and his brother were removed from their home and living at Youth Haven, Southwest Florida’s only emergency and residential shelter for boys and girls ages 6-18 years.
I instantly offered to house the boys until they could be reunited with their mother. My husband and I were not certified foster parents, but because we knew the boys, we qualified for what is called “non-relative caregivers.”
Within a short period, the boys moved in with us. I was immediately impressed with how many resources became available to us through organizations aimed at helping foster families, such as Friends of Foster Children Forever.
We had access to mattresses, clothing and a free tutor for both boys. Of course, our friends and family were also eager to support.
The best part? Collier County Public Schools re-routes busses to your home. This not only helps with transportation needs, but also allows children to stay at the schools they currently attend.
We fostered the boys for six months, with many highs and many lows. After they reunited with their mother, I co-founded a coalition of agencies involved in supporting homeless children called Fostering the Future Alliance. The goal is to bring organizations together to leverage resources to increase foster families in Collier County.
The need is significant. My husband and I are also interested in becoming licensed foster parents so we may better support children and families in need.
If I could share two major takeaways from our journey, it would be this: First, the goal of fostering children is always reunification with his or her parents, provided that it is in the best interest for that child. Second: please consider getting involved as a mentor or foster parent to the hundreds of children in need in Collier County—right here in our own backyard.
If there is any space in your heart to be more involved with our most vulnerable children, please make the leap and know there are tremendous community resources to help you along the way.
For more information please contact 1-855-933-KIDS or childnetswfl.org