The quote “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” has never been more true than during the first six months of 2020.
On any given day there are approximately 400 children in the foster care system in Collier County. In good times and bad the nonprofit Friends of Foster Children Forever is there to help the most vulnerable children.
The 501c3 organization’s goal is to connect foster children between the ages of 2 months to 5 years with early education centers and provide children ages 5 to 18 with tutoring during and/or after school. They also pay for the foster children’s summer and winter camps and enrichment activities such as dance classes, gymnastics, music lessons and sports programs.
In March,the Corona virus severely affected all aspects of life in Southwest Florida and nonprofit organizations were drastically impacted. As a result, Friends of Foster Children Forever immediately reviewed their current services and made changes to continue to meet the children’s needs safely. The staff began working remotely but were still able to provide the same level of care to support foster children.
“No matter what, we are going to be there to help foster children in our community,” said Ann Hughes, Executive Director of Friends of Foster Children Forever. “During these unprecedented times, the staff was able to pivot and come up with new and exciting ways to help foster children and their families.”
During the same time,Collier County Public Schools announced that all children would be “attending” school from their homes. The school district did an outstanding job of quickly enabling students to work remotely from home by training their teaching staff to use software that virtually connected them with their students.They provided almost 14,000 laptops to the students who needed them along with internet access to about 5,000 families.
Piggybacking on this amazing feat, within one week,the staff at Friends of Foster Children Forever was able to train their 53 Academic Mentors so they could tutor foster children remotely.As a result, the children continued to receive the extra support and encouragement they needed to do well in school.
Sadly, many of the foster families’ caregivers found their jobs in jeopardy as their hours were cut or they were placed on furlough. Many foster families live paycheck-to-paycheck and the disruption in income created additional stress as the caregivers struggled to make-ends-meet. Friends of Foster Children Forever stepped up to help and supplied 80 families with emergency gift cards, valued up to $250, so they could pay bills such as utilities and rent.
Most day cares remain closed and many caregivers are struggling at home with limited work hours. To help the littlest foster children and their families,Friends of Foster Children Forever continues to provide necessities like diapers, wipes, strollers, and other supplies. With the caregivers’ hours cut paying for necessities for babies and toddlers can be very expensive. Brain development at this young age is so important and it can be challenging to teach children educational, yet fun activities. Education is paramount to a foster child’s future. Fifty families with foster children between the ages of 3 and 5 were provided free mini tablets that were filled with educational applications and programs.
The Corona virus is also impacting the donation to many nonprofit organizations with events being cancelled or postponed. Friends of Foster Children’s annual fundraiser the Boogie Bash was scheduled for March 20th and was cancelled. This fundraiser was one of the major sources of revenue to support the programs that help foster children. In May, Friends of Foster Children Forever held one of the first virtual fundraisers in the country so they could continue to provide much-needed services to the children. Supporters tuned-in online to watch a live and silent auction and learn more about how to help.
Now more than ever Friends of Foster Children Forever wants to make sure these kids continue to have fun. To continue exploring ways to help the “whole” child they have children who are taking virtual STEM camps, yoga classes, violin lessons and piano lessons.
“Foster children need our help now more than ever,” said Ann Hughes, executive director. “We are looking into a multitude of options to continue to make sure they have the childhood they deserve. Our goal is to provide hope and happiness to foster children every day.”
To learn how to support foster children call 239-262-1808 or visit www.FriendsofFosterChildren.net