Group hopes Foster Packs will provide comfortJuly 10, 2019
By LEANN BURKE
When the Dubois County Department of Child Services places local children in foster care, those kids often only have the clothes on their backs to take with them.
A team with the 2019 Dubois County Leadership Academy is trying to change that.
The Dubois County Leadership Academy launched in 2011 as an avenue for training leaders from across the county. Employers recommend employees for the program, and then they apply. Those accepted into a year’s class are split into groups of about five and charged with coming up with a capstone project to improve their communities.
The team — Brad Buechler, Ryan Kelly, Rachel Miller, Contessa Monarrez, Amanda O’Brien and Lisa Witte — is working with Dubois County DCS to build Foster Packs, a program that will call on local people and organizations to consistently donate backpacks stuffed with necessities that foster children can take with them into their foster homes.
“It gives [the kids] a little bit of comfort,” O’Brien said. “They can say, ‘This is mine.’”
The packs will have the essential items, such as toiletries, clothing and underwear, as well as items meant to bring the kids comfort, such as coloring books, journals and toys.
The packs will not only help the children, but the foster parents and relatives who take the kids in.
Director of Dubois County DCS Amy Tempel said that when relatives take in the children, they often don’t yet have the items necessary to care for the child, and unlike foster parents, they can’t get a per diem from the state until they become licensed foster parents, a process that can take months.
Likewise, foster parents may not have exactly what they need for the new child they’re taking in, possibly in the middle of the night without much warning.
“They may have fostered [ages] 7, 8 and 9, but they haven’t fostered younger kids,” O’Brien said. “They don’t always have the essentials.”
The team’s goal with Foster Packs is to get the children and the adults they’re placed with everything they need to get through the first 24 to 48 hours.
The team is currently collecting items that will be donated to DCS. Collection boxes are set up at the Huntingburg Public Library, Jasper Public Library, Ferdinand Branch Library, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, the Tri-County YMCA in Ferdinand, Vincennes University Jasper Campus, Springs Valley Bank in Jasper, Old National Bank in Huntingburg, the Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper and Family Dollar in Huntingburg.
Requested items include full-size toiletries — the travel-size options often don’t last long enough, Tempel said — diapers of all sizes, pull-ups of all sizes, underwear and clothing for infants through teenagers, feminine hygiene products, socks, blankets, bibs, baby bottles, reading books, journals, coloring books, crayons or colored pencils, backpacks and pajamas.
The team is hoping the program will last beyond their initial drive to consistently provide DCS with packs. Right now, Tempel said, the office does get one annual donation of packs and throughout the year, various service groups will do projects that bring in supplies, but when those packs run out, they’re gone. And they run out quickly.
Tempel said that about a month and a half ago, a church group donated 25 bags. Those are already gone.
The team’s biggest goal is to build the foundation and connections needed to make the project sustainable. Once they graduate from the Leadership Academy, they will hand the program over to Tempel to manage in the future.
The other 2019 Leadership Academy team — consisting of Darek Turpin, Connie Stemle, Jeff Sendelweck, Misty Woods, Helen Camacho and Aaron Hurst — are placing automated external defibrillator units in the county’s outlying communities. A story on their project can be found in Tuesday’s paper.
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