According to Macon County Social Worker Stacey Messer, 74 children are currently in foster care with 24 licensed foster families in Franklin. “And, of these 24 families, most are full, and so they are unavailable for new children coming into care,” she said.
Great needs for foster children and foster families in this community is why I, and others, were motivated to start the organization called Together We Can. This is some insight into the journey to how Together We Can came about:
Approximately seven years ago, someone from the Department of Social Services (DSS) came to Discover Church and expressed the needs of the children in the Macon County foster system. After meeting with Pastor Ben Windle at Discover, as well as a number of people from DSS, including Director Patrick Betancourt, some of us involved in the foster care system realized that the immediate needs at that time were Christmas and back-to-school supplies.
We incorporated a tree for Macon County DSS at one of Discover Church’s I Love My Town events in December. There were tags for an outfit, new shoes, new coat, and a toy or item the child requested. People took those tags and shopped for children.
“The first year, we had 48 kids in need,” said Rachel Marshall, my partner in this endeavor. “Not only did the church provide all the gifts, but we also gave a knotted fleece blanket to each child.”
Marshall can still remember the blonde, 5-year-old girl running up to her a few months later in Walmart asking if she made her princess blanket. Those blue eyes will forever be in her memory. Marshall realized something so simple really made a difference.
Our reason for continuing to do I Love My Town Christmas, I Love My Town backpacks, and now Together We Can is that there are so many needs. DSS does a great job. However, they are either limited in what they can do, have limited resources, or they do not have enough foster families available for the foster children in need.
Our goals are to help the fostering community. That may mean coming alongside DSS to recruit more foster families or guardians ad litem [advocates]; it may mean picking up dinner for everyone involved in a foster care information and training class; and, it may mean standing at informational tables at churches in Macon County, town events, or local organizations to help the people of Macon County understand the needs of our foster community.
In essence, Together We Can has become a 501(c)3 charitable organization with the mission to educate, support, and advocate for the fostering community in Macon County. Together We Can works to directly benefit foster children of all ages by creating specialized programs designed to address their needs from initial intake throughout their journey.
After fostering for the past seven years, I realized how many “gaps” there were; the children and families, along with DSS and the guardian ad litem program, needed assistance and I could not just sit back and say, “Someone really needs to do something.”
In February of this year, Together We Can was formed, and on March 23, we launched the nonprofit publicly. We fundraised like crazy for months and in August we purchased a home that is currently being renovated to provide a safe and loving foster-child transition home.
Together We Can is committed to improving the rate of success for children in the foster system, including children aging out of the foster care system. The organization is preparing to teach life skills to those in DSS care. Currently, 6% of the children who age-out of foster care continue to further education, with only 50% of them graduating from college or trade school. By investing in children in the foster system, Together We Can is committed to helping break the cycle.
Often, the cycle is repeated from their parents, who were also in the foster system. These kids deserve better, and we want to do everything we can to pour into them!
In addition to fostering, there are so many ways for individuals in the community to get involved. Our goal is to provide opportunities where everyone can use their gifts to help. Obviously, we need financial support to provide a comfortable, safe, nurturing transition home to children who have been placed in the foster care system – for various reasons – but do not yet have a foster care family placement.
We need people willing to keep the home stocked with necessities, to be cleaned regularly, and so much more. And, we are going to need people skilled in all types of education areas to pour into aging-out foster children through life skills training – giving them the tools they need to succeed on their own.
“Children who come into foster care have been neglected, abused, or have parents who are sick or unable to take care of basic needs, and they need someone to be there for them,” said Marshall, who has been involved in volunteer work for the foster care system for many years. “Children who come into foster care are of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds (teens, sibling groups, babies, and children with special medical and emotional needs.) So, we need all kinds of families with different strengths and experiences to meet these children’s needs.”
Not only do we want to bring awareness to the issues foster children and the fostering community face, but work together to provide assistance and solutions one child and situation at a time.
For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit our website here at: TogetherWeCan.xyz; or, P.O. Box 1712, Franklin N.C. 28744.