Two Grassroots Organizations Dedicated to Helping Bay County Foster Families Overcome Challenges
Two grassroots organizations are rising up to overcome the challenges facing foster families.
The Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center (NRC), based at 1501 W. Thomas St., works with families caring for children in foster care. The goal of the resource center is to ensure foster families have a positive experience, get the supplies they need, and have access to support and training. The center also hopes to encourage more families to take children into foster care.
River Jordan Inc., based at 3442 Kiesel Road, is for foster children. River Jordan’s goal is to connect current and former foster children with what they need to grow into successful adults. River Jordan uses peer mentors to connect people with resources to help with education, housing, and life skills training.
Homestay Navigation and Resource Center
After being foster parents for nearly a decade, Sarah Humerickhouse and her husband, Dave, saw the need to encourage more foster families to foster children.
The Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center strives to meet the material and emotional needs of foster parents. (Photo courtesy of Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)“There is a real lack of available foster homes,” she says, and her idea was to empower and support foster families. “I asked one of the licensing officers where the really nice houses come from, and she said other really nice houses, so I said, let’s get really nice houses then.”
A few years ago, she, Dave and a handful of volunteers started the NRC with the goal of increasing the number of foster families providing great homes for children. They incorporated in 2020 as 501C3.
The Foster Families Navigation and Resource Center tries to provide families with everything they need for children, from school supplies to support groups. (Photo courtesy of Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)At first, Humerickhouse says they thought they would just help a few families. Before she knew it, the organization was helping so many families that she stepped out of her original space.
While Humerickhouse is serving more families than expected, the number of host families in Michigan is actually declining.
Humerickhouse says the state of Michigan closed nearly 1,000 foster homes last year. Only about half have reopened.
“There is a serious lack of available foster homes,” she says. “It’s a crisis right now.”
Humerickhouse believes the solution to the crisis is to support and empower foster families, giving them the tools and resources to succeed. Through the NRC, Humerickhouse tries to provide the connections to provide families with what they need.
Photo courtesy of Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center“It’s a lot easier to do something that’s hard when you do it with a group of other people who are doing the exact same hard thing with you,” she says.
Humerickhouse says she hopes the snowball effect will eventually lead to her losing her job. But for now, the need is great.
“Once we change that dynamic, it becomes a more positive experience, which leads to a more positive experience for our kids, who then talk about positive experiences, and more families sign up, and we get experiences more positive, then it grows. .”
The NRC not only provides material support, but also offers training and support groups, says Humerickhouse. Everything they provide comes from donations or volunteers.
Foster families are needed in Michigan. One of the goals of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center is to encourage families to consider foster care. (Photo courtesy of Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)Most children who enter foster care are placed with little or nothing, and the NRC tries to fill the void with new sheets, towels, washcloths, clothing and school supplies.
“We do a backpack giveaway every year, and we’ve grown from 85 last year to over 200 this year. We keep backpacks year-round because when kids are taken care of, they generally do not have a backpack.
The NRC offers a shop where foster parents can get what they need for the children they are fostering, Humerickhouse says. The shop offers gently used clothing in sizes from newborn to 3X, shoes, and new linens like towels, sheets, and washcloths. There is always a need, she says, adding, “Just this month, we had 65 requests for supplies.
If you want to help, Humerickhouse can put you to work.
Volunteers are always needed at NRC. Businesses and organizations can help by organizing laundry drives or clothing drives. “There’s never a shortage of laundry or items to sort,” adds Humerickhouse.
Volunteer opportunities and needs are posted on the NRC Facebook Page.
When teens are in care, Humerickhouse says she talks to parents about River Jordan Inc. and the foster care recovery program offered by Aland Stamps.
River Jordan works with foster youth from the age of 14, providing life skills mentoring and coaching services.
River Jordan Inc.
Aland Stamps, who has spent part of her life in foster care, wants to give young people in foster care a chance for a better life and opportunities to grow into successful adults. River Jordan provides transitional housing for former foster youth aged 18-21.
Photo courtesy of River Jordan Inc.Services also don’t stop when people turn 21, Stamps says.
“We provide comprehensive services to current and former youth adoptees,” he says, and former youth adoptees can be any age. “They can be 60 and have been in foster care and come to our doorstep and get peer mentoring and life skills coaching,” he says.
It’s about recovering from trauma and becoming successful adults.
Stamps explains that when a child turns 18, they come out of the foster care systems. Only in rare cases does a person over the age of 18 continue to qualify for a foster case. For some, this means they are no longer placed in foster care until they graduate from high school. This puts the teenager at high risk for a multitude of problems.
“Sixty percent of young people who turn 18 will age on their own and become homeless, incarcerated, they will become drug addicts or victims of sex trafficking, and some will commit suicide,” he says.
“Most will experience a combination of these things. Homelessness leads to depression which leads to drug use, and homelessness can make you feel hopeless and unprotected and they end up in the sex trade. Then there’s just being vulnerable and wanting to be accepted.
Stamps understands firsthand how this cycle occurs.
“I was in foster care and I went through all of that except suicide,” he says.
The good news is state and federal programs to help teens transition from foster care to independent adulthood. There are tuition assistance programs, allowances to buy cars, funds to help pay the first month’s rent, and security deposits. The problem is that many young people do not tap into these resources.
Photo courtesy of River Jordan Inc.At River Jordan, Stamps relies on peer mentorship to build trust and then help teens discover and use those resources before they get into trouble.
“What our peers are able to do is that we are that trusted servant. They listen to us more than they listen to the therapists or the social worker because there’s that level of trust,” says Stamps.
“We help them get the resources and support they need so they don’t leave the foster care system alone. The main reason kids go through this stuff is because they go away with nobody. They go alone.
Stamps says her goal is to start working with kids before they turn 18. As soon as a child over the age of 14 enters foster care, Stamps says, “We should be the next person DHS calls for help.
When River Jordan is involved early, kids are ready for the real world at 18. They have the connections, support and resources they need. “They should leave foster care in their own apartments with caring adults who help them and take advantage of state and federal programs available to them.”
Stamps not only tries to improve the lives of young people in foster care, he also trains mentors. He received a grant from Dow to train former homestay students to become peer mentors and will begin trainings at the end of September. Details are available on the Jordan River Facebook Page.