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Can't be a foster parent? Here's how you can still help the cause

Posted July 11, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

While not everyone has the ability or even the desire to assume the role of a full-time foster parent, there are still several ways to help the cause. Whether it's donating time, money, resources, or even simply spreading awareness -- you can make a difference. (monkeybusinessimages/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, KidsPeace.

Becoming a foster parent takes work, and being a foster parent is a big responsibility — it's not something to consider lightly.

To become a foster parent, individuals must meet certain requirements, pass background checks, undergo interviews and, in some states, have a license or special training. Even for individuals and families who are able to meet these benchmarks, fostering a child may not be a possibility for a number of other reasons.

Luckily, there are several other ways to help foster children and bolster foster programs that don't necessarily include assuming the role of foster parent.

At the Raleigh branch of KidsPeace — a private charity that focuses on therapeutic foster care and the behavioral and mental needs of children and their families — the organization encourages support on any level possible. Whether it's donating time, money, goods or simply spreading awareness, you can make a difference.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, I have to write a big check to donate.' You don't," said Renee Moore, co-chair of the KidsPeace Raleigh Board of Associates. "There are so many small fundraising efforts available to help these kids who are displaced."

For Nina O'Neal, getting involved in foster volunteer efforts was never on her radar, largely due to the fact she simply had no connection to the fostering community and wasn't familiar with anyone involved in the program. It wasn't until a business partner told her about KidsPeace that O'Neal became motivated to lend a hand.

"At KidsPeace during Christmastime, they find a sponsor for each foster child, so that's how I got involved. A family spends up to $200 to buy gifts from the child's wish list or other items that they need," O'Neal explained. "Every year that I sponsored a child, I saw that the holidays are a really difficult time for the organization, because they have an intake increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seemed like they were scrambling to find enough sponsors and volunteers."

After a few years, O'Neal decided to see what she could do to ease the burden and volunteered to simplify the process by being the single point of contact for the Christmas wish list drive. Now, 10 years after sponsoring her first foster child, she's running part of the show, securing sponsors, gathering gifts and bringing them to the KidsPeace Raleigh Office.

O'Neal and the same business partner who initially told her about the program even brought the fundraiser to their workplace, encouraging coworkers to donate or bring gifts along with them to their annual holiday happy hour.

"We have a company Christmas tree, and I take cardstock and cut out blank angel silhouettes. Everyone that makes a donation writes their name on an angel when they come in and puts it on the angel tree," O'Neil said. "We showcase the tree throughout the rest of the holiday season in our office and that's how we raise money."

For many children in the foster care system, basic items like warm coats and school supplies are needed, but at the end of the day, they're still like every other kid their age. Many gifts on the wish lists include name-brand sneakers, iPad minis, or gift cards for their favorite stores.

"I've had some sponsors say, 'Well, I wasn't imagining giving a foster kid Air Force 1s.' Well, what did you want when you were 16? You wanted to fit in, you wanted the newest thing," O'Neal said. "That's something that's been eye-opening for me. You can see a desire to be a normal teenager, just like any other kid. Outside of providing foster children warm coats, clean underwear, and new socks, it's also about understanding that, at the end of the day, they're still normal kids who want normal gifts."

While the holidays are a busy season for KidsPeace, the organization is regularly in need of items like luggage and toiletries year-round, which are bundled into care packages for children before they enter new foster homes. Even donating something as small as toothbrushes and toothpaste can help round out the contents of these packages.

For those who aren't in a financial place to donate, Moore emphasizes that spending time spreading awareness is just as valuable to the cause, whether it's through publications, newsletters, social media or simply word of mouth.

"Just a few weeks ago, I happened to be with my son in school and I was chatting with the counselor. We were chaperoning a trip and we started talking about KidsPeace, and I told her what I was doing there. She was so shocked. But immediately, the news of what I was doing spread within the school to other people who wanted to help and reach out," Moore said. "It takes a little bit of time and a little bit of assertiveness to say, 'Hey, let me tell you about foster parenting and all the different ways that you can help or be part of it.'"

This article was written for our sponsor, KidsPeace​​​​​​​.

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