Two grassroots organizations are dedicated to helping Bay County foster families overcome challenges

Two grassroots organizations are rising to overcome the challenges facing foster families.

One organization, the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center, focuses on the parents. Another, River Jordan Inc., provides services for past and current foster teens.

The Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center (NRC), based on 1501 W. Thomas St., works with the families who care for foster children. The goal of the resource center is to make sure 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 in foster children.

River Jordan Inc., based on 3442 Kiesel Road, is for the kids in foster care. The goal of River Jordan is connecting current and former foster children with what they need to become successful adults. River Jordan uses peer mentors to connect people to resources to help with education, housing, and life-skills training.

Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center

After foster parenting for nearly a decade, Sarah Humerickhouse and her husband, Dave, saw the need to encourage more foster families to take in children.

The Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center strives to meet the material and emotional needs of foster parents. (Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)“There is a real lack in foster homes available,” she says, and her idea was to empower and support foster families. “I asked one of the licensing workers where really great homes come from, and she said other really great homes, so I said let’s get some really great homes then.”

A few years ago, she, Dave, and a handful of volunteers started the NRC as a way to grow the number of foster families providing really great homes to kids. They incorporated in 2020 as a 501C3.

The Foster Families Navigation and Resource Center tries to supply families with everything they need for the kids, from school supplies to support groups. (Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)In the beginning, Humerickhouse says they thought they would just be helping a couple of families. Before she knew it, the organization was helping so many families that it grew out of its original space.

While Humerickhouse is serving more families than she expected, the number of foster families in Michigan actually is shrinking.
 
Humerickhouse says in the last year the state of Michigan closed nearly 1,000 foster homes. Only about half have re-opened.

“There is a severe lack of foster homes available,” she says. “It is a crisis at this moment.”

Humerickhouse believes the solution to the crisis is to support and empower foster families, giving them the tools and resources to be successful. Through the NRC, Humerickhouse tries to provide the connections to get families what they need.

Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center“It’s a whole lot easier to do something that’s difficult when you’re doing that with a group of other people who are doing that exact same difficult thing with you,” she says.

Humerickhouse says she hopes the snowball effect eventually leads to her being out of a 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 more positive experiences and then that just kind of grows.”

NRC provides not only material support, but also offers training and support groups, Humerickhouse says. Everything they supply either comes through donations or volunteers.

Foster families are needed in Michigan. One goal of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center is to encourage families to consider foster parenting. (Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)Most kids entering foster care are placed with little or nothing, and the NRC tries to fill the gap with new linens, towels, washcloths, clothing, and school supplies.

“We do a backpack giveaway every year, and have gone from 85 last year to over 200 this year. We keep backpacks all year round because when kids come into care, they don’t typically have a backpack.”

The NRC provides a boutique where foster families can get what they need for the kids they take in, Humerickhouse says. The boutique stocks gently-used clothing in sizes from newborn to size 3X, shoes, and new linens such as 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 the NRC. Businesses and organizations can help by holding linen drives or clothing drives. “There’s never a shortage of laundry or items to be sorted,” Humerickhouse adds.

Volunteer opportunities and needs are posted on the NRC Facebook page.
When teens are brought into care, Humerickhouse says she tells parents about River Jordan Inc., and the foster care recovery program offered by Aland Stamps.

River Jordan works with youth in foster care from age 14 up, providing mentoring services and life skills coaching.

River Jordan Inc.

Aland Stamps, who spent part of his life in foster care, wants to give youth in foster care a chance at a better life and opportunities to be successful adults. River Jordan offers transitional housing for former foster care youth between 18 and 21.

Photo courtesy of River Jordan Inc.Services don’t end when people turn 21 years old either, Stamps says.

“We provide wrap-around services for current and former foster youth,” he says, and former foster youth can be any age. “They can be 60 and have been in foster care and come into our doors and get peer mentoring services and life skills coaching,” he says.

It’s all about trauma recovery and making successful adults.

Stamps explains that when a child turns 18, they age out of the foster care systems. Only in rare cases does a person over 18 continue to qualify for foster case. For some, that means they are out of foster care before graduating high school. That puts the teen at high risk for a multitude of problems.

“Sixty percent of youth who turn 18 will age out of foster care on their own and become homeless, incarcerated, they will become addicted to drugs, or victims of sex trafficking, and some will commit suicide,” he says.

“Most will experience a combination of those things. Homelessness leads to depression, which leads to drug use, and homelessness can make you feel desperate and unprotected and they end up in the sex trade. Then there’s just flat out being vulnerable and wanting to be accepted.”

Stamps understands firsthand how that cycle happens.

“I was in foster care and I experienced all of those except for 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, stipends to buy cars, funds to help with first month’s rent and security deposits. The problem is many young people don’t tap into these resources.

Photo courtesy of River Jordan Inc.At River Jordan, Stamps relies on peer mentoring to build trust and then help teens discover and use these resources before they get into trouble.

“What our peers are able to do is we’re that trusted servant. They listen more to us then to they listen to the therapists or the caseworker because there’s that level of trust,” Stamps explains.

“We help them get the resources and supports so they don’t leave the foster care system alone. The number one reason kids go through this stuff is because they leave with nobody. They leave alone.”

Stamps says his goal it to start working with kids before they turn 18. As soon as a child comes into foster care over the age of 14, Stamps says “We should be the next person DHS calls for support.”

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 be leaving foster care into their own apartments with caring adults helping them out and taking advantage of the state and federal programs available to them.”

Stamps is not only trying to improve the lives of foster youth, he’s also training mentors. He received a grant from Dow to train foster alumni to be peer mentors, and will begin trainings at the end of September. Details are available on the River Jordan Facebook page.