‘Be the Light’ campaign in East Texas raises awareness about foster care crisis

“Helping people to understand that there is a need. That there is really a crisis right now and also help our community see how they can help children in foster
Published: Nov. 14, 2021 at 5:06 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2021 at 5:15 PM CST
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WHITEHOUSE, Texas (KLTV) - November is National Adoption Month, and East Texans are working to bring awareness to the foster care crisis here.

The Fostering Collective in Whitehouse is in the midst of their ‘Be the Light’ campaign where families and businesses can place signs and even hang Christmas lights up this month. Executive Director Justin Hayes said it’s a community effort to help raise awareness about children in foster care.

“Helping people to understand that there is a need. That there is really a crisis right now and also help our community see how they can help children in foster care in different ways,” Hayes said.

It’s all about shining a light on the tough parts, but it is also encouraging families who are interested. Hayes said in East Texas there are currently about 2,000 children in foster care. Sixty-five of them are available for adoption. The Gerety family has fostered and adopted children. They have had their Christmas lights up since Halloween to show support.

“It was really neat to see all the lights go up really early because you knew that either they’re a foster home as well, or they’re somebody who supports a foster home. When you’re in the foster care world, it can be pretty isolating, and so it was cool to be like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone,’” Katie Gerety said.

One of the most common things Gerety said she hears is that people may want to foster but are worried they’ll get too attached to the child to give him or her back.

“Well you’re supposed to be attached to them because they’ve never been attached to somebody well before,” she said. “It is hard to do that, but my encouragement is Jesus stepped into a broken world, and he knowingly stepped into what was broken. He knowingly stepped into a mess. A lot of us shy away from going into messy places and messy situations or things that we know might break our hearts. In this situation, with kids who are coming from really hard and broken places, we can be an example of Jesus and step into their messiness.”

Christi Sowell is their program director and said this month means a lot to her because eight years ago, her family adopted a sibling group of four during National Adoption Month.

“So to me I get all excited and giddy just thinking about that whole process,” Sowell said.

From her experiences, she is now able to help other families.

“There are three different support groups, so I get to lead and facilitate those,” Sowell said. “I get to use what God’s called me to do in the hard that we’ve been through dealing with children from hard places. They come with a lot of stress and baggage and things. So I just get to use those experiences to love on, in particular, a lot of my moms.”

Gerety said she hopes their sign and lights can start a conversation.

“I think that a lot of people are really unaware that we have a lot of orphans in our community because we don’t use that word anymore,” Gerety said. “Our 14 year old came from an orphanage. It’s now called a children’s home, but we have orphans all over the place. So when they maybe read a sign like this, they’re like, ‘What? Foster care in East Texas? East Texas is a nice community. Why would we have anybody that is a foster child?’ I think that that is why we also need to raise awareness because a lot of us don’t know.”

When the pandemic first hit, and everybody was in quarantine, Hayes said there were fewer children going into care because they weren’t in school.

“And they weren’t in places where people could see that there were problems. But as soon as the schools opened back up, then many more children ended up going into care, unfortunately,” Hayes said. “The children in care just in Smith County went up from about 250 kids in care to about 320 pretty quickly.”

There are ways you can help right here in East Texas. Volunteering at their closet, training to be a babysitter, or becoming a family are some of the ways you can get involved.

“You could sign up to be a babysitter and keep them for up to 72 hours, and that’s less training. But just so that parents can have a break and know that their kids are with somebody that’s got a background check and has had CPR training, because you can’t just leave them with anybody,” Gerety said.

To learn more about how you can foster or help foster families, the Fostering Collective is having an informational meeting Tuesday, December 7 from 6 to 8 in the evening. Twelve placement agencies will be available to answer questions at local radio station KVNE.

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