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

Two grassroots organizations are rising to meet the challenges faced by foster families.

One organization, the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center, focuses on parents. Another, River Jordan Inc., provides services to former and current foster children.

The Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center (NRC), located at 1501 W. Thomas St., works with the families caring for foster children. The goal of the resource center is to ensure foster families have a positive experience, receive the materials 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. located at 3442 Pebble Road is for the children in foster care. River Jordan’s goal is to connect current and former foster children with what they need to be successful adults. River Jordan uses peer mentors to connect people with resources that help them with education, housing and life skills training.

Navigation and resource center for foster families

After being foster parents for almost a decade, Sarah Humerickhouse and her husband Dave saw a need to encourage more foster families to take in children.

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

A few years ago, she, Dave, and a handful of volunteers started NRC to increase the number of foster families that provide children with really great homes. They were incorporated in 2020 as the 501C3.

The Foster Care Navigation and Resource Center seeks to provide families with everything they need for the children, from school supplies to support groups. (Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)In the beginning, Humerickhouse says they thought they were just helping a few families. Before she knew it, the organization was helping so many families that it outgrew its original space.

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While Humerickhouse is ministering to more families than she anticipated, the number of foster homes in Michigan is actually shrinking.

The state of Michigan closed nearly 1,000 nursing homes in the past year, according to Humerickhouse. Only about half have reopened.

“There is a huge shortage of nursing homes,” she says. “Right now it’s a crisis.”

Humerickhouse believes the solution to the crisis is to support and empower foster families and give them the tools and resources to thrive. Through the NRC, Humerickhouse seeks to provide the connections to give families what they need.

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

Humerickhouse hopes the snowball effect will eventually result in her being unemployed. But the need is great at the moment.

“Once we change that dynamic, it becomes a more positive experience, which makes for a more positive experience for our kids, who then start talking about positive experiences, and more families sign up, and we have more positive experiences, and then that just grows.” “

In addition to providing material support, NRC also offers training and support groups, Humerickhouse says. Everything they deliver comes either through donations or volunteers.

Foster families are needed in Michigan. One goal of the Foster Care Navigation and Resource Center is to encourage families to consider foster care. (Photo courtesy of the Foster Families Navigation & Resource Center)Most children who are placed in foster care are placed with little or nothing, and the NRC is trying to fill the gap with new sheets, towels, washcloths, clothes and school supplies.

“We give away a backpack every year and have gone from 85 last year to over 200 this year. We keep backpacks all year round because when children come to daycare they usually don’t have backpacks.”

The NRC offers a boutique where foster families can get everything they need for the children 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’s always a need, she says, adding, “We had 65 material requests this month alone.”

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If you want to help, Humerickhouse can put you to work.

Volunteers are always needed at the NRC. Businesses and organizations can help by running laundry or clothing drives. “There’s never a shortage of laundry or items to sort through,” adds Humerickhouse.

Volunteer opportunities and needs are posted on the NRC Facebook page.
When teens are placed in foster 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 ages 14 and up, providing mentoring services and life skills coaching.

River Jordan Inc.

Aland Stamps, who has spent part of his life in foster care, wants to give youngsters in foster care a chance at a better life and opportunities to become successful adults. River Jordan provides transitional housing for former foster children between the ages of 18 and 21.

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

“We offer comprehensive services for current and former foster children,” he says, and former foster children can be of any age. “They can be 60 years old and have been in foster care and come to us and get peer mentoring services and life skills coaching,” he says.

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

Stamps explains that when a child turns 18, they leave the foster care system. Only in rare cases does a person over the age of 18 continue to need care. For some, this means no more foster families before high school. This puts the teenager at high risk for a variety of problems.

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

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“Most will experience a combination of these things. Homelessness leads to depression which leads to drug use and homelessness can leave you feeling desperate and vulnerable and they end up in the sex trade. Then it’s just being vulnerable and wanting to be accepted.”

Stamps understands firsthand how this cycle works.

“I was in a foster family and I experienced everything except suicide,” he says.

The good news is state and federal programs designed to help teenagers make the transition from foster care to independent adulthood. There are tuition support programs, car purchase grants, first month rent support funds, and security deposits. The problem is that many young people do not use 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 those resources before they get into trouble.

“What our colleagues can do is that we are these trusted servants. They listen to us more than they do to the therapist or the clerk because there’s so much trust,” Stamps explains.

“We help them get resources and support so they don’t abandon the care system. The main reason kids go through this stuff is because they don’t date anyone. You go in peace.”

Stamps says his goal is to work with children before they turn 18. Once a child over the age of 14 is placed in foster care, Stamps says, “We should be the next person to ask DHS for support.”

With River Jordan involved early on, kids at 18 are ready for the real world. They have the connections, support and resources they need. “They should keep foster families in their own homes, with caring adults helping them and using the state and federal programs available to them.”

Stamps not only tries to improve the lives of foster children, he also trains mentors. He received a grant from Dow to train nursing alumni to be peer mentors and will begin training in late September. Details are available on River Jordan’s Facebook page.

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