TRAVERSE CITY — Amanda Fisher, a foster care specialist with the Child & Family Services, said there are plenty of good stories of children being reunited with their families, youths in the system who grow up and become independent, and those who find their forever families through adoption.
One of her favorites is the now 20-year-old who came into the foster care program when he was 13 and was assigned to her.
At 18, when children age out of the system, he was placed in a young adult volunteer foster care program, which supports young people through those difficult years of early adulthood, Fisher said.
“He was able to graduate high school, he went to (Northwestern Michigan College) for a year and is now working as a certified nurses assistant and maintaining his own housing,” Fisher said. “He is just a complete ray of sunshine all the time.”
The Brown Bag Campaign kicks off today, July 31, with the goal of raising $40,000, said Melissa Ryba, marketing and development specialist. The campaign typically brings in $30,000 to $40,000 each year, she said. Since it’s inception 31 years ago, more than $500,000 has been donated to the campaign.
The money helps pay for things like clothing, shoes, toothbrushes and school supplies for children who often come into foster care with just a few items thrown into a plastic bag.
It also pays for other therapy needs for children to help them overcome trauma they may have experienced, like an equine therapy program at Peace Ranch in Traverse City, Ryba said.
“It helps pay for those kinds of things that aren’t covered under normal funding,” Ryba said.
Executive Director Gina Aranki said the campaign also serves as a reminder that foster care parents and others are always needed.
“We need people who have the room in their hearts to become foster parents, volunteers and donors to our hard work,” Aranki said.
Child & Family Services started as a place that provided medical and protective services for abused and neglected children in northern Michigan. It was founded in 1937 by Dr. Mark Osterlin, a Traverse City pediatrician, and foster care has always been at the heart of the agency’s mission.
“Fostering children is our foundation,” Ryba said. “Although we have a lot of programs, it’s the one we want to support the most.”
Fisher has been with C&FS for five years and spends much of her time helping to safely reunite families when children have been removed. That can involve organizing services such as trauma assessments, psychological evaluations, counseling referrals, parenting skills courses and making sure parents and kids are visiting regularly.
“We rely heavily on our campaign to help support children and families,” Fisher said.
All of the money donated to the campaign stays in the area, which is why many people choose to donate, Ryba said.
“For a lot of people it’s important to support the community and I think this is a great way to do that,” she said.
People can give by sending a donation in the mail-in brown bag in today’s Record-Eagle and other sponsoring newspapers or by visiting cfsnwmi.org/brownbag. New this year, they can also find the brown bag at any Oleson’s or Oryana store.
Those who are interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents can call 231-946-8975 or visit cfsnwmi.org/foster-care.