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Another Way to Foster [Support] a Child

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Swim_Girls_Pool

How our family reached out through swimming…

I was raised by a mom ​who taught my brothers and I the value of giving back at an early age. As a result, volunteering and donating became part of our day to day activities and commitments. I try to do the same with my daughters. We plan around our kids sports, school and vacations and volunteering is just one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

​Our giving is not always the same. Sometimes we discuss as a family which organizations or causes we want to donate to that year and other times it is impulsive when we hear of an immediate need that tugs at our hearts. Our volunteering changes as well. We try to find things we can do as a family which are often one-time projects. As our kids get older, we are trying to support them in ongoing commitments that give them a chance to really connect with an organization and a cause. ​​

Our family has discussed the idea of becoming a foster family for the past few years. We are all on board and our youngest daughter has begged me to turn in the paperwork. The timing has not felt quite right and as much as we want this, we also know we have to be realistic.​ I get frustrated when there is something I feel passionate about but I also know my first commitment has to be to my family and keeping the balance.​

I spent time with a group of 5th graders​ a few months ago at their science camp and discovered the differences up close between my daughter and some of her classmates. With foster care on my heart, and as I got to know some of the kids, I realized that although many of them had parents who loved them, they were lacking in exposure to experiences outside their school and families. My daughters have been raised playing sports, going to camps, travelling, eating in restaurants and going to the theater. ​I did not realize until I watched some of my daughter​’​s classmates struggling with certain physical activities or uncomfortable with trying new foods,​ or even spending a night away from home,​ that I had taken for granted how much my own children’s life experiences have​ shaped them. ​All of this exposure has produced kids that have expanded taste buds, are confident, adventurous, curious, and ​comfortable asking for what they want and knowing that college and careers are an option for them.​

This insight helped me discover another way ​our family could offer support to a child by simply providing exposure. There are so many families in our children’s schools that could just use a little extra support. As a family, we can provide​ that​ support by coming along side kids who have loving parents but may be lacking in access to resources.​ ​​There was one girl who really grabbed my heart because she spent much of the her time on the sidelines at camp. She ​was not naturally athletic and so the activities were often a struggle and none of the kids seemed to have confidence in her being on their team. When she did finally conquer one of her goals, the smile on her face was incredible. When we got back home, I spoke to her teacher about whether he thought she might be interested in attending swim team with my daughter. He said he would talk to her parents since there was a language barrier. They said yes and I told them I would handle all of the transportation. Although the two of them were more classmates than friends, my daughter loved the idea.

​I filled out the swim team application ​for the family and assumed we would pay for the program but I also thought I should find out if our “club sport” had any scholarship opportunities and was rewarded when the director said he would give her a full scholarship. All of this took some time and I realized why so many families do not take advantage of the scholarship programs… they don’t know they are available, they don’t have transportation to get their kids to the programs, they are embarrassed, there is a language barrier, or they are overwhelmed by the process and where to start. For any of us who have children in sports, music, theater or any other ongoing program, we learn how to navigate the paperwork and crazy schedules. ​It is not that hard to pick up the phone and go through the process one more time on behalf of another child.​

​A couple days before we were ready to attend her first practice, I had another girl approach me and ask if she could also go, so we filled out the paperwork and once again the director offered financial support. ​Now typically I drop my daughter and do errands during that time but I felt I should stay the first few times and make sure both girls were comfortable in this new environment. They both had told me they could swim but driving to the pool I found out they were mostly self-taught. This was immediately evident when they did their first lap which was more of a dog-paddle than a stroke. The coach was wonderful with them and they took it slow. The following weekend, my husband offered a hand by taking them to work on strokes and breathing for an hour. They also did not have “sport suits” so the next step was to take ​them to get swim suit​s​ so ​they could blend in with the other kids. ​We are now 3 weeks into the program. The girls are getting stronger and more confident. My hope is not for them to be Olympic medalists but for them to feel confident and equal and through the exposure to a sport or activity that they can do anything. They come home from school with us two days a week and we work on homework and talk about school and they have learned from our older daughters about playing sports in high school. I have found out that one of the girls loves art and my next goal is to find a great camp for her this summer to explore that passion. It has taken so little for us to offer a hand… a few phone calls, a bit of organizing, transportation and a few expenses.

We may not realize that simply by offering a hand, making a phone call or providing a ride that we can actually impact a child’s life. I know because of the way I was raised that I have a voice. We spend a lot on our children’s programs and club sports which makes it much easier for me to call the head of the program and ask how they can work with me to support a family. I have also learned how many fabulous businesses are happy to share costs if they too can help a child whether it be martial arts, gymnastics, music, or theater. All you have to do is ask.

There is no right or wrong way to give but don’t ignore the opportunities that are in front of you.
[AUTHOR: Rachael Steidl]
January 18, 2015

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