Recently, the McDevitts, an Angels’ Arms foster family, experienced Trout Lodge and the magic that takes place when you go there as a family. Despite going on the hottest weekend of the year, they were able to ride on a boat, swim in the lake, and ultimately just spend time as a family away from technology and their day-to-day routines.
When Mary McDevitt was asked what a trip to Trout Lodge meant to her she explained, “It refreshed and refilled us all! We were able to reconnect as a family through meals together, games played and shared experiences.”
While at Trout Lodge many Angels’ Arms children encounter “firsts” and for the McDevitt family, who take in many foster children with medical needs, they love watching each child experience the simple joys of just being a kid. “We so enjoyed watching our little guy B experience life outside of our home. He discovered ice cream and snow cones – what could be grander!”, said Mary.
The beauty of Trout Lodge is its appeal to all ages. The McDevitt’s have a wide age range of youth in their home and every child had a special time exploring, learning and growing while there. Mary mentioned “The baby loved being the center of attention – she gave all who talked to her a huge smile and warmed their hearts.”
A unique perspective that isn’t discussed much in foster care is the dynamic between a foster parents’ biological/adopted children and the foster children they care for. Mary touched on this subject and how important trips like this are to all the children living in their home, including their (as they refer to them) “forever kids”. Mary said, “Our forever kids sacrifice a lot by sharing their parents with very high needs little ones and this was just the thing we needed to say to them “we see you and we love you “.
During their time at Trout Lodge, Mary explained how one child had a breakthrough moment while on a boat ride. A young boy that came to their home six months ago, arrived receiving all of his nutrition through a g-tube and was also severely orally aversive. During this trip he came a long way, Jim, Mary’s husband, was feeding the young boy ice cream on the boat and he was anticipating and asking for more bites! A big step for this little guy! “Jim could not feed him fast enough, and there were tears, lots of tears, when the ice cream was gone.”, said Mary. A special moment they surely will not forget.
The McDevitt family is already looking forward to hopefully going back to Trout Lodge next summer! Until then, they have the amazing memories and photos from this special trip to look back on.
If you have attended an Angels’ Arms event, chances are, it was orchestrated by the Junior Board (JB). What makes this group one of the most outstanding Junior Boards in the state? Let’s find out!
In 2005, just five years after Angels’ Arms was founded, Board members Tom Smallwood and Jim Ruebsam decided to get young professionals involved in the mission by supporting the organization through fun events.
“That’s when the Bar Bounce came to be,” explained Founder and Executive Director Bess Wilfong. “This energetic group quickly increased in numbers and began to generate more funds than we could have imagined. The members made sure that they interacted with the families and knew why they were committing their time and resources to the organization.”
And that was just the beginning!
Fundraising, Fun and Fellowship
“Year after year the dedicated members of our Junior Board plan and execute three major events, including Trivia Night, Sip and Savor and Bar Bounce,” said Maria Rehkemper, Development and Marketing Manager. “They also host a summer BBQ for all of our foster families and a very special event in the winter called Skating with Santa for our foster youth.”
This year the Junior Board is planning a new event, Angels’ Arms first Pickleball Tournament on August 28. “They are always thinking of new ways to raise awareness, generate funds and connect with the community. The 20+ members of Junior Board meet monthly to discuss upcoming events, and brainstorm ways to promote Angels’ Arms mission in the community.
“And, they make a real difference. Since its inception the Junior Board has raised over one million dollars for Angels’ Arms foster families!”
Siblings Helping Siblings
Michaela Karandzieff joined the Junior Board about five years ago. Straight out of college, she learned about Angels’ Arms from a family friend. “I love being part of the JB, and I love what Angels’ Arms does in the foster community.”
Michaela is passionate about the mission of engaging the community and keeping sibling groups together, which may explain why her sister Emily also joined the JB. “When I graduated college and moved back to St. Louis, I wanted to get involved with a non-profit. I’m a teacher and I love kids, so Angels’ Arms is a perfect fit. Michaela really loved being on the Junior Board, I had been to several great events, so I asked to join.”
Michaela explained, “I actually didn’t even know Emily was joining. She told me she had talked to someone on the JB and signed up. And I’m really happy she did. She helped me co-chair Sip and Savor this spring, and it’s great to run things by each other.”
It’s for the Kids
What drew these sisters and the other JB members to Angels’ Arms? “Knowing that everything we do goes to support the kids and families is what I love the most, “ said Michaela. “We have a saying that we use a lot on the JB, ‘It’s for the kids.’ And it really is. Even though we enjoy our events, it is all about helping the kids.”
Emily explained that they also love working closely with the families. “Being on the JB we learn, not only about the kids, but the parents. It’s so great to know what’s going on. We learn about what is being done for the parents and how everyone comes together. From the time I joined, everyone was welcoming. It felt great to feel like I was part of it, even though I was brand new.”
“Getting to see the kids and parents in different situations is one of the most fun parts,” said Michaela. Emily echoed those sentiments, “I love interacting with the kids and seeing them interact with each other.”
New Members are Welcome
“We meet once a month and we always welcome getting new people involved,” said Michaela. “We need people who are interested in supporting Angels’ Arms and giving back, who will be active participants.”
Maria noted, “It’s a wonderful way to network, meet other young professionals in St. Louis, and of course, further Angels’ Arms mission by making a difference in the lives of foster youth right here in our community.”
For Emily, “It’s another way to socialize and interact with other young people, and, you are doing it all for a good cause. Now that we are getting out of everything being virtual, it’s another way to get together with others who care about what you care about.”
What Makes the Angels’ Arms JB Special?
Dedication, commitment, love for the foster families, compassion – that’s what this group is made of.
“At one point, we were asked to present to a class at UMSL,” stated Bess. “Sunny Simms (then Junior Board President) and myself shared how we became the most successful JB in the state. This group of young professionals has been and continues to be dynamic in many ways. They devote much of their time to ensure events run smoothly. Their passion for supporting our families remains ever-present; and they use their connections and spread the word about our mission.”
People are astounded by all they do. “We all work well together and everybody is involved,” said Michaela. “People are involved and engaged, and we give our time when we can. All of our Board members have lives, and other things going on. But we have a Junior Board that participates, they show up, and they want to help.”
One thing Emily learned after joining the JB is how much they can help support the families. “I knew we worked with kids in the foster care system. I didn’t realize how much we support them. It’s an amazing community – we have the warehouse, the houses, maintenance. The JB helps out so the parents can focus on being the best parents they can be to these kids.”
As Michaela said, “This is a board that shows up, works well together, is willing to participate, is passionate about Angels’ Arms, supporting foster families, and getting involved.”
And that’s exactly why they are known, not just at Angels’ Arms but throughout the region, as the best Junior Board in the state. ❤️
It’s time to celebrate May with Sip & Savor and Angels’ Arms. Looking back at 10 years of this event, participants will tell you, it’s been a delightful decade, and it’s history goes back even farther!
The food and beverage tasting extravaganza returns on Friday, May 13, 6-9 pm, at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, 1335 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Presented by Angels’ Arms Junior Board, with the generous sponsorship of Dierbergs Markets, Sip & Savor has grown into one of the tastiest parties of the year.
Since joining Angels’ Arms five years ago, Michaela Karandzieff, has been involved with Sip & Savor. This year she is chair of the event. “I got involved with Angels’ Arms because I love what they do in the foster care community. I didn’t know a single person on the Junior Board when I got involved, but I knew I wanted to be part of helping foster parents and kids. At my first meeting, they passed around a signup sheet, asking what committee I would like to serve on. I chose Sip & Savor, and I’ve been at it ever since.”
While virtual events have been held the past two years, Michaela is excited to get back to an in-person event this year.
Kudos to Dierbergs Markets
A long-standing partnership with Dierbergs Markets helps to make this event better each year. “Sip and Savor wouldn’t be the success it is without our partnership with Dierbergs,” explained Maria Rehkemper, Angels’ Arms Development and Marketing Manager. “Dierbergs secures over 200 different wines, beers and spirits to be sampled at the event.
“The great thing is, every beverage you taste at Sip & Savor you can purchase at your local Dierbergs right away. What a perfect way to try before you buy. And you will be one of the first people to sample new products! Thank you, Dierbergs! We are so grateful for Dierbergs partnership year after year.”
We’ve come a long way, baby!
Under the direction of the Junior Board, this spring event has grown from rather humble beginnings. Bess Wilfong, Founder and Executive Director, reflects, “It all started withCorks for a Cause, which was held outdoors across from the Galleria and in Maryland Plaza for several years. It then morphed to the Amazing Taste at Lukas Liquors in Ellisville, also held in the parking lot. As the event gained momentum, we approached Dierbergs as a partner. They hosted the first Sip & Savor event in their garage at their then new Des Peres store. We finally outgrew that space and moved to the Frontenac Hilton, continuing to partner with Dierbergs.”
Three Hours of fun, all for a great cause!
Even over the last 10 years, Sip & Savor has been through many transitions. As Maria noted, “We started outdoors in Dierbergs’ parking garage and transitioned inside to the Hilton Frontenac. It was even a huge success last year as a virtual event! This year is extra special since it’s our 10th Annual Sip & Savor.
“It’s just one of those events that everyone looks forward to. It features something for everyone. People turn it into a fun night out with friends, a great event to take clients to, and even a fun date night idea. It’s one of our most highly anticipated events year after year for that reason.
“Where else can you sample over 200 beverages and 15-plus food options from local restaurants, all while listening to live music, participating in an exciting raffle, taking a moment in the photo booth and so much more! This event has it all, basically it’s three full hours of fun and all for a great cause!”
Get your taste buds ready for a feast, including food vendors:
Canyon Café, Crown Candy, Elaine’s Subs, Federhofer Bakery, Grace Meat & Three , Hilton Frontenac – Provinces, Kirkwood Pop Co, Le Macaron, Mellow Mushroom, Pasta House, River City Casino and Hotel, andRonocco Coffee.
“We are counting down the days to May 13,” said Michaela. “Not to give anything away, but everyone coming gets a fun glass, and this year it’s either a hurricane or a stemless wine glass! Our guests will sample incredible food alongside a huge array of wines, spirits and beers! Music, unique raffle items and lots of fun await you!”
Join our family and help love reach more children!
COMING THIS MAY check out Angels’ Arms new monthly giving program and choose which impact you would like to make on a foster child’s life right here in our community! 💙
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and we are excited to provide YOU with a new way to spread joy to our foster families.
Join our family and become a monthly donor!
✨ LINK TO JOIN OUR FAMILY COMING SOON!!! ✨
“Your donation is greatly appreciated and goes a long way in helping to support the kiddos in our homes. Your donations no matter the amount directly impacts a child’s life in a positive way.”– Lawreene, Angels’ Arms foster parent
Here at Angels’ Arms we rely on our community of supporters to not only aid in generating funds for our foster families but helping at our 13 foster homes and so much more!
If you’ve ever considered donating your time here at Angels’ Arms — we have a perfect way for you to do just that!
Volunteer Opportunities –
VOLUNTEER AT A FOSTER HOME: – Yard work – Landscaping – Painting – Decorating – Cleaning – Maintenance projects – Staining decks – …and more!
HOST A COLLECTION: – Laundry detergent – Personal care items (full size bottles please) – Paper products (toilet paper, paper towels ,etc.) – Snacks and other non-perishable foods
WORK IN MARION’s ANGEL DEPOT: – Stocking shelves – Organizing – Cleaning up – Helping foster families shop – …and more!
BIRTHDAY PAL PROGRAM: Help celebrate a foster child’s special day by being their “Birthday Pal”! Learn more, HERE!
MEAL DROP-OFF PROGRAM: Give a foster parent(s) a night off from cooking and provide a meal for a foster family! Learn more, HERE!
AMAZON WISH LIST: Purchase most needed items for our foster families on our Amazon Wish List. Check out the list, HERE!
MENTOR/TUTOR A FOSTER CHILD: We have different options for this unique opportunity. To learn more, please contact Angels’ Arms Outreach Coordinator, Ashley Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOIN OUR FAMILY: Become a Monthly Donor by joining Our Family Monthly Giving Program! A wonderful opportunity to be a consistent part of our foster families lives and make a direct impact on each foster child in our homes! To join Our Family, click HERE!
Moving from a two-car garage to a warehouse filled with everyday essentials has allowed Angels’ Arms to assist foster families with on-going needs.
Marion’s Angel Depot opened in December 2020. This 4,000 square foot warehouse serves as a donation and distribution center for almost everything Angels’ Arms families need to keep their households running smoothly.
Part of Angels’ Arms mission is to engage the community in supporting foster families. As Founder and Executive Director Bess Wilfong noted, “From the time we founded Angels’ Arms, people in the community have been stepping up with unbelievable support. A lot of that support comes in through donated items. With the help of the community, we can ensure that the foster parents have what they need to care for the children who enter their homes.”
“Our distribution center was originally the garage at our first home, which is now the Angels’ Arms office,” explained Maria Rehkember, Development and Marketing Manager. “It was the hub for families to get essential supplies. But it also held all our maintenance tools, fall event decor, office supplies, basket making supplies, and more. We were creative, using every square inch from top to bottom, but the parents couldn’t even see everything that we had for them. The warehouse is a wonderful improvement.”
Ashley Cook is the Outreach Coordinator who runs and oversees Marion’s Angel Depot. She sees first hand the benefits the families derive from having a warehouse of supplies. “This is the primary distribution area for our families. They usually come in twice a month for basic necessities such as toiletries, cereal, non-perishable items, TP, laundry detergent, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap. These are a constant need for our foster parents. Although we don’t provide for all their needs, these donations greatly assist the parents.”
Where does it all come from? Ashley explained, “Schools and companies host drives, individuals collect items, many people order from our Amazon wish list. The parents are like kids in a candy store. It’s amazing to them that people give them so much help. They actually have options, and it’s free. They never know what they will find just shopping the aisles in the Depot. And it has been a huge help throughout the pandemic. Our community is just so generous.”
In 2021, schools, churches, business and other organizations hosted 43 drives and collections. Angels’ Arms received: 1,902 boxes of cereal, 1,493 canned goods, 3,000+ paper goods items, 8,400 diapers, and more. Our parents utilized the warehouse over 100 times. These donations fill a critical need for our families.
How did the warehouse come about?
The staff and the families saw the need for a warehouse years ago, but it took a generous donation from Marion Bradford to make it a reality. Marion became involved with Angles’ Arms when she went to a dinner auction in 2002. She has been volunteering since that time.
Marion has always been generous with her time and donations. “I decided I wanted to give to Angels’ Arms, but not only after I died. Why should I wait until I was gone? I wanted to put my dreams into action so I could actually see the outcomes, and the joy it could bring.”
Her generous donation became the foundation for making the warehouse a reality. Seeing the warehouse fully stocked, Marion realized “how vital it is to have a place for our foster families to get all the supplies they need in one central location. It’s a friendly and warm atmosphere, and our parents can easily see and feel the love and care the community put into those donations.”
As far as the warehouse being named Marion’s Angel Depot, “I don’t think my smile could be any bigger or my heart feel any fuller. It is such an honor.”
Filling Needs at the Holidays and Throughout the Year
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Depot saw a lot of traffic. Ashley noted, “People are so incredibly generous, but especially so during the holidays.” Shelves and tables were filled with boxes and wrapped packages as part of the Adopt-a-Family program. “It was a blessing to have a place to store and organize all the gifts and supplies coming in.”
The foster parents were equally thrilled. “This is a big help and benefit to my family,” said Brittany Jewett, a single mom with five foster children. It is wonderful to go in a couple times a month and pick up the things we really need.” For Brittany and family, that includes Pull Ups and wipes for the young ones, and snacks for school for the older children.
“It’s also more accessible,” added Brittany, who teaches full-time. “Ashley has an order form, so I can give her the order in advance. She pulls out what I need and has it ready when I stop by after work. It’s wonderful to have the boxes ready to go. I can swoop them up into my car and I don’t even have to get the kids out.
“Ashley always asks the parents if there’s anything we don’t have that we need, and she will try to get that for the next round of donations. It’s amazing that we can stop by and pick up extra items, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, face masks – even paper plates and TP. It’s great to have this on hand when I get new foster kids. Lots of times they come to my home with almost nothing.”
Kim Singletonis part of the extended Angels’ Arms family. She doesn’t live in one of our homes, but benefits from the support the Angels’ Arms community provides.
Kim describes her household as “pretty full! I have two children of my own and usually have three or four foster children, also. The Depot helps us by providing almost anything we need – extra food, bedding, necessities, toiletries, everything. I broke down and cried at Christmas, there was a shelf of gifts, just for us, already wrapped for the kids. Angels’ Arms is a great organization. When I say it is a blessing that they are there, it is truly, truly a blessing.”
Susan Benwell, Angels’ Arms 2019 Volunteer of the Year, assisted families when supplies were stored in the garage. “It was such a small space, trying to house hardware, supplies for the families, event supplies, and a big conference table that was used as an intake table and a work table. The Depot lets us separate and sort things better. It has made a huge impact on our families.”
The holidays were a busy time. Susan stated, “Christmas was a wonderful blur. It is so beautiful to see so many people stepping forward, even kids, to help our foster kids. The biggest thing I have seen volunteering here is how so many people come together and contribute to the families. Sometimes it’s a little bit, sometimes a lot. A whole bunch of people, coming together to make a difference for our families.”
In all, 12 families living in Angels’ Arms homes as well as 10 extended foster families benefit from the tremendous generosity of the community. These 22 dedicated foster families are extremely grateful for the assistance they receive.
As Marion stated, “ It is a great feeling to work with so many wonderful people, from the donors to the staff to the parents. Everyone is making a difference in the lives of each child Angels’ Arms touches.”
Are you interested in helping stock the shelves at Marion’s Angel Depot?
Individuals and groups are more than welcome to host a collection for Angels’ Arms. Although the Depot is well stocked around the holidays, the supplies get lower in the spring and summer.
Contact Ashley at email@example.com or 314-842-8400, to host a collection or if you need more information.
The resources and support provided by the community helps raise the standard of care for foster children. Every donation touches the life – and the heart – of a child.
A sit down chat with Angels’ Arms Board Member and Fall Event Chair, Tom Hartnagel
A yearly auction has been an important part of Angels’ Arms history since the organization was founded 21 years ago. The momentum that turned that event from a simple auction into a magnificent gala came from one of Angels’ Arms Founding Fathers, Tom Hartnagel, who has chaired the auction for each of those 21 years. Let’s take a look back and discover how the auction grew and evolved into the “must attend” event of the season!
Learning about foster care
Tom’s wife Dana taught school with Bess Wilfong (founder and Executive Director of Angels’ Arms). After having dinner with Bess and several other couples “we learned more about foster care, and Bess’ vision to create an organization to assist foster parents and keep sibling groups together. That’s when we began to formulate a plan to make this vision a reality. I’m proud that Dana and I were founding board members. Dedication to the cause, for me and so many people, started as a commitment to help Bess achieve her vision. Now it’s blossomed into a passion for me, and so many other Board members, volunteers and community supporters.”
When he agreed to chair the first auction, Tom may not have known that this was a “permanent” assignment. This is the 21st Stepping Out for the Angels’ event, and Tom is proud to have served as chairman for all of these years.
“I have always enjoyed planning parties and social events—whether it was family gatherings, or as far back as social chairman for my fraternity in the early ’90s. Couple that with doing something that can generate dollars for a good cause, and it’s a win-win. It’s been a way to build strong friendships with many volunteers and donors.”
It started with a bike
Tom was actually a newcomer to the auction scene. “I had never planned an auction before, in fact, the first event was actually a fashion show, with the help of my wife, and then fellow board member, Colleen Stein. We hosted this at Greenbriar Country Club, with 85 guests in attendance. It was a nice dinner, followed by a fashion show. Someone contributed a bicycle, and at the close of the evening, I stood up to auction it off.” He raised $600 for that mountain bike—and the rest is history.
“The next year we held a fashion show, but we had a room where we hosted cocktails with about 25 baskets. The event has blossomed quite a bit since then, as we now have almost 200 items in our silent auction, and a substantial selection of live auction items.”
The auction goal: creating awareness
“The goal of the first auction was simply to create mindshare—share our vision and tell a story. We worked with local TV personality Katie Jamboretz, who acted as emcee. Later, Katie created a compelling video that was used to show potential donors what Angels’ Arms was all about.”
Unique themes, unique venues
Each year brings a new theme or concept—and with that comes new creative ideas to execute. Whether it was a massive blow-up planet earth at America’s Center, eye-catching jelly fish at Kemp Auto Museum, or French, Asian, or Italian flare and cuisine—each gala presented something fun and new. “We have hosted the event at five different venues, each with special experiences and fun times. The funniest, most poignant moments typically happen on the stage—whether it’s an exchange with Katie Jamboretz, Al Hrabosky, Dan McLaughlin, Kelly Jackson, or Heidi Glaus. There is bound to be a funny exchange with a foster child selling his or her artwork, or the auctioneer (Tom)—losing track of the live auction current bid.”
While many aspects of the gala remain the same, the importance and growth of sponsors have really propelled the gala forward. “Our loyal sponsors who have supported us for years, as well as new sponsors who are just learning about Angels’ Arms – these are the secret sauce to any event. You can have the most delicious dinner, an abundance of cocktails, and the perfect venue, but it’s the sponsorships and fund-a-need donations that truly fuel the engine and provide the support needed to keep our homes and families thriving.”
Tom’s goal now is to maintain a fun-filled, innovative event, that ultimately generates tremendous revenue for the Angels’ Arms mission. “What might have been a successful traditional dinner auction for two decades, might not be the perfect equation for the future. We don’t want things to be stale, so we evaluate after the event takes place.” Because of Covid, “the virtual event of 2020 actually created a unique way to view fundraising. Time will tell what the future holds for our donors and supporters.”
A Special Recipe – love for the mission
“We have an amazing group of supporters who truly understand the mission of our organization. Many attendees come back year after year, evangelizing the unique story of Angels’ Arms. That keeps this event alive and thriving. We have a special recipe for delivering a fun-filled event, along with a room full of individuals who care greatly for their community. In some way, everyone has a connection to the board and other volunteers – and most importantly, they have caring hearts to support the foster parents and the children in their care.”
And most importantly for Stepping Out for the Angels, we have Tom Hartnagel – master auctioneer and chair of our Gala, whose heart if all about the kids!
Lawreene’s advice for someone considering being a foster parent sounds simple: Be prepared for the unexpected. Plan, but be ready to pivot.“It is definitely going to test your patience, but it is going to be absolutely rewarding. The kids have been through so much. There are so many different levels of their trauma that you are going to deal with.
“It’s totally different from raising your own kids. I tell people all the time, I could not have done this while I was raising my sons. God knew that, and that’s why he didn’t put it on my heart at that time. It requires so much of you emotionally, physically – you are pulled in a lot of directions. But if you are called to do it, God is going to give you the grace to do it.
“People might look and think, ‘Gosh, that’s easy,’ but they don’t see all the behind-the-scenes. You deal with everything you had with your biological kids, but with the addition of all the underlying trauma. A lot of that is peeled back in layers. All kids are complicated. You throw in the other things they have gone through, things they have not even shared with their caseworkers. Those things slowly come out the more they are comfortable with you, the more they feel like, ‘I belong, I’m part of a family, I feel safe.’ Then whole layers start coming off and they start sharing. Then you can really help them.”
Keep them together
Angels’ Arms’ goal of keeping sibling groups together is important to Lawreene. “I grew up in a large family with six kids. When I think about being torn away from them, I don’t know how I would be able to navigate and handle that. I would have been looking for my siblings. That’s why I like keeping sibling groups together. I have six boys, ages 6, 7, 11, 11, 12, 14, and that includes two sibling groups.”
One of the 11-year-olds has been with Lawreene since he entered foster care 3 years ago. His brother came about a year and a half ago because he was bouncing from house to house. “We got him stabilized and he was so happy to be with his brother. They really connect. Once he got here he could breathe a sigh of relief – there’s something familiar for me now.”
Helping the parents
In the world of fostering, Angels’ Arms has made a tremendous, positive impact on Lawreene and her foster families. But what would she change if she could change foster care to make it better for the youth?
Lawreene believes providing resources for the biological parents of the children on a state level may be the best change that could be made. “Some funds should be allocated to the parents to try to help them get their kids back home, to reunify them. That would be a big help. Sometimes they are just stuck in a cycle. They are struggling, working minimum wage jobs. They are told they have to take a parenting class. But they need their job, and they can’t take this day off work to go to this parenting class. But they can’t get the kids back home without the class. But if they lose their job they still can’t get their kids back home.
“Sometimes it’s something that simple that prevents the kids from going back home. Deep down, what the kids want is to be with their parents, or whatever family looks like for them. And there are times when this would be best for the kids and for their mental health. The parents feel like the whole system is against them. But our goal is to reunify families when it’s possible and healthy for the kids. Extra resources could make a big difference.”
I See You, I hear you
Lawreene is well aware that every child is unique, but she knows they all have one thing in common. “They all need to be seen. They all just want to be seen and heard. No matter what their trauma, if you just let them know, ‘I see you, I hear you, I’ve got you.’ Sometimes when they start opening up and talking to you, they are not looking for you to solve anything for them, they just want to know that you hear them. Finally, somebody sees me and hears me. You might not have a solution for me right now, but you hear me, you see me. That’s what’s common in all of them. I think that’s how I’ve been able to connect with all of them. I just let them know, I see you, I hear you.”
One thing Lawreene has learned is that her foster kids won’t be with her forever. “My very first placement came to us in 2013, a sibling group that was with us four years. It was the hardest thing in the world when they moved back home. It was like a piece of me left with them. I learned from them.”
And just as Lawreene learned from her first foster kids, she uses that knowledge to positively impact every child she touches. She’s a mom who knows that goodbye is sometimes the best answer, but she will ALWAYS see, hear and be there for her foster children.
When you meet an Angels’ Arms foster parent, you begin to understand that these are very special people. People who love and care for children, and are willing to sacrifice more than you can imagine to give them the life they deserve.
One of our newer parents joined Angels’ Arms in the middle of the covid pandemic. After a year as an Angels’ Arms foster parent, we checked in with Lawreene Hall to learn more about her and what this past year has been like.
Room in our home, room in our hearts
Although Lawreene and her husband Will Hall joined Angels’ Arms as a foster parents in July 2021, they began fostering in 2013. Lawreene watched her own mother foster children for 18 years. It made a big impact on her, and she felt that “God placed it on my heart to become a foster mom. We had room in our home and our hearts.”
She watched former foster children return to her mother and say, “I don’t know where I would be if you didn’t course correct me. In the midst of fostering, they may not have understood or appreciated what was going on, but it made a difference that changed their lives.”
Lawreene’s three biological sons and Will’s son and daughter were grown and had homes of their own, which left them with “room in their home.” Now they care for six foster children, and they also enjoy nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with another grandchild on the way. But even with their own children out of the house, the Hall’s realized that their 3-bedroom home and small backyard were not ideal for raising a big group of boys.
Much needed support
With Angels’ Arms, everything changed. Lawreene explained that at first, “the biggest change was our location, a totally different school district which we love. And more space. We now have four bedrooms, and a huge back yard. The boys having more outdoor space was just fantastic.”
But for Lawreene and her family, it’s the extras that come with being an Angels’ Arms home that makes a huge difference. “We are just able to do so much more for the boys. They definitely see and feel the difference. Something as simple as an extra bowl of cereal is huge. When you raise boys, they are always hungry. The word of the summer is ‘snack,’ and I constantly hear, ‘When is it time to eat again?’ The extra groceries and the gift cards – those are just a godsend.
“And there are so many other things, things I never thought about. We were going on a weekend trip, and Angels’ Arms supplied us with sunscreen, beach towels, life jackets, water shoes, everything the boys needed to have a special get-away. Not having to shop at a thrift store or look for hand-me-downs, that makes them feel good, too. It really ups their self-esteem. They can really blend in at school or wherever they go. Used clothes are great, but it feels good to get them brand new things sometimes, just like all the other kids they are with.”
Another real plus for Lawreene is the other Angels’ Arms parents. “I have a support system with Angels’ Arms, this core group of parents I can talk to. That extra support really helps.”
Navigating a year in covid
Lawreene didn’t know exactly what the future would hold when she came to Angels’ Arms last July in the middle of the pandemic. When the world shut down, Lawreene was still caring for six children. The resources that Angels’ Arms provided, from extra laptops and a printer to help with school work, were critical to helping the family get through the school year. “My hats go off to teachers. I couldn’t do it — but I had to do it for 2020. Covid was tough emotionally. You had the worry of keeping everyone healthy. I needed to stay healthy for them because they had underlying fears – ‘Miss Lawreene what will happen to us if you or Mr. Will get covid?’ That was extra stress for them.”
Homeschooling was difficult because the children are all at different levels. “They may be the same age, but they are not on the same playing field school wise. Imagine you are in kindergarten, and your first experience with school is on a zoom – that stinks. They needed the socialization with their peers. That was the roughest part of covid for us, and everyone was relieved when they got to go back to the classroom, even a few days a week.”
On the positive side, “2020 was a slow-down moment. We are always so go, go, go. We learned that things that we thought mattered, really didn’t matter. Things that we thought we couldn’t survive without were not as important as we thought. The health and safety of those around us was really the most important thing. I think God just told us to slow down. Breathe. Look up. I felt like the birds were chirping more. I wondered if they had always been there chirping in the morning. And it seemed like the grass was greener, the sun was brighter. I don’t know if it really was, or if we just slowed down and were able to see it and hear it for the first time.”