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Groups foster faith, one box at a time

A Hillsboro church has become part of a widening tapestry of people and organizations determined to help children in need.

In the tri-county area it started last spring, when Jillana Goble, a foster parent and member of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, asked an Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) child welfare caseworker about how children entering foster care spend the time between removal and placement.

She learned they often sit in DHS offices for hours without entertainment or comfort while caseworkers scramble to find them a suitable home.

In May 2012, a DHS office in Multnomah County received 25 “welcome boxes,” sturdy cardboard boxes filled with toys, snacks and hygiene products children receive during stressful times and which they can take to their new home.

“These boxes have been created to serve as something to bring even a little joy during times of fear and trauma,” said Emily Baylis, a member of Solid Rock Church in Tigard who has coordinated a similar program in Washington County since September.

Washington and Clark counties also have coordinators who work to maintain program consistency across the region so surplus boxes can be shared across borders.

“We have been able to create amazing relationships with DHS workers, when in previous years it seemed very hopeless for the kids in the office,” Baylis said.

During the last year more than 4,500 boxes have been packed in the tri-county area, 1,200 of those in Washington County — and Baylis keeps about 500 on hand. They are delivered to the nine DHS child welfare offices in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Clackamas and Oregon City; five offices in Portland; as well as a Foster Closet and teen shelter in Hillsboro.

“These boxes are constantly being sent out,” Baylis said. “I am shocked every time another 100 come in because another group has heard about what we are doing.”

Goble’s mission to help kids in transition goes beyond welcome boxes. Her organization, Embrace Oregon, has coordinated DHS office renovations, organized a kids’ camp and provided foster parents a monthly night out.

Baylis said there’s no conflict between church and state in the partnership, adding that standardized labels and non-religious notes connected to the boxes maintain a positive relationship with the state-run child welfare system.

“As a faith community we find it important, because in the Bible it says specifically to serve the fatherless,” Baylis said. “It’s something we need to do, and as a church, we can do.”

Rachel Stramel, women’s and youth pastor at Orenco Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro, agreed that cooperation is more logical than conflict when it comes to helping kids.

“Church and state have this in common,” said the Cornelius resident. “We have these vulnerable children to care for.”

After losing her brother, who was a Tigard resident, in a mountain climbing accident in 2012, Stramel realized how quickly circumstances can change for children. She said her niece and nephew are lucky to have a caring mother, but noted others aren’t so fortunate.

“Tragedy opened my eyes to that, but sometimes it’s neglect or abuse,” she said.

Shortly after that, Stramel heard about welcome boxes on the radio and attended a workshop at Imago Dei about starting a foster care ministry. She organized a packing day and plans to fill 100 welcome boxes this Sunday with items collected during the church’s services and Vacation Bible School last week.

She said at least one of Orenco’s VBS kids is a foster child and she knows there are foster parents in their faith community, too.

“It’s probably more common than we think,” she said.

Stramel said there are endless ways to reach out to such an underserved community, and many of them can be creative and easy.

“Nothing is too small to help this community,” she said.

The needs of children in foster care, their families and case managers are often invisible, Baylis said, adding that DHS workers were stunned at the recent outpouring of support from area churches.

“This was the first time they felt like they could ask for something and they would get it,” she said.




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