Rachel's Transformation

 
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This week is Direct Support Professionals (DSP) Week (Sept. 10-17).  At LSG, we are grateful for our many host home providers who open their homes and care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  One of our caring and compassionate DSPs is Mary Evans.

Mary welcomed Rachel Moore, a 21-year-old woman with intellectual disabilities, in her home almost a year ago.   Rachel’s mom had passed away several years ago, and she was living with her dad.  While her dad loved Rachel deeply, he found himself unable to meet her care needs and provide the supervision needed for Rachel’s safety and well-being. 

After she moved in the Mary, Rachel’s health and hygiene has improved dramatically.  Mary has her eating more nutritious foods and well balanced meals, and now Rachel at a more healthy weight.  Mary dedicates time to teaching Rachel proper hygiene and self care, boosting Rachel’s independence and self-esteem.

LSG Supervisor/Recruiter Connie Parrish has noticed a significant change in Rachel since she’s been in Mary’s care.

“Mary has spent time with Rachel introducing her to things that she has not been exposed to.  She’s taken her to get her nails done, her hair cut in a more flattering way and purchasing age appropriate clothing for Rachel. Rachel lights up whenever she does any of those activities and enjoys showing off what they have done," says Parrish.

While living with her dad, Rachel spent a lot of time alone and unsupervised.  Her dad’s long hours at work and his home in the country far from neighbors and community resources left Rachel with little socialization.

“Now Rachel has become much more outgoing.  She used to be very quiet, but now she’s more talkative and loves going to her day center,” says Mary.  “She’s really doing great.  She’s flourishing.”

 

The Match Makes All The Difference

 

Moving into the home of a caring support companion is a life-changing experience for many people we serve in our host home program.  The key to the program's success is the careful consideration devoted into pairing individuals with intellectual disabilities with the ideal support companion for them. Our goal is a perfect match, and occasionally it takes a few tries to find the best possible fit.  

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Geraldine is a 55-year-old woman in our host home program with behaviors that can be difficult to manage.  Geraldine has lashed out at her providers, often throwing objects and cursing, or she becoming angry and leaving the home without notice – endangering herself.  For months, Geraldine was moved from home to home because it was difficult to find a home that could meet her needs and a support companion who could manage her erratic behavior.  In February 2017, Geraldine met Beverly Dumas, one of LSG’s host home providers, when she stayed overnight in her home for respite care.  It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but Geraldine became so attached to Beverly that she did not want to go home.  Beverly was willing to take Geraldine in her home full-time, so LSG worked quickly to get the paperwork completed. 

Since Geraldine moved in with Beverly and Beverly’s mom in March, her behavior has improved remarkably.

 
 

“Geraldine’s behaviors have been well controlled. In the past she would call the police, run away from the home, become aggressive with her providers, but now she is a totally different person,” says Denise Parker, LSG Supervisor and Recruiter.

Geraldine enjoys spending time with Beverly, going shopping and going out to eat.  The Dumas family has a miniature poodle that Geraldine loves to cuddle and play with and Beverly recently bought Geraldine her own beta fish to take care of.

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“She’s a sweetheart.  She just needed attention and love,” says Beverly.   “She needed someone to talk with her and explain things.  I don’t think anyone had ever had the chance to do that.   I’ll let her know that there are certain things you just don’t do, or you have to wait until the right time to do them.”

In addition, Geraldine’s health has also improved since moving in with Beverly.  Beverly makes Geraldine’s medical and dental care a priority.  When Beverly came to the Dumas home, she had many dental issues that needed addressing, so Beverly searched out a dentist that would accept Medicaid.  Soon Geraldine will have oral surgery to correct the issues with her teeth that are causing her discomfort and pain. 

Recently, Geraldine started attending a day program for the first time.  Dumas says, “We started her out going one or two days a week and she loved it.  She loves going to school and being in school every day now.”

Are you interested in learning more about becoming a host home provider or supporting our Home and Community Based Service programs?  Call LSG at 404-875-0201 for information.

 

LSG Families Gear Up For Back to School

 

It's August, and that means students across Georgia are heading back to school.

For many children, the beginning of school can cause both excitement and anxiety as they face new teachers, new peers and often new schools.  After a summer of relaxing and fun, it can often be a difficult transition back to the world of text books, papers and tests.

The start of school can bring additional stresses to the children LSG serves, who are already experiencing major disruptions and challenging circumstances in their lives.

“We have several children who are starting new school this year in our care in Albany,” says Lauren Welch, Foster Care Recruiter, LSG Albany.  “I spoke with one of our children in foster care last week, and she said she’s very excited about starting eighth grade, but very worried about her new school.”

When children are placed in foster homes in their own communities, they are able to remain at their same school and with teachers that know them.  Being at the same school provides stability that is often lacking on other areas of their lives. 

“Sometimes their teacher is the only safe place they know in this difficult and uncertain time,” says Welch.

However, with not enough foster homes in each county, often children are moved out of their community, and thus many children in foster care must start at a new school. 

Whether a child is moving schools or staying at the same school, LSG foster parents help ease the transition for children in their care and provide security and love at home.

For our refugee families, the start of school brings new challenges as parents learn to navigate a new system and work to prepare their children for a new environment.  Refugee children may be behind their peers academically and still developing their English skills.  In addition, most are dealing with the emotional stress of  war and violence they were exposed to in their home countries and the difficulties experienced at the refugee camps.

Case workers and other staff in our Atlanta and Savannah office spend the weeks leading up to school preparing families and children for the first day.  LSG assist parents with registration and scheduling any necessary testing.

“This week has been very special,” says Crispin Wilondja, Refugee Services Case Manager, LSG.   “LSG’s case managers and interns took the students to their local schools.  Parents and students were very happy to meet with the school staff for the first time.  They discovered their classes and their bus route.  So, they were ready to start school this week.”

According to LSG’s Karen Kouzmanoff, Refugee Services Case Manager in our Savannah office, the guidance and assistance that LSG provides help alleviate refugee parents’ anxiety for their children, particularly for students who are moving to a new school or who are attending an American school for the first time.

FOR THE KID IN ALL OF US, A LOCAL NONPROFIT, PROVIDED LSG WITH MORE THAN 200 BACKPACKS FILLED WITH SUPPLIES FOR CHILDREN WE SERVE.

FOR THE KID IN ALL OF US, A LOCAL NONPROFIT, PROVIDED LSG WITH MORE THAN 200 BACKPACKS FILLED WITH SUPPLIES FOR CHILDREN WE SERVE.

For many of LSG’s families, providing the necessary school supplies can be another area of stress. With the help from church congregations and other community groups, LSG is able provide backpacks and needed supplies for children in foster care, in our family intervention services program and our refugee families, ensuring that students have what they need for a successful school year.

This year we were fortunate to receive donations from many congregations in Georgia and community groups as well.  LSG thanks all of our supporters who donated supplies for our families.  We wish each and every child a wonderful and successful school year.

 

Jeffery Thrives in the Thornton Home

 

Jeffery Garland is a kind, loving man in his forties with a mild intellectual disability.  With a great sense of humor, Jeffery loves to laugh and joke around.  For many years, Jeffery was well cared for at home by his parents.  When his mother passed away several years ago,  his dad was unable to take care of himself and Jeffery,  so the pair moved into a nursing home together.  While he loved living with his dad, Jeffery began to struggle at the nursing home.  He had trouble controlling his anger and would have outbursts, refusing to take his medication.  It became clear that the nursing home was not working for Jeffery, so his family sought out a better solution with LSG’s Home and Community-Based Services program. 

 
Jeffery with Kari, another program participant in the Thorntons' home.

Jeffery with Kari, another program participant in the Thorntons' home.

Jeffery was matched with Kathy and Brad Thornton, who were new to the program and seemed to be a perfect fit for him.  When Jeffery moved in with the Thorntons, they noticed that his medication left him in a dreamlike state and began to understand his resistance to taking his medication at the nursing home. In a home environment with more personal one-on-one care, the Thorntons were able to work with his physicians to significantly reduce his dosage.  The change in Jeffery was remarkable.

“Jeffery tells everyone he’s very happy with his life now,” says Tracy Rhudy, Supervisor/Recruiter, LSG.

 In LSG’s host home program, Jeffery is thriving in many ways.  He recently started a job and was thrilled to receive his very first pay check.  He loves to help out around the house – mowing the yard, helping in the garden and taking care of Lou, the family dog that Jeffery has become very attached to.

 
Jeffery with his dad Freddie

Jeffery with his dad Freddie

Jeffery remains very close with his dad, and the Thorntons take him to visit his dad once a month, and Jeffery and his dad talk on the phone almost every day.  Now that Jeffery is in a home setting, he’s able to partake in activities in his community.  He loves going to church and is an active participant with his church family.  In his free time, he likes listening to gospel and country music.  The Thorntons recently took Jeffery on his first airplane trip when the family visited California.

“Now Jeffery is much more open to trying different things, and he’s very proud of his accomplishments,” says Kathy.  “He’s a part of our family. We love him like one of our own.   We love that we are able to see how he has grown over the last few years into a more independent person.  We are fortunate to be able to help him meet his goals and overcome barriers he may face."

 

Kourtney Finds Her Forever Home!

 

Congratulations to the Morast family on their recent adoption!

Angelina and her husband first welcomed baby Kourtney into their home when she was just two months old.  On July 12, Kourtney, almost two years old, became an official member of the family!  She’s now the youngest in a large family, consisting of the couple’s five grown children and seven grandchildren.

When Angelina and her husband’s youngest child left home several years ago, the couple returned to fostering again after a 20-year hiatus.  They had been foster parents for many years, and according to Angelica, fostering has always been important to her.  Having a somewhat difficult family life as a child, she wanted to provide love and stability for children who were going through a difficult time.  After completing their paperwork and training necessary, they opened their home again and had ten placements in few years.  Those children were either reunified with their parents, placed with relatives or adopted.

When Kourtney was placed with the Morasts, Angelica she said she felt a strong connection with her. When adopting her became a real possibility, Angelica and her husband didn’t hesitate.  At first, her husband was unsure about fostering an infant, but once Kourtney was in their home, he quickly fell in love.  While fostering and going through the adoption process wasn’t always easy for the Morasts, the end result has been well worth the challenges.

Are you interested in opening your home to a child – either by fostering or adopting?  Click here to learn more about what is involved and how to get started.

 

Medicaid Critical to LSG's Services for Children, Adults and Seniors with Disabilities

 

The Medicaid program is critically important to LSG and those we serve. The host home services we provide for people with disabilities are paid for by Medicaid. This valuable program allows children, seniors and adults with intellectual disabilities to live in a home setting with a caring companion, instead of a institution, hospital or group home. We are deeply concerned about legislative proposals that would cut and cap federal Medicaid spending.

Currently, the Senate is considering legislation that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new bill includes a proposal to change the structure and function of Medicaid. If this becomes a reality, Medicaid would no longer be a guaranteed benefit available to seniors, children and people with disabilities that qualify. Instead, it would be a fixed amount of dollars (a per capita cap) that would be used to pay for some services, for some of the people who are eligible for the program.

Two-thirds of seniors in nursing homes, 39 percent of American children and over ten million people with disabilities rely on the Medicaid program. That’s why it's important to understand how these changes could impact the most vulnerable in our country.

Educate yourself about the proposed changes by visit our partner Lutheran Services in America's website: lutheranservices.org.  We encourage you to contact your Senators (Senator Isakson and Senator Perdue in Georgia) to let them know your concerns about Medicaid cuts and caps.

You can use LSA’s Action Alert tool to send emails directly to your Senators. Click here to email now!  

 

World Refugee Day: Join with LSG as we 'Welcome the Stranger'

 
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By Emily Laney, Director of Refugee Services, LSG

Today is World Refugee Day. It is a time for us to remember and celebrate our refugee neighbors. Each year I write about this day, and each year I think about how important it is that we continue our country’s tradition of welcome. This year is, of course, no exception. We have entered an unprecedented season in the work of welcoming refugees. The number of displaced people around the world has soared to over 65 million people, and that number is growing by the day. The political climate has resulted in increased support for our programs from individuals and community groups, but also has also brought on much uncertainty and scrutiny.

I have been reflecting on what I can say about refugees on this important day. I could tell you about the robust security screening process, the incredible outcomes on our clients’ self sufficiency, or how refugees are a net gain on our economy. Those things are all important, but on a day like today I’m reminded more of the incredible stories I’m blessed to hear each day – stories of refugees who have found success in their new homes.

I think about baby Moses or young Mayi who were unable to have their medical or developmental needs met until they arrived here in Georgia. Now they are thriving and receiving the care they need. I think about Zakaria or Monica, who faced lengthy journeys searching for safety and are now United States Citizens. I think about our Syrian clients, who tell us that their greatest hope is for their children to go to school. I look at our staff who are former refugees themselves and am in awe of how they put in long hours each day to ensure that other families receive the same opportunities to thrive. I think about our single moms who care for their babies while working full-time in a new place where they know very few people. I have many more stories I could share and many more refugees I could mention by name who are doing amazing things in their new communities.

Refugees are the heroes of their own story, we at LSG are just participants. We are privileged to help these families in those first few months as they start their new lives here, and we celebrate as they find success. And we want more and more Georgians to join us in meeting and befriending Georgia’s newest residents.

Now more than ever it is our collective responsibility to “welcome the stranger.” The need has never been greater and, in some ways, the obstacles have never been larger. But the opportunity is equally impactful during this time. Today is a great day for you to take the first step of engaging with our refugee neighbors. Our refugee clients are grateful to make new friends and receive assistance in navigating their new home, but it is equally as powerful and meaningful to each of us in refugee resettlement as we work to create communities and a country that welcome refugees.

If you’d like to join us as we welcome refugees to Georgia, please contact us for volunteer inquires, or donate online

 

LSG Foster Care Recruiter: Lauren Welch

 
 

When LSG’s Foster Care Recruiter Lauren Welch meets with potential foster parents, she knows first-hand the excitement and anxiety they’re experiencing as they go through the process of deciding if fostering is right for them.  She understands the frustration and impatience that prospective foster parents feel as they navigate through the approval process and multiple training sessions.  As a foster parent herself, she knows the doubts, fears, and struggles that foster parents deal with daily when they welcome children into their homes.

Lauren has also witnessed the dramatic transformation that occurs in many children when they are placed in a safe, loving foster home. Seeing that transformation in her own son, who she adopted through foster care, was the catalyst that led Lauren to pursue a career in foster care.

“Children need trust, love, and support, which are all the things good foster parents can give.  All it takes is one regular, loving adult,” says Lauren.

When Lauren was in her early twenties, she was diagnosed with a medical condition, and her doctors advised her against having biological children.  She and her husband began to look into overseas adoptions, but with Lauren’s medical issues, they were repeatedly denied.  Lauren and her husband began to accept that children may not be in the cards for them.   Then one day at church, she heard a fellow member talking about adopting through foster care. 

The Welches began to research foster care and were surprised to learn that Lauren’s health issues wouldn’t disqualify them from fostering. It took about a year for Lauren and her husband to get approved to open their home.  “We opened on a Sunday and got the call for a high-energy two-year-old on Tuesday morning,” says Lauren.  “That’s how desperately they needed a home for a child.”

The two-year-old little boy, who was diagnosed with behavior disorders and ADHD, had already been through several different foster homes. 

“He needed structure, and the Department of Family and Children Services suggested a young family with no other children so he could see what it was like,” says Lauren. “He needed individual attention.  He had some challenges and bad behaviors, but he was not a bad kid.”

The Welches were able to provide him with the love, attention, and structure he needed.  Fifteen months later, when his biological parents terminated their parental rights, Lauren and her husband adopted him.

After moving to Albany in 2015, Lauren began to feel that God had a different plan for her life career wise.  She woke up one day and told her husband that she wanted to work in foster care.

She began checking out online job sites.  “I looked online and there was the job opening in foster care with Lutheran Services of Georgia in Albany.” 

When she got the job offer, Lauren was excited to embark on a new career and thankful that God had set his plan for her in motion, allowing her to help out more children in foster care than possible by solely fostering in her home.   In addition to working in the foster care field, Lauren continues to foster with her husband. In addition to their son, they currently have two children temporarily in their care.

As a foster care recruiter, Lauren’s job is to find potential foster parents and offer them support as they work to create a warm, stable home environment for the children that come into their home. 

“Now when I look at my son, I think ‘man, did I think you were going to be difficult, but you are such an incredible and caring child.’  That’s my reminder for all of these children.  They all need what my son needed – love, time, and support,” says Welch.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, visit lsga.org/foster-care to learn more.

 

 

 

LSG's Specialized Foster Care Program: Helping Children, Supporting Foster Parents

 

Lutheran Services of Georgia’s Specialized Foster Care program works to find secure, stable, and loving homes for children in the custody of the state.  When a child is removed from a home where alleged abuse and/or neglect are present, they are in need of love and support.  Our top priority in Foster Care is the safety and well-being of each child that we place in our foster homes. We take the necessary steps to ensure that children are matched with the most appropriate home to meet their needs.  We provide a thorough pre-placement training program as well as continuing training and support after placement.

Our Approval & Matching Process

Each prospective family must complete an orientation, pre-service trainings, and have a thorough home study assessment completed and approved by the state of Georgia. During the home study assessment, recruiters assess your childhood upbringing, relationships, medical history, family interaction, desire to foster, behavior management/ discipline practices, capacity, and a host of other safety measures. At the completion of this process, both the family and assessor will be able to determine the type of child(ren) they can and are willing to foster and the capacity of their home to accommodate that type of child(ren).

We place a strong emphasis on matching each child with foster parents who are best suited to meet his or her individual needs.  Each prospective foster parent completes a placement preference log which includes answering specific questions about the type of child, behaviors, medical diagnosis etc. they would be comfortable working with and what behaviors and/or medical issues would be challenging and incompatible with their ability to foster.  The placement log along with the information gathered during the home study assessment helps the foster care supervisor make the best decision as to the type of child(ren) that can be matched with a particular family.

Training

 

Our Foster Parents receive extensive training to prepare them for their role in caring for a child. In addition to the Georgia mandated Impact Training, which includes 23 modules over 20 hours, Therapeutic Behavior Management Training (TBM); LSG also requires additional foster parent education, including: 

1.       Core Training: Foster parents learn the basics of how we work with DFCS, LSG’s foster care policies and other essential information like the on call numbers and emergencies services that are available to them. Each parent is also certified in CPR/First Aid.

2.       Special Needs Training:  Parents receive training in the how to deal with specific behavioral issues, physical or developmental disabilities.  If a medically fragile child is placed in the home, training is provided by a hospital medical professional, LSG Nurse, or other designated medical personnel prior to the child being placed in the home.

3.       Continuing Training:  Foster parents are required to complete 15 hours of on-going training annually to remain in compliance.

  Support

 

Once a family has welcomed a child into their home, LSG provides them with continued support. There are quarterly meetings that parents are encouraged to attend that cover additional training information and updates on changes in policy and other relevant topics. In addition, LSG staff refer foster families to resources within their community. The month of May is Foster Care Appreciation. LSG takes the opportunity to thank our caregivers with a celebration and gifts to show our appreciation. During the holidays, LSG celebrates our families with a holiday meal and gifts for the parents and children.

Fostering is not easy, but for so many families, the blessing outweighs the challenges.  Many people become foster parents so they can impact a child’s life, but often their own lives are transformed by opening their home and their hearts to a child in need.   If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please contact our office at 404-591-7053 or email Akiva Ford at Aford@lsga.org. If you are interested in donating to LSG to help support our Specialized Foster Care program, click here to donate and designate Foster Care as the fund. 

 

Foster Parent Hero: Lola Bellflower

 

As Lola Bellflower sits before the young man in the wheelchair, she holds up two shirts.  The young man has trouble controlling his head, so he does not frequently make eye contact.  The curvature of his spine twists his body.  He cannot walk or take care of his most basic needs.  He can only say a few words.  His hands curl close to his chest.

“Daniel*, which one do you want to wear today?”

As she patiently waits, Daniel’s eyes focus first on one shirt, then on the other.   He reaches out his hand and touches the blue one.

“Blue is his favorite color,” Lola says with a smile.  “He’ll always pick blue if it’s one of the choices.”   

Lola’s smile is one of the first things you notice when you visit her home. 

“Oh, some days are hard.  I get up some mornings feeling sorry for myself, having a pity party.  Then I walk in one of their rooms, and they smile, and all their love fills me.  It’s like the whole world opens up, ” says Lola as her smile fills the room with her joy.

Did you catch that part about “their rooms”?  Yes, Lola has two special needs boys in her home.  Lola has been Daniel’s foster mother for more than 11 years.  Three years ago, she adopted Gabe, who is blind, wheelchair bound and primarily non-verbal. 

Does it sound daunting?  Lola admits she has had her doubts about her ability to manage this life.  She recalls the day Daniel was placed with her.  She and her daughter drove to the Lutheran Services of Georgia office in Rome to complete the placement paperwork and bring him home.  He was 9 years old and weighed only 35 pounds.  He had not been receiving his medications appropriately, so he had almost continuous seizures.  On the way home, Lola’s daughter said, “Mama, we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.” 

By the time they got home, Lola was so upset and full of fear, she ran crying into the house and told her husband, Jerry, she thought she had made a mistake.  Her husband (since deceased) asked if she thought she could take care of Daniel.  Lola said, “Give me six months to get him stable.” 

Lola never looked back.  Today, she is proud to report that Daniel’s seizures are under control, and he is a vital part of her family.  Many of us would say Lola has worked wonders for the children in her care, but she sees it differently. 

“I have learned so much from them about coping with hard times.  They give so much back to me.  And every tiny achievement is like Christmas!” 

She recalls how Daniel suddenly started speaking when he was 14 years old.  “We figured he would never speak, but one day my husband walked into the room, and he called out, ‘Caw-caw!’  Our kids all called him Paw-paw, but that’s the closest Daniel could get.  Now, if he’s awake at night, I’ll hear him in his room.  First he’ll sort of grunt, but I try not to answer because it’s bed time.  If I don’t say anything, he’ll say ‘Lola!’  If I still don’t say anything, he’ll say ‘Hello Lola!’  Then, I can’t help it, I’ll say, ‘OK, Daniel, I’m here, time to go to sleep’.”

Lola looks at her life like a map.  She can look back and trace God’s hand, leading her from one point to the next.  As a child, she was placed in a foster home and was later adopted by her foster parents, so she understands the struggles foster children face.  As an adult, she was hired at Northwest Regional Hospital and was assigned to a unit with severe disabilities.

“On my first day, if I could have figured out how to get out of that building, I would have left, but I couldn’t find the exit. By the time my shift was over, I had fallen in love, so I kept working there.  God put me there to show me I could help these children, so later, when we got into foster care, it was easier to take children with medical needs,” says Lola

There is a foster care crisis in our state. Lola Bellflower is doing what she can to meet the need.  To those contemplating becoming foster parents, Lola says, “Jump in with both feet!  Each child is a gift, and they need your help.  But you need them, too.  The rewards are exceedingly great.”

 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

 

Three Marietta Churches Partner to Welcome A Syrian Family

 
Susan and Ibtehal pose for a selfie.

Susan and Ibtehal pose for a selfie.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon, Susan Lyke has just arrived at the home of the Nouras and Ibtehal Abazied. They greet her warmly and as she removes her shoes at the door, and Ibtehal offers her coffee.   Soon Susan is settled in at table and begins English lessons for the day.  The three share smiles and laughs as Susan reviews the day’s lessons over coffee.  Before she leaves for afternoon, she goes over the week’s schedule with the couple.  Ibtehal, who is expecting another child, has a doctor’s appointment the following day, and both parents have a meeting with their older son’s teacher that Friday. 

Susan is one of the volunteers involved in helping resettle a Syrian family with Lutheran Services of Georgia.  This scene describes a typical afternoon in the life of the Abazied family, new arrivals to the Atlanta metro area.

 
Sharing a meal after an English lesson

Sharing a meal after an English lesson

Last year, a team of volunteers from three Lutheran churches in Cobb County - Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta, First United Lutheran Church in Kennesaw and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Marietta joined together to sponsor and resettle a Syrian family in their community.  While LSG’s Refugee Services staff supervised the resettlement services, the volunteers took care of most of the day-to-day assistance the family required as they acclimated to life in the United States.

This arrangement was unique for LSG.  While LSG’s church partners often gather donations and set up apartments for new arrivals or serve as “first friends” for refugee families, this was the first time volunteers took on the majority of tasks involved in resettling a family. 

 “This collaboration of the three Marietta churches, LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services staff, and this wonderful refugee family demonstrates the public-private partnership of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program at its very best,” says Melanie Johnson, Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation and Community Engagement,  Lutheran Services of Georgia.  “The biblical mandates to welcome the stranger and love the neighbor are embodied in lives of all involved!”

A Need Arises, A Partnership is Born

 
Opening a gift from one of the church members.

Opening a gift from one of the church members.

When the Abazied family asked to be resettled in Cobb County, in an apartment near their close friends from Syria, LSG wanted to honor their request.  However, placing them in Cobb County would present several challenges.  In the Northwest suburb, they would be an hour’s drive away from the resources available in Clarkston, a popular area for resettlement in metro Atlanta, and without easy access to public transportation. 

Lutheran Church of the Resurrection has been a long-time supporter of LSG’s work, so LSG approached them with an idea.  LCR members Mark Olson and Ed Aebischerhad already expressed an interest in increasing their involvement with LSG’s refugee resettlement program and encouraging more members in their church to get involved.  Mark reached out to Susan Lyke from First United Lutheran Church, and she responded with enthusiasm, and the concept of a partnership between multiple churches began to grow.

 
Volunteer Bev Arends at Obadah's 15th Birthday Party

Volunteer Bev Arends at Obadah's 15th Birthday Party

“The idea was if we could resettle them in Cobb County – it would be more likely that we would have church members that would get involved. I felt it was important for our communities in Cobb to show that we are a welcoming place,” said Susan.

When it was certain that the family would be resettling in Cobb County, the three began to assemble a team of volunteers from their own churches and from another LSG partner, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Marietta.  The team was comprised of around 20 volunteers who helped on a regular basis and additional volunteers who assisted occasionally.

The Welcoming Begins

The volunteers’ first task was to set up an apartment for the family.  They gathered donations and worked to fully furnish the apartment and stock their cabinets and closets with the necessities.

 
Volunteer Karen Bear at the Birthday Party.

Volunteer Karen Bear at the Birthday Party.

When the Abazieds arrived, four of the volunteers welcomed them at the Atlanta airport and joined them for their first meal in their new apartment.  The volunteers quickly became a source of guidance, comfort and friendship for the new refugees.  The team worked daily with the family on a range of activities. They taught ESL sessions and tutored the children and offered in-school support for the family.  Volunteers drove the family of six to doctors’ offices, pharmacies, grocery stores, English classes and social events around Atlanta. As Nouras began to look for a job, the volunteers helped with resume preparation, job applications, interview coaching, and worked to prepare him for the expectations of the working world in the US.  In addition to practical assistance, the team aimed to boost the family’s confidence and encouraged them to trust in their own abilities to learn, grow, and be productive in their new society.

While the volunteers were teaching the Abazeid family, they were also learning a great deal themselves. 

“Nouras and Ibtehal have taught all of us a lot about hospitality and gratitude,” says Susan.  “We’ve really been enriched by their presence.”

“Spending time with these new neighbors helps me appreciate the fact that, regardless of race, national origin, ethnicity, faith tradition, and all too frequent tensions and wars, we share a common hope and humanity with our brothers and sisters in every corner of the world,” says Ed.

In addition, collaborative work between the three churches has had a strengthening effect on many of the volunteers’ faith.

 “It’s been a blessing to work with these volunteers.  They are all so loving and generous with their time.  It’s been really important for my faith to do this work with others as kindred spirits united in Christ, especially in the political climate today,” says Susan.  “We all really look forward to being with this family and getting together as a group.”

Ed agrees.  “On a daily basis, this ecumenical effort allows each of us involved to grasp, deep within, that a true faith is truly a “faith at work’ to help others in need,” he says.

Would your faith or community group like to welcome and walk alongside a refugee family?

 Contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org to learn more about the Circle of Welcome, an initiative of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Services of Georgia where the Circle of Welcome is made complete when a faith or community group connects with LIRS and LSG to accompany a refugee family. Together, we support them as they rebuild their lives and are recognized as positive contributors to society.  The goal of Circle of Welcome is to increase successful integration of refugee families arriving in the U.S. and to create meaningful and varied opportunities for faith and community groups to engage with and walk alongside refugee families in service, friendship, and as advocates.

 

 

Healthy Families Helps Young Mom Succeed

In partnership with Great Start Georgia and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Lutheran Services of Georgia provides parents in the Savannah area with an opportunity to grow their parenting skills.  

Through the Healthy Families program, expectant parents and parents of children under the age of five receive weekly support and education sessions.  Participants are often referred to Healthy Families if they have certain risk factors such as low income, are under the age of 21, unemployed, etc.,

During weekly in-home sessions, Family Support Workers help educate parents on appropriate child development as well as teaching them about developing a positive parent-child relationship, creating a safe and healthy home for children, and connecting to other community resources and support systems to ensure the family’s needs are met. These services are available at no cost to parents who are referred residing in Chatham or Liberty Counties.

 

 As a teen mom, Caroline, along with her son Hunter, has benefited tremendously from her time in Healthy Families. 

She enrolled in the program in October 2015, when she was in the very early stages of her pregnancy.  Caroline gave birth to healthy baby boy on June 1, 2016.  Caroline and Hunter remain enrolled in Healthy Families.

Q & a With Caroline

How do you think Healthy Families helped you be better prepared for having a baby and becoming a mother?  

It helped to not be afraid that you mess up.  It gives you confidence in yourself that you will be a good mom.  It guides you in finding out the type of mom that you want to be.

 

What are the most helpful skills or information that you've learned through Healthy Families?

Most of all, without a doubt, I learned patience.  I learned about self-sufficiency before he was born and even more after.  I learned a lot about myself before he was born, and then after was more about putting what I learned into practice.

 

What advice would you give someone who was about pregnant and about to start Healthy Families?  Any tips for getting the most out it?

My advice is to stick with it especially because it takes time to meet and make goals happen.  It’s very enlightening about how much you can learn.  You can get so many opinions and perspectives from different people about the same topic and having someone, someone you trust and who supports you, to bounce those perspectives off of helps a lot. 

My tip is to PRACTICE what is discussed, especially if you want to see results.  Also, always be open and honest.  Don’t shy away from things because you are afraid or have no experience in it. 

 

Was there anything that surprised you about having and caring for a baby?  Was anything different than you expected?

Everything was different.  It’s a surreal experience for me and some days it still feels like a dream.  I know it’s real and happening but everything is moving so fast.

When I was pregnant, I knew everything.  I got this, I know what to expect, I’m ready…at least I thought.  Because once I had him, it was like OH MY GOD, what do I do, what is happening, who do I call.  And those weekly session really helped. 

 

What is the hardest thing about being a parent?  What is the best thing about being a parent?

The best thing about being a parent is watching him grow and develop every day.  It’s amazing how you can never repeat the same day because no two days are alike.  It’s like a bitter sweet feeling because you don’t want them to grow but of course you do. 

The hardest thing is not getting enough rest.  Time management and balancing out your life with his life is challenging.  To get a balance, however, it’s best to think about needs versus wants, yours and his, then prioritize. 

Thank you Caroline for sharing your experiences with us!

Using People First Language

 

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness month, a time to recognize and celebrate individuals with developmental disabilities and the contributions they make to our communities.  LSG aims to treat people with disabilities with the utmost respect and help them live full, meaningful lives in a safe, welcoming environment.  Through our FACES program, we match those with developmental and physical disabilities with support companions, allowing them to live in a home setting and be active participants in their community.

To create a more respectful and welcoming society, experts who work with populations with disabilities have long advocated for using People First language.  According to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, People First Language (PFL) is a way of communicating that reflects knowledge and respect for people with disabilities by choosing words that recognize the person first and foremost as the primary reference and not his or her disability. (gcdd.org)

Often times individuals with disabilities are identified by their disability first; they may be called a handicapped or a disabled person. People First Language puts the person before the disability and it describes what a person has, not what a person is.

LSG is pleased that just this week Georgia lawmakers voted on a bill that would change outdated language in our code and substitute it with wording that shows respect and dignity.  The bill would replace the words "mental retardation"  and "mentally retarded" with "intellectual disability."  

Are you using People First language when describe those with disabilities or illnesses?  Here's a guide to help you out.

People First Language Preferred Expression 

 
 

Instead of: 

 handicapped child or disabled

  palsied, CP or spastic

afflicted, suffers from, victim of

mute or dumb

autistic

slow or retarded

crazy or insane

deaf and dumb

confined to a wheelchair

retarded

mongoloid, suffers from Down syndrome

is learning disabled

is physically disabled/crippled

invalid or paralytic

quadriplegic

paraplegic

Say:

child with a disability

individual with cerebral palsy

person who has….

nonverbal (with speech)

child(ren) with autism

developmental delay

emotional disorder/mental illness 

deaf or has a hearing impairment

 uses a wheelchair

has a cognitive or intellectual disability

adult with Down syndrome

has a learning disability

has a physical disability

paralyzed

Has quadriplegia

Has paraplegia

 

Brenda: A Life Well-Lived

 

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to recognize the contributions that those with developmental disabilities bring to our community. Our FACES program places adults with developmental disabilities with wonderful support companions in host homes where they thrive and grow in independence and abilities.

Brenda is one of many we serve in our FACES program. She moved in with the McCoy family, her host home family, more than 13 years ago. She’s an avid bowler, although bowling is just one of many sports she is passionate about. If you have the opportunity to visit, she’ll be sure to show you ribbons she’s won from a 30-year career with Special Olympics in Georgia.

Brenda spends a lot of time with Mrs. McCoy in their neighborhood, and she’s made a lot of connections with people in her community. After volunteering for most of her life, Brenda has recently chosen to retire and spend her time doing things she enjoys like shopping, going out to eat with friends, and water aerobics at the local YMCA.

As an active member of the family, Brenda has thrived in the McCoy home. When the McCoy family recently celebrated the birth of their grandchild, Brenda gushed about the new edition to the family and was thrilled at the opportunity to hold the baby at the hospital.

Through our FACES program, Brenda and many others are able to live the most fulfilling and meaningful lives possible thanks to caring families like the McCoys. Join LSG in celebrating those we serve and their support companions!

 

The Proposed Heath Care Bill Could Affect Care for Vulnerable Americas

 

Someone you love could be affected by the proposed legislation to replace the current health care law.

On March 6, Congress released the “American Health Care Act” that would restructure Medicaid and reform the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to making substantial changes to the health law, the proposal would drastically cut and fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program by converting it to a per capita cap. Per capita funding sets a limit for each person receiving Medicaid, any services above the limit would not be covered by Medicaid.  This action would effectively shrink federal Medicaid funding over time, putting those who are most vulnerable - children, the elderly and the disabled receiving services and support - in danger of losing coverage and access to care. This radical restructuring would shift substantial costs and risks to states, ultimately forcing them to cut benefits, restrict eligibility and reduce provider payments.

Fast action is anticipated in Committee to bring a final bill to the floor. This accelerated timeline means your voice is needed NOW more than ever! Educate your lawmakers that the House proposal to cut and cap Medicaid is unacceptable and is putting the health, safety and well-being of the most vulnerable at risk

Email Congress by clicking this link, which provides education on the impact of these changes. You will be asked to fill out a form so the action tool can identify your Member of Congress and email directly to his or her Congressional office. We cannot stress enough the need to voice our concerns clearly, loudly and often. Please share this alert with your colleagues, employees, and friends to maximize our message’s effect.

Help support LSG's FACES program, which places adults and children with developmental disabilities in the homes of caring support companions. Donate at and select "FACES" under fund

 

Q & A with John Moeller

 

 On February 15th, LSG welcomed John Moeller as our new CEO.  John has worked in leadership in the nonprofit industry for more than 15 years in the Atlanta area.  With a background in the United Methodist Church, John is ordained as a minister and served as a pastor in UMC congregations throughout Northeast Georgia before entering the nonprofit world.  John sat down to answer a few questions about his background, his home life and his hopes for the future of LSG. 

 

What is your professional background? 

John Moeller with stephen friedrich at the hunger walk/run

John Moeller with stephen friedrich at the hunger walk/run

While I’ve been in the nonprofit industry for many years, leading faith-based organizations, I started out in ministry. I grew up in the Lutheran church until high school when my family relocated to North Georgia. There wasn’t a Lutheran church nearby, so we joined a United Methodist congregation. After earning my Master’s in Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory, I spent a decade pastoring UMC churches before being called to nonprofit leadership. I recently left Action Ministries, where I served as President and CEO for the past five years. Prior to that, I served as CEO of MUST Ministries in Marietta for ten years.

 

What led you to leave pastoring and enter the nonprofit sector and social and human services in particular?

What I loved about pastoral work was helping churches to serve the community.  As I moved along in my career, I realized that you don’t have to be a pastor of a church to make that happen.  My wife Laurie Moeller is also a UMC pastor, and I’ve often said that there’s only room in our family for one really good preacher – and that’s Laurie.

I’ve always loved serving the most vulnerable and that goes hand in hand with my faith.  I think that the people LSG serves are among the most important in our community and our country, and that’s the opposite of what society thinks are the most important groups – the rich, the glamorous, and TV or sport celebrities.  Part of our job at LSG is to help lead the church to live out this calling to serve others.   

Society sees the vulnerable as weak.  LSG sees them as strong.  We and our church partners are in the position to show the world the strength that those we serve bring to our community.

 

John with our refugee services staff and volunteers at the Capitol

John with our refugee services staff and volunteers at the Capitol

Tell us about your life outside of work.

My wife Laurie and I are raising teenage daughters, and I truly love being a parent – with all the challenges it brings.  I told a story to the staff on my first day of work about a trip Laurie and I took to the mountains many years ago.  I’ve always been a mountain person and love spending time outdoors in nature.  On this particular day, the weather was iffy and snow started falling as Laurie and I continued on this hike that ended up being more treacherous than expected.  I told that story to illustrate my take on life – that I always love a good adventure.  Between raising a family and managing our careers, now Laurie and I don’t have to go to the mountains for an adventure – every day is adventure for us.

 

You’ve been at LSG for just two weeks, what is your impression so far?

I’m in awe of the people I’ve met.  Our staff is full of smart people who are passionate about the cause. They really bring a vast array of knowledge and experience to their work.  I’m really encouraged by what I’ve found here. We already have the components we need to build on LSG’s success and grow together into a world class organization.

 

What is your vision or hope for the future of LSG?

LSG isn’t just about serving those in need.  It’s connecting the dots in community.  Building a better community as we serve the most vulnerable.

Throughout my career, I’ve really enjoyed helping great organizations to become more capable in the areas they serve - to be powerhouses in whichever field they are in.  What I really want for LSG is to become a leader in the minds of the public.  Our clients already think we’re the best, and our partners recognize we’re great.  Now, I want the public to recognize LSG as the best and as the “go to” leader in its field.

 

What you can do today to stand with refugees

 

By Melanie Johnson, Volunteer Manager, LSG's Refugee & Immigration Services Department

As we all know, it’s been a very sad week for the refugee resettlement community and the vulnerable individuals and families who we serve. In light of the recent executive order temporarily banning all refugees, and indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, I wanted to share some ways that you could help.

1.  Donate to Lutheran Services of Georgia and encourage others to donate. 
For more than 30 years, we’ve been welcoming and walking alongside refugee families – we are committed to continuing this work to the best of our abilities under the new executive orders. Please consider donating to our refugee program as our federal funding will be significantly reduced during this ban. We need assistance to be able to retain our staff and resources, so we can continue to help the refugees who have already arrived and be fully prepared to continue resettling families when the 120-day halt in resettlement is lifted. Support LSG’s refugee families today by donating.  Click here to donate and choose the fund “refugee services.”

2.  Tell your elected officials that refugees are welcome in your community and that you oppose the refugee ban.  Go online right now to oppose the ban and support refugee rights at the national level (http://www.lirs.org/action)  and at the state level (http://bit.ly/2kxoDX2)

 

3.  Support the refugees that are already in our community. Hearing what is happening in the news has been very rough for our refugee clients. Let’s show them that they are welcome here and that they have a community ready to support them.  Attend or organize events in your community to stand with refugees. 

4.  Continue to educate yourself and others. The national resettlement organizations, including our national partner, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, have jointly developed a series of videos and a social media campaign – Refugees Love America – to combat anti-refugee sentiment and open up important public dialogue.  Please use the videos with email/facebook/twitter; create your own content (make short videos and share other videos), request action (ask for Congress and the Administration to be reminded that Refugees Love America)!  Use #refugeeswelcome. 

See http://www.rcusa.org/refugees-love-america

Thank you so much for standing with refugees. We continue to be encouraged and inspired by the outpouring of support.

 

LSG Announces John Moeller as New CEO

 

Lutheran Services of Georgia recently announced the selection of Rev. John Moeller as its new Chief Executive Officer.  In this key leadership role, Moeller will steer the statewide organization as it looks to expand and enhance its services and programs and to strengthen its position as an industry leader.  Moeller will begin his new role effective February 15, 2017. At that time, Gary Johnstone, who has served as Interim CEO, will resume his position as Chief Operations Officer.

“The LSG staff and Board are thrilled to welcome John, and we anxiously await his expertise and leadership as we continue in our commitment to serve many of Georgia’s most vulnerable populations with an unwavering passion and the highest quality of services,” says Rev. Dr. David Hardy, Chair of the Board of Directors, Lutheran Services of Georgia.  “John has a reputation in the community as a visionary leader and as a builder and grower of organizations. Our Board and senior leadership unanimously agreed that John is the dynamic leader needed to propel LSG to the next level – to grow its programs and improve its services, so that ultimately we can better serve our clients and our community.”

“Lutheran Services of Georgia is known throughout the state as a leader in the program areas it serves.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this established and respected organization into the future,” says John Moeller.  “I am eager to get to work and look forward to increasing LSG’s impact around the state and advancing our vision and mission in the communities it serves.”

John is a veteran of the nonprofit industry with extensive experience leading faith-based Organizations.  He comes to LSG from Action Ministries in Atlanta, where he has served as President and CEO for the past five years. Under John’s leadership, Action Ministries has expanded its service territory and increased its revenues while revitalizing its relationship with its United Methodist Church roots. Prior to Action Ministries, John served as CEO of MUST Ministries in Marietta for ten years. John is ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church and served as Pastor to UMC congregations in North Georgia from 1991 to 2001 before being called to work in nonprofit human and social services. He retains his ordination status and currently serves as an ordained elder.

As an outdoor enthusiast, Moeller spends much of his leisure time hiking, biking and pursuing other activities in nature. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and received his Masters of Divinity from Emory University.

John looks forward to meeting and working with our many partners, donors, volunteers and other constituents.

 

LSG Volunteers Make MLK Day a "Day On, Not a Day Off"

 

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

On Monday, January 16th, people from all over the United States participated in the MLK Day of Service, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King by giving back to their communities by volunteering with various organizations.  Lutheran Services of Georgia's Refugee Services program held its annual Lutheran MLK Day of Service in conjunction with the national event.  More than 200 volunteers - adults and children, groups and individuals -  assembled at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain to help with service projects benefiting refugees and immigrants served by LSG. 

 

Rice for Refugees

Volunteers spent the morning portioning and repackaging more than 4,200 lbs of rice into family-sized bags.  The bags of rice will be distributed to refugee families that Lutheran Service of Georgia is resettling in the Atlanta area.  The rice, typically a staple of many refugees' diets,  will provide comforting and nutritious first meals for refugee families during an intense transition period in their lives.  

Volunteers join in blessing the 4,200 lbs of donated rice.

Volunteers join in blessing the 4,200 lbs of donated rice.

IMG_6616.jpg

Letters of Hope

Volunteers also wrote letters to immigrants currently being detained in detention facilities.  Detainees often have few to no visitors and little contact with the outside world.  Volunteers were invited to be a compassionate presence by writing letters of hope and encouragement to immigrants in detention facilities in Georgia and by creating cards for mothers and children in family detention centers in Texas.

Advocacy Training

Following the service projects, many volunteers attended an advocacy training session led by Jessica Jones, Esq., Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Rev. Kevin Jacobson, Assistant Director for Outreach, LIRS, and Stephanie Ali, LMSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways.  The training outlined methods and talking points for attendees to engage with their elected representatives and to advocate for refugees and immigrants. 

Jessica Jones, Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, provided practical tips and advice for communicating with elected officials and standing up for refugees

Jessica Jones, Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, provided practical tips and advice for communicating with elected officials and standing up for refugees

Stephanie Ali, LCSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways, provided information on advocating at a state level.

Stephanie Ali, LCSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways, provided information on advocating at a state level.

Thank you to all of our volunteers who attended the 2017 MLK Day of Service.  If you were unable to attend but are interested in volunteering with LSG's refugee services department, please email Melanie Johnson.

The Carter Effect - Fostering Hope in Young Men

 

Many young men and adult men who have come through Georgia’s Foster Care system attribute their success, despite a challenging home life, to the Carter Effect.

 

 
 
african-afro-woman-laughing-close-up-face.jpg

The Carter Effect is an expression the youth who have lived in the foster home of Chevette Carter use to describe the positive impact Carter has had on their lives. Ms. Carter, a licensed foster parent with Lutheran Services of Georgia, opens her home to teenage males who have been placed in foster care through the Division of Family and Children Services. 

“I just want to see them be productive, but someone has to teach them, that’s why I do it,” said Carter.

Carter has been fostering for more than 16 years and during this time has touched the lives of more than 12 young men. She states that many of her foster children  come to her  from group homes, which lack the family-like setting that will allow these teens to thrive. Carter provides them with a normal home, where they can attend school with their peers, play sports, and prepare for the real world. 

Carter expressed that she also loves to be a support for the parents. She recollected a time when a birth mother gave her a hug and thanked her.

“That is why I do this, building people up is always a good thing,” reflects Carter.

Carter believes all children should have the right to grow up in a loving and nurturing environment. She explains the relationship she has with Lutheran Services of Georgia allows her to provide these youth with an opportunity to receive a fair chance at life.  

“There are approximately 9,000 children in foster care in the State of Georgia, and we at LSG want to spread the Carter Effect,” stated Akiva Ford, Foster Care Recruiter, Lutheran Services of Georgia. “We want to provide our children with homes like Ms. Carter’s.  A place where they can grow and thrive and have a connection even when they exit from out of the system. Lutheran Services of Georgia is truly indebted to Ms. Carter and all of our foster homes.”

If you would like to become a foster parent and provide Hope, Healing, and Strength to a child in need, visit our website and fill out a foster care inquiry form.