World Refugee Day: What You Can Do To Stand With Refugees

 
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 Today is World Refugee Day.  The United Nations (U.N.) designated World Refugee Day as a day to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. On World Refugee Day, refugee supporters also use this day an opportunity to celebrate the great contributions that refugees bring to our nation and our communities.

The United States has a proud tradition of welcoming those who been forced from their home due to violence, war and persecution.  According to the State Department website, “the U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ highest values and aspirations to compassion, generosity and leadership. Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. Refugees have built new lives, homes and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states.”

This year, the Trump administration set the Refugee Admission Ceiling at 45,000, the lowest on record.  And nine months into the fiscal year, only 15,000 have been admitted so far, making it extremely unlikely that we will reach anywhere near that number by the end of September. 

What can you do to help?

1.  Donate:

For more than 30 years, LSG has been welcoming and walking alongside refugee families, and we are committed to continuing this important work.  As refugee admissions have slowed, our need for in kind donations of furniture, clothing and household goods has slowed as well.  However, our need for financial support is greater than ever. Please consider donating to our refugee program, so we can continue to help the refugees who have already been resettled in Atlanta and Savannah and be fully prepared to continue resettling families as they arrive.  Click here to donate and choose the fund “refugee services.”

 
 
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2.  Advocate:

Tell your elected officials that your community welcomes refugees and that you support raising the refugee admission ceiling and increasing the number of refugees entering the U.S.  Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives by phone or written letter.

 

3.  Support:

Support the refugees that are already in our community. Show refugees 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. This Saturday there are two events being held in honor of World Refugee Day.

  • A World Refugee Day celebration hosted by the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies (CRSA), which LSG is a member of, and Refuge Coffee Co., from 10-Noon in Clarkston.  Click for more info.
  •  WRD 2018: Resistance, Resilience, & Celebration from 2-5 p.m. at Clarkston United Methodist Church.  Click here for more info.

In addition, patronize refugee businesses. Here is a list of refugee owned and operated restaurants and stores.

4.  Educate:

 
 

Educate yourself and others. Know the facts about refugee resettlement and share them with others.  The Refugee Council USA  is a great resource of information, facts and figures on refugees. 

 
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Last year, the Refugee Council developed a series of videos and a social media campaign – Refugees Love America – to combat anti-refugee sentiment and open up important public dialogue. 

These videos are great for sharing on email/facebook/twitter.  Or create your own content – share stories of your personal experience with refugees – and use #refugeeswelcome in your posts.

Thank you so much for standing with refugees. We continue to be encouraged and inspired by our supporters!

 

LSG Case Manager Crispin Wiljonda Welcomed As Roster Minister at ELCA Synod Assembly

 
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At the ELCA Southeastern Synod Assembly earlier this month, LSG Case Manager Crispin Wilondja was officially recognized as a rostered ELCA minister.  After receiving his Master’s in Theology in California, Crispin was first ordained as a Jesuit Priest in 2008 in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  After moving the United States in 2011 as an asylum seeker (a person fleeing their country of origin because of persecution or violence and has applied for protection in another country but has not yet had their claim for protection assessed), Crispin found a home in the Lutheran tradition and joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta. 

 Crispin with members of good samaritan ministry and John Moeller, CEO, LSG.

Crispin with members of good samaritan ministry and John Moeller, CEO, LSG.

Through his church, he learned about LSG’s work with refugees and immigrants and secured a job as an interpreter in 2014. The next year, Crispin was promoted to Resettlement and Immigration Case Manager where he worked for many years. Since March 2018, with the fewer number of refugees arriving to America, he has worked as an Employment Specialist Program Assistant. 

In addition to his work with LSG, Crispin started a new Lutheran congregation for refugees in February.  His church, Good Samaritan Ministry, worships every Sunday at 2pm in the sanctuary of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain.

What inspired you to work in ministry?

I wanted to work in ministry because I wanted to serve the church. Since I was young, very young I felt the call to be a priest. I was convinced that God was calling me to serve him as a priest and to preach the Good News to the poor. And after going to the Jesuit schools, I then joined the Jesuits to become a priest.

Being a priest is more a ministry rather than a job. I felt the call to serve and I was trained to imitate Jesus as loving, compassionate and more attentive to the human needs, especially the poor and marginalized.

How has your background as a minister influenced your work as a case manager at LSG?

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Being a priest has prepared me to easily embrace my job as a case manager…I always see LSG as a perfect place for ministry. Every morning when I was going to meet with refugee families, my prayer was: “Lord, open my heart and my eyes to be able to see you in these people. Help me serve them as if I am serving you my Lord and my Savior. Make me your instrument to bring joy and consolation to those who have been afflicted; those who have fled their homes; those who have lost everything. Make my hands become your hands; make my voice become your voice. And let your will be done.”

What do you miss about your home country?

As immigrants like to say “Home is home!” I miss my family (mother, siblings, …); I miss my parishioners. I miss being a priest in Congo. It was another context there. I am working harder with my new congregation but our members are still looking for more of a case manager rather than a pastor. In addition, I don’t have enough time as I would love to have in order to develop this mission. I have first to survive and be able to provide for the needs of my family while the congregation cannot pay me to have a decent living. I miss the life style, the joy and the togetherness. Back home people are very poor but they are happy and less stressed.

What do you love about the United States?

 Crispin meeting a refugee family from Central African republic at the airport

Crispin meeting a refugee family from Central African republic at the airport

I fled my country because my life was threatened; I was about to be killed due to my preaching and social engagement. In America I feel safe. I don’t have to live under the fear to be arrested any time. America is the country of opportunities. I dream to deepen myself in ministry, to build a congregation and to be pastor for all those who need love and compassion after fleeing their home countries. I love working in America and being paid; I love the freedom and the justice. I love the society and the culture being progressive. Despite some rays of discrimination and social justice issues, I like the society being more and more inclusive. I like to see that the basic needs of the population are fulfilled. I like to see refugees that I have welcomed becoming self-sufficient; I like to see kids adjusting well, going to school and speaking very good English and becoming interpreters for their parents. I like to see refugees fulfilling their dreams and supporting their families back home.

 

After School Program Has Successful First Year

 
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At the end of May, LSG's After School Program for refugee youth at Clarkston High School wrapped up its first year.  The program offers academic enrichment, science and technology lessons, literacy development, and English instruction along with trauma resiliency work to help children who have arrived as refugees thrive in a Western school environment.

"They work very hard to fit in the school while they adjust to a new environment and learn a new language. Our program understands those challenges and ensures that each student gets the necessary support that they all need," says Nur Abdi, case manager, LSG.

Here are few highlights from the year:

  • All participants received tutoring to help with their English skills and increase their understanding and abilities in various academic subjects. Many of the teens who participated regularly in the program saw their grades go from Ds and Fs to As and Bs.    As their confidence and abilities grew, many began to think about their future and consider college as one of the avenues available to them.
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  • In addition, students had opportunities to learn while having fun through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects.  They were also introduced to books that were chosen just for them; books that fit their reading level and included stories of refugees and immigrants that they could relate to.   One particular teenage girl from Rwanda, who had never shown an interest in reading or other school work, became enthralled when she was introduced to a novel focusing on a refugee like herself.  After this book sparked an interest in reading, she asked if she could take some books home with her to read and share with her family.
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  • Participants in the After School Program also had a chance to grow and cook their own food! During Garden Fridays, students worked on planting and tending a vegetable garden.  At the end of the year, students took a field trip to Fresh Harvest Garden, where they learned about chickens, how they are raised and maintained and egg production. They also learned about annuals and perennials, what you can do with different herbs for medicinal purposes, different uses for vegetables and herbs in their daily lives with cooking, as well as how a business is run.

 

 

 

  • Throughout the year, we had several speakers talk to the teens about various topics that are relevant to teens in America and teens who have experienced significant trauma in their lives.  One speaker came to talk to the group about cyber bullying.  The students learned about conflict resolution and how to use their voice and establish healthy boundaries with others.  One boy who was being targeted online was able to use the lessons from the program to find his voice, work through his problem and stop the bullying.

 

  • The teens in the program found support and friendship in one another.  Though many of them have been through similar circumstances and experienced similar traumas, their different ethnicities and different native languages would have otherwise kept them separate.  Through the After School Program, they began to get to know others who were different from them but shared many of the same hopes, dreams and fears.  Many friendships grew between the teens and offered a great support system for them outside the program.

We look forward to next year's After School program and seeing the lives that will be touched in various ways.  

 

Two Mothers: A Story of Friendship

 
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Joan and Ginger enjoy spending time together, whether it's on the phone or over a cup of coffee, swapping stories about their children and sharing the trials and joys along the journey of motherhood.  Though their friendship seems rather ordinary, it began in an unlikely way.

Two years ago, new foster parents Ginger Chandler and her husband Eric welcomed their first set of siblings in their home: Robin and Charlie, two young children whose mother Joan was struggling with substance abuse.  At first, their mother showed little interest in working with her social workers  or taking the necessary steps to get her children back in her home.  However, soon after the children were moved,  Joan started at an in-patient drug treatment center.  When Joan graduated from the center several months later, and the Chandlers were excited about her progress and were hopeful for her future with the children. However, the joy was short lived. Joan quickly relapsed and was out of touch with the family and her caseworkers for several months. 

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When Joan reconnected with the Chandlers months later, she had made the decision to try again, and she began another drug treatment program.  Through determination and hard work, she completed the program and stayed on track.  Over the next few months, Joan obtained a job, housing, and transportation.  She had started turning her life around.

One day, while the children were still in her care, Ginger unexpectedly received a letter from Joan.  In the letter, Joan shared how appreciative she was of how well the Chandlers were taking care of her children, and she apologized for all the mistakes she had made. At first, Ginger was very hesitant to reach out to Joan and asked Laura Fowler, LSG’s foster care case manager, what she should do.

“I asked her to take some time and pray about it before she made a decision,” said Laura.  “When I made my next home visit, Ginger told me that she had prayed about the situation and she had a realization that God gives everyone grace and love and this is what she needed to show this birth mother.”  

Ginger contacted Joan, and the women ended up talking multiple times a week on the phone. Ginger was able to be a mentor and, most importantly, a friend to Joan. Because of the open and warm relationship between the two women, Ginger was able to welcome Robin and Charlie back in her home with a smooth transition.

Ginger and Joan have continued their friendship, and see each other multiple times a month. Both women received a beautiful gift from their unique relationship.

Ginger and Eric continue to share love and grace to the birth parents of the foster children in their home.  Foster parents like the Chandlers, who not only care for children but go the extra mile to help the birth parents, make families and their communities stronger. We are thankful to have them be a part of our LSG family!

 

Healthy Families Provides Guidance and Support To A Savannah-Area Single Mom

 
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Janean is a  26-year-old single mother of two boys, J’mitri, age 9, and Jiovani, age 1. Janean was referred to LSG's Healthy Families while she was pregnant with her youngest son and has now been in the program for over a year.  Janean said she was interested in Healthy Families because she “just wanted some support.”  She works full time and is pursuing a degree in college.  

What are the most helpful skills or information that you have learned through the Healthy Families program?

“Oh wow, that’s a lot. What’s the maximum word count?” Janean laughed. “Parenting skills, maternity information, breastfeeding, social interaction, basic care with my child, teething, all of that.”

Would you recommend Healthy Families to other parents? Why or Why not?

“Yes, I feel like it’s a positive influence on me and baby. The Family Support Workers are really supportive and down to earth.”

What advice would you give someone who is a new parent and about to start Healthy Families? Any tips for getting the most out of it?

“If you’re ever concerned or worried about something to do with your baby always ask. Just know you will always have someone.”

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

“The hardest is being full time work and school. I just want to be with them all of the time, and I can’t. The best thing is the way that my kids love me and seeing them happy. They make me feel like parenting isn’t a job.”

Healthy Families is a voluntary home visit program for families with children ages 0-5 designed to help reduce child abuse and neglect. During home visits, participants receive parenting assistance and guidance in areas such as basic care, social/emotional development, physical/brain development, communication skills, becoming more self-sufficient, problem solving, school readiness, reducing stress, and providing a safe and healthy home. For more information, visit lsga.org/family-intervention or contact our Savannah office at (912) 353-8875.

 

Seeking Volunteers with American Sign Language Skills

 

Are you or anyone in your community fluent in ASL?  We are currently working with two individuals who are hearing impaired and in need of First Friend Cultural Mentors to offer guidance and help them acclimate to life in the U.S.

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Meet Paw. Paw and his parents were resettled by Lutheran Services of Georgia last winter after fleeing Burma as refugees.  Paw was born deaf and spent 20 years of his life in a refugee camp in Thailand, where he had no access to schooling or formal sign language education.  When he arrived to the U.S., Paw became very isolated at home, with no way to communicate with anyone outside of his immediate family. Upon enrollment in the Intensive Case Management program, an LSG case manager connected Paw with a local nonprofit through the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to find an American Sign Language (ASL) teacher.  With the support of numerous private donors, Paw started ASL classes in his home!

During Paw's first ASL class, he quickly began learning to sign the alphabet, his name, and the words for objects around his home.  At the age of 37, Paw is now able to communicate with people outside of his family. With ongoing weekly ASL classes, Paw will soon be able to access more formal education.

 We would love to pair Paw and Prince, a Central African refugee who is also hearing impaired, with a First Friend Cultural Mentor! We are currently looking for at least two volunteers!

First Friends work with refugee families or individuals on a weekly basis for six months to a year. These volunteers help their First Friends learn about their communities here in the U.S., explore cultural differences, and settle into their new lives.  Will you help us get the word out to your communities and introduce us to anyone who might be interested in becoming First Friend Cultural Mentors? We can't wait for Paw and Prince to experience the joys of having a First Friend during this time of transition in their lives!

Contact Janelle Moore at jmoore@lsga.org to learn more.

 

Volunteers Needed For New Summer Camp for Refugee Children and Youth

 Participants in LSG's after school club pose during a recent field trip to Amicalola Falls

Participants in LSG's after school club pose during a recent field trip to Amicalola Falls

 

This summer, children and youth who have been recently resettled in Georgia will have a chance to have fun, increase their emotional health and grow in their school skills at LSG's summer camp for refugee children and youth!  This camp will combine traditional summer camp activities with literacy education and therapeutic exercises specifically designed for children who have endured trauma.

We are looking for a few specific types of volunteers to help out.  Volunteer opportunities:

·         A photographer to capture some fun camp memories!
·        Volunteers and interns to work with a cohort of campers as counselors
·         A volunteer nurse to help administer medication as needed and be onsite in the case of allergic reactions or injuries
·         Artists/ Creatives: Can you make interactive art projects, teach drama, or lead fun physical activities?  If so, we would love to partner with you to offer even more engaging opportunities to campers!

If you are interested in volunteering, please email your area of interest and summer availability to jmoore@lsga.org

 

200-plus Serve at Lutheran MLK Day of Service

 

On Monday, January 15th,  more than 200 volunteers from 28 different congregations and community groups came together to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of service and activism at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain.  The Lutheran MLK Day of Service is an annual tradition at Lutheran Services of Georgia combining service projects that benefit children and families served by LSG with opportunities for participants to take part in advocacy education and action.   

 Volunteers pray a blessing over the donations for the MLK Lutheran Day of Service projects.

Volunteers pray a blessing over the donations for the MLK Lutheran Day of Service projects.

In previous years, this event had been dubbed “Rice for Refugees,” however this year LSG expanded beyond is signature service project of bagging rice for recently resettled refugees, and added several service projects for LSG’s other program areas. 

 A group assembles toiletry kits for unaccompanied immigrant minor children that LSG Serves

A group assembles toiletry kits for unaccompanied immigrant minor children that LSG Serves

Rice for Refugees on MLK Day of Service

Volunteers donated materials and worked to completed eight different projects for those served in our foster care and adoptions program, our family intervention services program, host homes for adults with developmentally disabilities, and unaccompanied immigrant minors.  At the end of the day, volunteers accomplished an amazing amount of work in a short time, and LSG was blessed with many items to help those we serve, including

  • 2,000 pounds of rice bagged in family-sized bags for refugee families
  •  Four Emergency Disaster kits for our Disability Services host homes
  •  50 "welcome" cards and key chains for the first homes of newly arrived refugees
  •  21 Emergency Disaster Kits for Foster Families
  •  More than 50 letters of encouragement written to immigrants in detention
  •  39 toiletry kits and 18 backpacks of school supplies for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
  •  44 bags of emergency food for families in our Family Intervention Services program.

Volunteers came from all over metro Atlanta to serve, representing a large range of ages from young children, teens and college students to adults and seniors.

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In addition, in our Advocacy Room, volunteers wrote 258 letters to state and federal legislators to advocate for justice for Dreamers, people impacted by hunger, and more refugee arrivals.

MLK Day of Service Advocacy Letters

Around 55 people attended the workshop on Racial Justice led by Judith Roberts from ELCA Racial Justice Ministries.  

 Workshop participants gathered in groups for a learning exercise during the racial justice workshop

Workshop participants gathered in groups for a learning exercise during the racial justice workshop

LSG is grateful to all of our volunteers, staff and others who helped make the 2018 MLK Lutheran Day of Service a success.  Thank you for supporting LSG and helping  those we serve!

 

Annual Event Celebrates Refugees, Honors Volunteers and Community Partners

 
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On the 19th of November, close to 250 people gathered to share food and friendship at our annual Breaking Bread and Building Bridges potluck. 

Refugees, individuals, and faith volunteers alike enjoyed delicious homemade dishes from the U.S., Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Nepal, and more. 

Attendees had fun discussing their favorite cultural holidays and meals with one another, and several Congolese refugees present performed a traditional dance for the group.  

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·Several volunteers, faith partners, and community members were honored for their outstanding contributions to our clients.  Honorees included:    

St. John’s Lutheran Church, for their assistance furnishing numerous apartments for newly arrived refugees and for their participation as a Circle of Welcome partner.

 Craig Storlie, accepting the award on behalf of St. John’s Lutheran Church

Craig Storlie, accepting the award on behalf of St. John’s Lutheran Church

Susan Lyke, for the many times she has shared her ESOL training and curriculum with Circle of Welcome teams and individual volunteers.

Randy Potts and the Youth Group of Christ the Shepherd Lutheran, for their annual donation and delivery of welcome bags to newly arrived refugee families.

 Randy Potts, who leads the Youth Group at Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church

Randy Potts, who leads the Youth Group at Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church

Katie Curtis and Dario Bilakovic, for their committed service as First Friend Cultural Mentors to a number of refugee families.

Cheryl Bopp, Mary Kay Kates, and the whole Rock of Ages Clothing Closet Team, for their commitment to operating the clothing closet every week for many years, ensuring that our refugee clients have the clothing items they need.

 Mary Kay Kates, accepting on behalf of the Rock of Ages Clothing Closet volunteers

Mary Kay Kates, accepting on behalf of the Rock of Ages Clothing Closet volunteers

Guru Chhetri, for his volunteer work following his employment with LSG, providing interpretation and transportation assistance; and for his support of our fundraising initiatives this past year.

 LSG Staff Crispin Wiljonda and Melanie Johnson pose with Guru Chhetri.

LSG Staff Crispin Wiljonda and Melanie Johnson pose with Guru Chhetri.

Obaid Rasoul, for his over 30 years of service as an employment specialist with LSG and his ongoing volunteer work with refugees.

Dorothy Beasley, for her advocacy on behalf of refugees, her work as a First Friend Cultural Mentor, and her previous volunteer work with LSG’s cultural orientation and citizenship classes.

 Aimmee Zongondou (LSG), Dorthy Beasley and Melanie Johnson (LSG).

Aimmee Zongondou (LSG), Dorthy Beasley and Melanie Johnson (LSG).

In spite of the challenging year the resettlement community has faced—not to mention the cold and rainy weather of the evening—potluck attendees left in high spirits, warmed by the lively conversations and new friendships struck up while gathered around the table.    

Thank you to everyone who came out and made this event an overwhelming success!

 

The McAdams Family Grows Again!

 
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November is National Adoption Month, a month to knowledge and celebrate families touched by adoption!  At LSG, we are fortunate to witness many lives changed when children in foster care find their permanent home.

Earlier this month, nine-year-old Gavin was welcomed into his forever family. His parents and eight new siblings celebrated the finalization of his adoption as he officially became a “McAdams!”

His parents Candy and Kevin have made a huge impact on many children’s lives over the years.  They’ve opened their home as foster parents to multiple children in need of a temporary home and have adopted five of those children.  They’ve also recruited several of their friends to foster with LSG, including the Roers who recently finalized the adoption of their two children.

The McAdams have nine children total – seven through adoption and two through childbirth.  Their adoption journey began in 2000 when the couple adopted their nieces after Candy’s sister died.   Then Candy, who works as an elementary school teacher, learned that Timothy, one of her students with special needs, was in need of a permanent home, and she felt like she was being called to open her home again.

After the couple adopted Timothy, LSG began contacting them about other children who needed homes, and there answer was almost always “yes.”

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The McAdams have learned a lot about love, children and welcoming in their years as foster parents.

 “One of the biggest challenges is gain the trust of the children.  They’ve been through a lot.  You have to teach them and show them that when you say you are going to do something, you’re going to do it,” says McAdams.

Candy says that dealing with the ups and downs of fostering and adopting through foster care can be difficult.  Gavin first came to their home when he was four years old.  The McAdams hoped they would be able to adopt him years ago, but then a family member requested custody.  Gavin moved in with the family member for a year, but the arrangement didn’t work out. When he returned to their home, the McAdams were thrilled and welcomed him with open arms, and they begin the process of adopting him.

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Candy has always made sure that children they foster are treated the same as any member of the family.  “We don’t treat our foster children differently than our biological or adopted children.  When we go on a vacation, the whole family goes.”

What inspires Candy and Kevin to continue opening their home and growing their family?  “It’s knowing that we are helping those who need it.  That maybe we can change the world one child at a time.  I think that one child can do great things if they have a good foundation, and I think about the person they’ll be when they grow up.”

When asked if she has any advice for those considering fostering or adopting a children in foster care, Candy says that you have be able to love all kinds of children.  Candy says “you are not necessarily going to receive the love that you are giving, but it’s still worth it in the end.”

 

Stand Sunday: Standing for Children, Standing for Adoption

By Chris Hayes, Children and Family Services Supervisor for Lutheran Services of Georgia's Northwest Region.

 
 
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If you are anything like me, you probably woke up this morning trying to figure out how in the world it is already November. This year has flown by. However, November is a great month. Not only do we get Thanksgiving, but we get National Adoption Month, which is another great opportunity to bring light to the dark fact that there are literally thousands of children who are without a permanent home. I have long believed that while the problem is huge and complex, the solution is actually quite simple. The church.

I will come back to the solution shortly, but it’s important to try and comprehend the need first so we know what needs solving. In order to narrow the issue a little, I’m going to focus on Georgia. On any given day, there is somewhere around 13,000 children in foster care in the state. Close to 1,800 of those children are sitting around ready to be adopted, but just need a family to bring them home as their forever family. The good news, which brings me back to the solution, is that there are close to 15,000 churches in the state. I’m not an elite mathematician, but even I can see that there are more than enough churches to not only solve the issue of needing more homes, but there is enough resources and people to wrap around those families and children to support them through a variety of means.

 Chris Hayes, Children & Family Services Supervisor

Chris Hayes, Children & Family Services Supervisor

And with that, we are now just a couple days from Stand Sunday, formerly known as Orphan Sunday, though I like the name change. To give some background, Bishop Aaron Blake, who is a pastor and foster/adoptive father in Texas, coined the term “Stand Sunday” back in 2004 while giving a sermon to his congregation. He decided to shift gears from the sermon he had prepared to inform his congregation that there were 30,000 children in foster care in Texas and then he asked a question, one that was not intended to illicit a verbal response. He asked, “Who will stand with me to defend, care, and support abused, abandon, and neglected children in our community?” After he paused for a moment, an incredible thing happened. People started standing up saying that they would answer the call. Over the past 12 years, families in their church has fostered and adopted hundreds of children and now their county has too many families compared to the number of children in care. What?? Yes, so it can happen. We can end the crisis.

I often tell families that not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can do something. It’s imperative that foster families not do this work alone. It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s sad. But it’s also rewarding and necessary. If you can’t foster or adopt, then sign up to babysit or mentor or make meals for families with new placements. Maybe you can collect clothing and supplies for children and families. Maybe you want to mentor birth families. Maybe you can start a prayer group or maybe you can write a check. The truth is, there is a role and a need for everyone, including you. No matter what your passion or gifting or talent, use it for the glory of God and to serve these children and families.

For some of you, there is that burning within where God is calling you to step out of your comfort zone to foster and/or adopt. I can help you with that. Here at Lutheran Services of Georgia, we are committed to providing excellent services that not only help you become an approved family, but that also strongly support and encourage and guide you throughout the entire journey.

For others, maybe you want to see your church become like Bishop Blake’s. I’d love to come out and meet with you and/or your pastor(s) to talk about how we can partner together to not simply recruit more families and support volunteers, but to truly make an eternal impact in your community as we serve the least of these. Our vision is Restored Hope, Transformed Lives, Healthy Tomorrows. Together we can see children and families achieve those things. Together we can break the cycle of neglect and abuse so many families have experienced for generations. Together, we can follow the Biblical mandate set before us in James 1:27 and watch the Lord do incredible things as lives are changed forever, including yours.

However you can serve, my plea is that you will serve. Help us create more awareness by sharing the need as well as the solution so that others will join the movement. Will you stand this Sunday? Will you join us and become part of the solution? Will you pray for the children without homes right now? Will you pray for the families who are thinking about fostering or adopting? Will your church be willing to accept the call and serve in this work? If yes to any of those, don’t wait. Don't put it off. Call or email me today and let’s just talk about how you can get involved. Or, if you aren’t in or near NW Georgia, call one of our offices close to your area. It’s time to stand up and get in the game. Let’s do it together!

https://vimeo.com/224756922

Chris Hayes
Children and Family Services Supervisor
Lutheran Services of Georgia – Northwest Region
chayes@lsga.org 
404-769-4253

 

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.