Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Purpose...way back when

Thanks to Facebook, the Little Sister I had when I was about 20 contacted me. Of course, more than 25 years later she is no longer "little". She is actually over six feet tall.

Brenda and I got together regularly for about three years from the time she was 10. Then I got married and life kind of took over from there. Brenda was always 10 years old in my mind until she came to my house for dinner, now a grandmother!

All those years ago, when I was Living On Purpose as a young adult, I didn't realize that I would impact a girl so much that she would look me up and contact me in her late 30s.

She has come through many challenges in her life, has raised her own children to adulthood, and become a loving grandmother. I am very proud of Brenda and am thankful that she was there for me when I was looking for a way to impact the life of a child.

Foster Child #1

It's been a while since I've posted on my blog. It's not that I haven't done anything with purpose, It's just that I have done more of the same things that I've blogged about already. And then...

I got a call from a resource worker at Family and Children's Services. A set of foster parents wanted an adult weekend at their trailer park and were looking for care for their three foster children. I was asked to take the 16 year old girl Kirsten and was happy that I was available.

I spoke with the foster mom on the phone in advance to learn about this girl. I arranged to pick up Kirsten on a Saturday morning. She was quiet and shy, understandably so. I was a complete stranger to her and she had no idea what to expect over the weekend.

She was concerned that she wouldn't like what I would feed her so I decided to take her grocery shopping with me and give her some choices.

We got to my house and I showed her to her room. She would be the first person to sleep in it since it had been repainted, carpeted, and freshly decorated. She unpacked her belongings while I unpacked the groceries.

After lunch we went to the Buskers Carnival in Uptown Waterloo. We saw several acts but I didn't get the impression she was into it. We got home, had supper, and she basically just chilled in her room until bedtime.

There was no schedule for Sunday so I let her sleep as late as she wanted. When she first woke up she just watched TV in her room. I told her just to come down whenever she was ready for breakfast.

You never saw a happier girl than when Kirsten came down the steps a little later. Waking up in her own time in a quiet room was an extreme contrast to waking up to fighting between the two younger foster girls she regularly shares a room with. Her regular foster home consists of six young people and two adults so being in a house with only one other person is very different. While eating toasted waffles for breakfast, she was much more talkative than the day before.

Kirsten brought a scrapbooking project with her so after breakfast I cleared a space for her to work in my scrapbooking room. She actually completed the album she was creating as a gift. I finished a couple of odd projects myself before preparing lunch.

My first foster child had a bit more time to herself in her own room before packing up and going back home to her regular foster parents. There wasn't any feedback from Kirsten but I got the impression that for her it was like staying at a B&B.

I took a photo of Kirsten before taking her back home but can't share it for privacy reasons. Someday I will create an album of all the children who have come to stay at my home.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

National Volunteer Week

I was honoured to be asked to speak of my journey at the Family and Children's Services Volunteer Recognition Dinner. As (surprisingly) nervous as I was when I first got on stage, it went very well. This is what I had to say, in both video and written format:

I’m currently reading a book by Neale Donald Walsch called Home With God. It describes life like walking through a forest with many paths to choose from. The paths are neither right nor wrong because you’ll always end up at the same place, but some are more arduous than others. So I looked up the word “arduous” – and I can explain that on some paths you will find it more difficult to achieve what you want to achieve.

I consider my purpose in life to make a positive impact on the lives of children.

My career path hasn’t made that difficult but it also hasn’t supported my purpose. I spent 20 years as a secretary – when we still called ourselves secretaries. I don’t know when that became politically incorrect – and gradually became a corporate trainer which has nothing whatsoever to do with kids.

Along that path, I did have the opportunity to raise a son of my own which, of course, was very satisfying. By the time he turned 18, although he still needed me I was already missing having a child in my life.

As someone who regularly volunteers, that was a familiar tree for me to head towards.

I used the services of the Volunteer Action Centre and for 6 years I’ve been spending time with special children in the community through Family and Children’s Services. Emails from Carrie Landry always get me excited to see what opportunities are available.

For a year I was matched with an 8 year old girl who loved playing on the computer at the library.

When that family met their goals, I was matched with a 6 year old boy who was obSESSED with fishing, driving, and being a police officer. Not beCOMing a police officer, but BEing a police officer.

During the time I was matched with a family, I helped the 15 year old daughter get her first job.

I have helped with a scrapbooking club, and a reading club. When I had time off during the work week I went to the office to count flyers and stuff envelopes.

I took a sweet 10 year old girl to a woodworking workshop and she was so shocked to learn that all 8 other kids in the room were also in foster care. She thought she was alone.

I have spent the past year with a darling girl who’s 7 now, getting her to or from dance classes and helping her improve her reading and counting skills. She makes an adorable little clown so watch for us making balloon hats at Family and Children’s Services events.

I’ve been enjoying this path through the forest where I can give love to children and make them feel valued.

Every once in awhile though, it’s been like there’s a gibbon ape – because my last name is Gibbons – up in the tree throwing coconuts at me, trying to get me on a different path.

My son has been on his own for 4 years – so I have an empty house – and there is apparently a long waiting list for grandchildren. BONK!

My sister was fostering 3 of her grandchildren – so there is a need within my own family. BONK!

The 7 year old girl I’m so attached to may require foster care. BONK! BONK!

And those ADS, rePEATing and rePEATing on the radio! BONK! So that ape directed me – to where I always knew the path would lead me someday – and I am becoming a Foster Parent.

People often commend me for doing so much for others – and show appreciation with events like this – and that’s very nice but not necessary because really, I do it for me.

I’m at the place in the forest where I feel like I am the person I am here to be, so I appreciate Family and Children’s Services for providing that opportunity.

Kids Workshops, Pilot Run

I started off being very excited to do a pilot run of the Wonderful, Powerful ME! kids workshops. The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank sponsored ten children ages 7 to 14. This is how it went.

Week 1 of 6

Six children attended. The two 7 year olds were very active. Crawling across the table kind of active. The 4 siblings were very talkative in a disruptive way. The 14 year old was unimpressed about spending his time with younger kids.

Lesson learned: Group kids better by age. 9-13 and 14-17 would probably work better. No 7 and 8 year olds!

Week 2 of 6

The 14 year old would not be returning. One of the siblings was sick so none of them attended. Only two boys ages 7 and 8 attended and they were distracted by the toys stored at the front of the room. Four of the ten registered kids hadn't shown up yet at all.

The one boy who was so active during Week 1 actually remembered a lot of what was taught the week before. That was a pleasant surprise.

Lesson learned: When the parents aren't paying themselves, they aren't committed to bringing their kids.

Week 3 of 6

The original 4 siblings returned along with another brother. They thanked me for a fun time. They enjoyed the spiritual kind of CD I played and were singing it on their way out. The one 7 year old attended but was bored because I had switched to a room without toys.

The helium filled foil balloon I paid $5 for got punctured.

Cutting out magazine pictures for vision boards was completed in this one class. I had planned to carry that activity over 3 weeks. I told my contact at the Food Bank that we would end the pilot run after 4 weeks instead of 6.

Lesson learned: Plan more activities or reduce the length of the program.

Week 4 of 6 (4)

The 5 siblings returned, singing the same song on their way in. I had lost the electrical cable for my CD player and the batteries had died so I couldn't play the CD for them again. They said they really liked the classes and were disappointed that this would be the last one. The 7 year old was bored again.

All the kids finished their vision boards. They liked their name tags enough to want to keep them.

Lesson learned: Adorable as the little guy was, definitely no 7 year olds :) unless we develop activities more specific to the age and energy level.

Overall, it was good to run the pilot because I really learned a lot. I'm sure between my sister and I we can work out some details and run it again sometime - because we have a vision.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Letters of Hope, I Hope

Women for Women matched me with a "sister" in Sudan named Monica who is in her early 30s, married, and cares for 5 children. My sponsorship allows her to attend a year long program that includes rights awareness education and job skills training so she can continue to support her family in the future. Monica also receives a portion of my sponsorship in direct aid so she can provide her family with basic necessities.

I am asked to write to Monica so that she knows someone in the world is supporting her. It's kind of weird to write to someone you hardly know anything about. I am told I may never receive response directly from Monica because most of the women in the program cannot read or write more than their name.

When I first received the information about our match, I wrote to introduce myself and provide Monica with a picture of me. This week I sent her a postcard from Ottawa thinking it might be interesting for her to see pictures of Canada's capital city. I also thought that a handwritten note would feel more personal. The Women for Women web site provides an option to write a letter online so I sent one using that method as well. That seems less personal but it will get to her more quickly.

All my letters have to go through the office in Washington, then they are forwarded to the office in Sudan. They have to be translated to Arabic and then read to Monica. It's a time consuming process that could take months. Anything that might be sent to me from Monica has to go through the same process in reverse.

So I just keep writing, hoping that my letters will eventually reach her and somehow be of benefit to my sponsored sister Monica.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Skeletons in the Closet

It's a very long and detailed process to become a Foster Parent. I had no idea.

I first applied in July or August, 2009. Initially, that just involved calling Family and Children's Services and sending in a completed form.

Then a Foster Parent Recruiter came to my house to get to know me a bit. Little did I know, she would give me a mountain of paperwork to assemble! This is the step they never mention on their web site or at the information night I attended. So I gathered 5 references, had a medical exam, copied my home and auto insurance policies, obtained a driver's abstract, obtained a police record (I'm clean which is good to know), and listed all the cities I've lived in, and in what years, throughout my life so they can check all Children's Aid records (I moved a lot so that was challenging). Oh, and I provided a family photo. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more items that I don't remember at the moment.

The next step was to attend PRIDE training (PRIDE = Parent Resources for Information, Development & Education) an evening a week for 9 weeks. I started the first week of 2010 and just completed the training this week. They cover all the issues that you can imagine might come along with foster kids. If you don't go running in the other direction within 9 weeks then you're very committed.

I do have a lot of questions about how a working single person manages the commitment to foster. They insist it can be done but I'm mainly concerned about childcare anytime I'm working and they are not in school. It can be expensive and that's one thing they don't pay for. The daily Per Diem is expected to cover food, toiletries, and extra use of household utilities and there isn't enough left over for childcare. So my Recruiter put me in contact with one of "many" single women who are fostering. It turned out that she had an adult daughter living with her and helping out until she retired. So I still have questions but I'm moving forward.

Now that my PRIDE training is completed, the next step is a SAFE home study. This does not mean that they come in to check that all your electrical outlets are covered, etc., which is a common misconception. SAFE = Structured Assessment Family Evaluation and involves probably 4 visits from a recruitment worker and supporting documentation. The supporting documentation refers to all the "homework" from the PRIDE training which was a lot of personal information about my own childhood that they will delve into more deeply. I anticipate they will be revealing all the skeletons in the closet!

There can be a long wait before you get to the top of a long, prioritized list of potential foster and adoptive parents waiting for their SAFE home study. However, there is a high need for foster homes for teens which I am interested in, so that makes me a priority. I'm told my home study is probably going to start within the next month. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 19, 2010

So Many Options

I discovered today that my Kiva entrepreneurs have repaid enough of their loans for me to make another loan of $25. There were 322 loan requests listed. With so many options, how do you decide? The Kiva site says that 18,318 lenders made a loan this week, 1 loan every 12 seconds. Clearly, a lot of people have gone through a similar decision making process.

Naturally, I wanted to make sure that my loan would impact children...On Purpose. That's easy because most of the entrepreneurs seem to have children. My 14 previous loans seem pretty evenly distributed between men, women, and groups, so I must have considered that criteria before. If it seems the purpose of the loan is to look after some basic needs like food, shelter, or clothing, then that appeals to me. Still...there are 322 people to choose from.

Kiva offers a map view so I can see where in the world my money has gone so far. I started to eliminate countries that already show on my map and began to focus on South America. It's a good sized continent and I had only made 2 loans there.

A finally decided to lend to this young woman in Ecuador.

Maria Fernanda Aguiar Guevara is 20 years old, single, and lives with her parents and ten siblings. Altogether there are eleven children, six daughters and five sons. (I'd say that qualifies!)
Maria helps her parents with their farm. Her family grows corn, potatoes, lima beans, peas, and other crops in small quantities. They recently planted corn at the end of January and expect to harvest it in the summer. In addition, they buy and sell products at the fairs in San Miguel on Thursdays and Sundays. The difficulties of having to work in the field involve having to deal with disease and drought that impact the crops.
Maria is requesting a loan to purchase farming supplies. In the future, she wants to become a professional accountant and continue to help parents with their farm.

In her spare time, Maria enjoys listening to romantic music and spending time with her parents.