By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Fostering Possibilities Boutique has been open for about a year now, serving the needs of foster children in Carter County and surrounding communities. They offer a variety of clothing, as well as books, toys, and comfort items for kids in transitional housing. And one of the first things you’ll notice when you enter their space is that all of the clothing, and most of the other items they offer, are all brand new. That’s an important part of the experience for the folks who visit the boutique, the volunteers who work with the organization explained.
“They get enough things secondhand,” the organization’s president, Marianne Johnson said of the children they serve.
“This is one thing we can do for them,” she continued. “We didn’t want it to just be good enough. We want it to be something special.”
The kids who end up in foster care often come from homes where resources are thin, she said.
“Pam Wilburn, who is a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer (and Fostering Possibilities’ recording secretary), in our very first meeting, she told this story about how she had two little boys that she’s an advocate for, and she met him at the courthouse. It was a hearing day, and she was just talking to him, and asked, ‘What could I do for you? What would be something that I could do to help you?’ And the little ten-year-old, she said, ‘He looked at me and he said, ‘I want to eat when I’m hungry, and I want clothes that fit.’’ So, that’s what we wanted to do. Because… people give you clothes and maybe they fit, maybe they don’t, and they think it’s good enough, but it’s really not. It’s really not. So, that’s kind of our mission, to make sure that they come here, and they feel special, and they fit in at school.”
All of their shopping sessions are by appointment, Johnson explained. That way the kids have privacy, and also they get the full attention of the staff who can help them pick out and try on items.
Wilburn is one point of contact to the children, Treasurer Debbie Prichard explained. They also have flyers they make available to foster families.
They call, or Wilburn makes contact for them, Prichard said, “and then she contacts our group of shoppers to set up an appointment.”
“It’s a private appointment, so if a family comes, or an individual comes with children, it’s just one-on-one. They’re the only ones here with the shoppers. And we want to make it as much of a personal shopping experience with the children as we can.”
It’s just another way of making them feel special, she explained.
“They get to pick out five to seven outfits,” she continued, as well as other items like toys and books. “They can come four times a year.”
Something everyone gets is what they call a “comfort bag.” It’s a backpack, filled with items like pajamas and other necessities.
“They’re geared for the child (based on gender and age),” explained volunteer and board member at large Diane Caudill. “What’s inside the bag is usually, if it’s a young child, there might be a stuffed animal. There’s a little throw. Sometimes we’ve got things to entertain them. Sometimes they’re in a social worker’s office for a little while. So, there’s little magazines. There are coloring books. There are crayons. Some toiletries. Pajamas. Things that they might need right off the bat.”
Since opening their doors, on September 1, 2022, the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has served almost 250 children.
Sometimes those children have nothing but the clothes on their back when they show up, Johnson said, and they’re able to – if not fix all their problems – at least help them with clothing that fits.
“We had last year, a 16-year-old girl came in… she was taken in and came in crying, and when she left she at least had clothing and was in a little bit better mood.”
Her entire world had been turned upside down in that moment, Johnson explained, and she had nothing to wear.
“That’s traumatic. You think about that; it’s the worst day of someone’s life,” Johnson said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
But then, she said, there are days like the one with a jubilant little girl excited to start a new school.
“She was in third grade, one of them, there were five of them (that this particular family had taken in). But I remember her because she was just so ecstatic about everything she tried on. She’d come out and she’d say, ‘What do you think?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh! You’re so pretty! Go look at yourself in the mirror!’ And she’d go to that (full length mirror) and just yell, ‘I love it!’”
“These kids are so appreciative of everything,” Caudill added, because they’ve often never gotten many things to call their own.
Whitley Bailey, an attorney who volunteers with the group, said that the families who open their homes to the children often don’t have a lot of resources either. While they might sometimes have things already in place, especially if the children were return placements, sometimes they were starting from scratch too, and without a lot of resources at their disposal.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about why we are needed,” Bailey said.
While a lot of people believe the foster parents are well compensated for taking in these children, that isn’t the case.
“If the foster parents get anything, it’s six months or more after they take the children in,” she said. “And it might be enough to feed them, maybe. But with the cost of groceries going up, it’s probably not enough to feed them.”
If they children are placed with a relative, she added, they might not qualify for any assistance at all, “except maybe medical.”
“Because of the family relations, they’re not foster parents. Even a lot of the foster parents who would otherwise qualify, these kids are in and out and gone before they ever receive any stipend, any payment, anything, and they don’t receive any back pay.”
If they can help remove some of the clothing cost burden from those foster parents or other relatives, she said, it helps.
“We talk a lot about physical needs, but one things people don’t consider is also their emotional and healthcare needs,” she continued. “Running to meetings with social workers, meetings with CASA, court meetings, therapy, counseling. These are things that all of these children need. And a lot of them are behind on their medical treatment. So you’re going to the eye doctor, dentists, for shots, and more shots, all within the short time that they have them.”
And between the time and the gas, it all adds up.
So, Bailey said, “this is just a small part of fostering that we can help with.”
The non-profit group has been funded through a number of grants, and sponsorships, as well as a gala fundraiser.
Their newest event, hosted by diamond level sponsor Ann Womack, is “A Night of Endless Possibilities,” featuring entertainment from Dustin Burchett and Holly Forbes, November 4, at 6 p.m. at the Boyd County Community Center. Tables of eight for organizations or other groups are available for $800, while the price for couples is $200 and $125 for a single ticket. Tickets are available through board members, or online at eventbrite.com.
Their Fall Gala sponsors, who raised a combined total of $14,695 for the group, include Commercial Bank, First National Bank, Tres Hermanos, Frank Hager Insurance, McDonald’s, Steve and Ann Womack, Tracy and Cheri Brown, Blue Skies Telecom, Michele Wilhoit State Farm Insurance, Primary Plus, and O’Reilly Auto Parts.
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