Fostering Hope is a nonprofit organization that enriches the lives of children living in foster care and residential treatment within Cuyahoga County. The group works closely with OhioGuidestone, Beech Brook, Applewood and Bellefaire JCB, focusing on trauma-informed health and wellness programming: Hope Grows Here and Hope in Balance.
We chatted with Nicole Shefrin, executive director and founder of the organization to learn more about her, the work Fostering Hope (FH) does, the 11th annual Holiday Gift ‘N Greet and how you can get involved in the immense work of Fostering Hope.
CC: Broadly, why is the work that FH does so important?
NS: I was removed from my home when I was 16. That’s why working with this population is important to me. But why should it be important to everyone else? The statistics for foster care children are shocking:
There are 4,386 children in foster care in Cuyahoga County.
1 of 4 children in foster care have PTSD.
25% will be homeless within four years of aging out of the system.
71% of girls will be pregnant by the age of 21.
Nationally, less than 3% will obtain a college degree. It is a mere 1/2% in Ohio. 40% of children rescued recently from human trafficking came from foster care.
CC: What was your inspiration for creating FH?
NS: Children in foster care and residential treatment hold a special place in my heart. At the age of 16, the courts placed me into Kinship Care. I can relate to the traumas of children who have are now in care. After volunteering in foster care for many years, I noticed a commonly repeated theme. Foster kids just want to be kids. Healthy. Typical. Loved. Kids.
Due to their life experiences, foster kids have concluded that people don’t care. They have been placed in foster care after the people who are supposed to love and care for them the most have failed them. Most foster youth find it difficult to believe that anyone cares for them.
Ten childhood traumas that negatively affect the outcomes for children are: 1) Physical abuse 2) Sexual abuse 3) Emotional abuse 4) Physical neglect 5) Emotional neglect 6) Mother treated violently 7) Household substance abuse 8) Household mental illness 9) Parental separation or divorce 10) Incarcerated household member.
I have 8 of those traumas. Most children in foster care have experienced four. I know I should be a statistic. I was fortunate to have had people who wouldn’t give up on me. People who believed I was worth investing in. I can’t repay the people in my life who believed in me and encouraged me to be more than my past. What I can do is be that person for someone else.
CC: What are some big, new, small developments that have happened this year for FH?
NS: We’ve had a great year!
Big and New: Fostering Hope is very excited to begin a partnership with Boys and Girls Club Cleveland to bring them Hope in Balance, our trauma-informed yoga and creative arts program. Many of their club members have experienced trauma and are living in foster care/kinship care. We are looking forward to seeing how this partnership grows. Currently the Hope in Balance program is held on a weekly basis at four different locations across Cleveland.
New: We’ve expanded Hope Grows Here. Hope Grows Here is a series of therapeutic gardens and outdoor classrooms built on the campuses of residential treatment centers in Cleveland. Our newest garden and classroom was build this summer on the campus of Bellefaire in Shaker Heights.
Small: As a small nonprofit we always joke that we are professional, but poor. This year we moved into an itty-bitty office that we share with another nonprofit. It is cozy and perfect for us. It reminds us why we do this.
CC: What is the purpose of Gift ‘N Greet?
NS: The basic idea is we gather wish lists from children living in residential treatment and pair them with sponsors. The sponsors purchase from the wish list and deliver the gifts personally at our Gift ’N Greet parties. The parties are held inside the cottages where the children live. Through the Gift ’N Greet, we give children in foster care typical childhood experiences around the holidays.
The holidays are one of the hardest times of the year for foster youth. It is important to Fostering Hope that we use this opportunity to show them that there are good people in this world who truly care about them.
CC: Who should come to Gift ‘N Greet?
NS: We don’t have room for anymore participants at the event, but the community can still help us out! Fostering Hope is accepting donations of completed holiday stockings at our office. They can be dropped off or mailed to: Fostering Hope, 3737 Lander Road #214, Cleveland, 44124. Holiday stockings will be personally delivered to foster youth by Santa. (Due to the need to protect the kids, this event is not open to the public. Only people who have previously signed up to sponsor a child’s wish list can attend the event. All of the children’s wish lists were sponsored very quickly this year!)
CC: How can people interested in FH get involved?
NS: We are always looking for volunteers and community partners to sponsor events and hold gift drives for us throughout the year. Here are various ways that we need the communities help:
Stuff the Stocking: Donate a completed holiday stocking or host a collection at your office.
Bunny Hop for Hope: We collect goodie-filled baskets to be delivered by our Easter Bunny. Donations of baskets and goodies can be made to our office. We are always looking for churches, girl scout troops and offices to host collections and volunteer at our donation center.
Anyone with a green thumb? Volunteer groups can help us spruce up and even build our therapeutic gardens and outdoor classrooms.
CC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
NS: Donate! Remember that professional but poor comment? Ha! We are a small organization that does a tremendous amount with very little. The generosity of individuals, foundations and local companies completely fund us. We don’t receive any government funding.
Follow us on Facebook to stay informed of ways to be involved!
[Written by Kendall Embrescia-Hridel]