Laughing together at the dinner table, sophomore Ashley Davis and her family get to know their newest foster care child. Through conversation, Davis notices the joy and energy these kids bring to her family. Davis, along with many other South students, have been given the opportunity to participate in Safe Families, a foster care program offered through Glenview’s Willow Creek Church.
Davis’s mother, Amy Davis, has worked as a coordinator for Safe Families, and her family is currently a certified host family. She explains the main goal of the program is to provide for families in desperate need of help.
“The mission is to step in when a family is in crisis, but they don’t necessarily need to have the kids removed from the home and become wards of the state through foster care,” Amy said. “Instead, if given some coaching and some mentoring, they could get their crisis resolved, and the kids could rejoin the family after a period of time of being hosted by a host family.”
According to Ashley, Willow Creek was the catalyst for her family’s involvement with the organization. Her family was eager to participate in the program, but also thought about the immense responsibility that caring for another child would be.
“My parents heard [about] it during one of the services,” Ashley said. “I was really hesitant because, having a child live with you, who knows what could happen.”
Sophomore Ashley Ryno says her family heard about the program through Willow Creek as well. They decided to get involved out of a love for helping those in need.
“Me and my siblings have always been open about [service], and we always like to get involved and help people out,” Ryno said. “My mom is a social worker, and we always loved helping her kids out, [so] we wanted to try [Safe Families].”
According to Ryno, her family has participated in Safe Families for five years and was able to take care of three children this past summer. Ryno says that the kids often don’t have basic necessities such as clothes or even food, so seeing their transformation is especially rewarding.
“We [are able] to help them out,” Ryno said. “We give them clothes [and other things] because a lot of them don’t have [these items]. They are always really happy and they make my family really grateful for everything that we have.”
According to Ashley, her family has hosted six children long term, each for around two to three months. Ashley says that each child brings a unique story and personality which makes for a memorable, yet heartbreaking experience.
“They did nothing wrong which is why it’s bittersweet because you get to help these children, but then you see that they are going back to their original homes,” Ashley said. “You just want them to stay, but it’s not the best option … It’s all happy thoughts [when] I think about just bonding with them, how sweet they are and how much they care.”
While families may host several children temporarily through their time in the program, junior Jacob Snyder says his family hosted one child who they ended up adopting as a result of Safe Families.
“We have a very unique story in the sense that we only hosted one child who we went on to adopt,” Snyder said. “He was born in 2009 so that’s when we brought him in as a Safe Family child and then as it became … clear that the mother probably would never be able to care for him or take him back, he moved into foster care, [then] to adoption.”
Ultimately, Ryno, Ashley and Snyder agree that Safe Families provides families in the community with an opportunity to give back in a more personal way.
“Our house is always open to help,” Snyder said. “Our needs were met and we were taken care of, [so] we wanted to pay it forward and help people who didn’t have the same opportunities.”
According to Ryno, not only does the program leave a mark on families receiving the help, it is also impactful on the families who offer their help.
“Safe families is a really great program, and my family really enjoys it,” Ryno said. “It’s really amazing to see the impact that we can have on them. I [always] remember that we are doing a good thing.”
Throughout her time in the program, Amy has realized how being a Safe Family has changed her life and allowed her to see the world in a different way. Amy encourages others to get involved in the program so they can experience the joys that Safe Families has to offer.
“Anyone who is even remotely considering being a part of Safe Families should not delay,” Amy said. “They should definitely open their hearts and their minds to getting more involved because [the program] is life changing … It really transforms [the way you think] about the world as a whole.”