Each year, more than 7,000 Georgia children live in foster care. In most cases, the children have been removed from their homes because they were abused, neglected, or left stranded by a family tragedy. Over the past two and a half decades, Bloom, a Fayetteville-based non-profit organization, has found ways to connect children in need with loving and supportive foster families in order to help them heal and thrive.
Originally founded in 1989 by Fayette County resident Jim Friday, Bloom (formerly Fayette Youth Protection Homes) has served as a shelter and safety net for children for the past 25 years. “Our donors, supporters, staff, and volunteers are the thread that has knitted our organization together, and have allowed us to reach more children than we ever dreamed possible,” says Becky Davenport, Bloom’s executive director.
Currently, Bloom has three main programs; a foster parent recruitment, training, and support program; a residential group home for up to 10 children; and The Bloom Closet, a free clothing resource center for foster families. This year, the organization will be expanding its current foster parenting program.
“I’m excited to share that our organization has received a child placement licensure that will allow us to extend our services to medically fragile foster children as well as pregnant or parenting teen girls in the need of foster care” says Becky.
Bloom receives about 30-55 calls per month from the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) seeking placement for foster children and sibling groups of all ages. The reasons why children are in need of a temporary home vary; the parents might be incarcerated, deceased, or struggling with substance abuse.
“Sometimes the child has been abused or neglected, or they are living in extreme poverty,” Becky comments. “Those are just a few heartbreaking situations that we encounter time and time again.”
Bloom’s foster care program connects children with families who are able to provide stable, loving relationships and safe environments. Through their comprehensive program, private foster families are recruited and trained to care for children of all ages in their homes. Prospective foster parents are invited to attend monthly informational meetings about becoming a foster parent, and for those interested, Bloom walks them through the necessary training. Bloom provides foster families with dedicated supports such as 24-hour access to staff in the event of a crisis, annual foster care training, referral information, respite care, access to The Bloom Closet, and the opportunity to network with other foster parents.
The Friday-Johnson Home
The Friday-Johnson Home, Bloom’s residential children’s home in Brooks, provides shelter for up to 10 children between the ages of 6 and 18. The average length of stay is eight months. For some, the Friday-Johnson Home is a temporary living arrangement, while for others, it’s their last stop before they are either adopted or age out of the foster care system.
The caregivers at the Friday-Johnson Home regularly optimize the kids’ chances for healing by providing a structured-yet-loving environment, as well as supportive services to help the children achieve their personal best.
“The home provides children with more than a safe, family-like environment,” explains Judy Matthews, Bloom’s program director. “All the children’s needs are met, including medical attention, education, mentoring, transportation, and the opportunity to participate in recreation, arts, and community activities.”
The staff at the Friday-Johnson Home also focuses on providing the children with enriching opportunities, including participation in singing and etiquette lessons, attending camps and sporting events, and learning independent living skills such as how to cook, manage money, and fill out a job application.
The Bloom Closet
When children come into the foster care system, they typically do not bring anything with them besides the clothes on their backs. Foster parents are given a stipend for clothing, although it typically doesn’t cover all of the actual costs. The Bloom Closet addresses this need by collecting and distributing donated clothing, baby gear, shoes, toiletries, school supplies, and toys to foster families at no cost.
“This exciting venture has grown exponentially since its inception in 2008,” says Becky. “The program started in the basement of a small office condo. Since then, we have moved into an 8,000 square foot building and revamped the entire space to appear more like a specialty children’s boutique.”
In the past year, The Bloom Closet experienced a 33 percent increase in the number of children served, which coincided with a 22 percent increase in the number of children removed from their homes statewide. In 2014, The Bloom Closet provided free clothing, books, toys, school supplies, and baby gear to more than 1,000 foster children from 60 Georgia counties.
“The Bloom Closet is truly a community-wide effort,” comments Lauren Powers, manager of The Bloom Closet. “All the items have been donated by someone in the community, and we have a team of volunteers who sort through donations on a daily basis.”
Several churches, community organizations, companies, and individual supporters have helped grow The Bloom Closet in various ways, such as organizing clothing and supply drives, volunteering time to help organize and sort through donations, and even building a storage structure to hold larger donations like bicycles.
Through Bloom’s programs, the community is invited to make a difference in the life of a foster child. Whether volunteering at The Bloom Closet, mentoring a teen, or signing up to take in a foster child, each and every person can help to give foster children a brighter future.