When children enter foster care, most have experienced severe trauma, having endured physical, mental, or sexual abuse. Many come from families where parents are struggling with substance abuse. They arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They are at a crossroads. This is where bloom comes in.
For 30 years, Bloom has supported the needs of foster children in Fayette County. Bloom was founded in 1986 as Fayette Youth Protection Homes by Fayette County resident Jim Friday. Three years later, the organization’s first group home, The Jim Friday Home, opened its doors in Northern Fayette County. Even during those early beginnings, the Fayette County community was there to offer a hand. The late Jim Friday has been quoted as saying, “It seemed like when we needed something, people we had never heard of would come in at the right time—it’s been really strange. At the right time, people were there.”
The Jim Friday Home was the sole group home operated by the organization until almost a decade later when the Asden Johnson Home opened in South Fayette County. The second home was named after a committed volunteer and Board member, Asden Johnson, who had a passion for helping abused and neglected children. From the beginning, Mrs. Johnson played a major role in fundraising efforts and advocating for these children. Johnson, along with Fayetteville resident Eileen Patton, opened the Fayette Thrift Shop which was a key income source for the organization for many years.
Today, Bloom has grown into an organization serving 4,500 foster children in 90 counties. To address the needs of the children Bloom uses a three-pronged, family-centric approach. Bloom begins by recruiting, training, and certifying foster families through the Team Bloom Foster Parenting Program. Next, they provide specialized training and support to foster families through Bloom University. Finally, they operate The Bloom Closet, a free clothing resource center available to all foster children in Georgia.
Executive Director, Becky Davenport, says it takes this holistic approach to fully support the needs of the children. And, given the growing number of foster children in the system, Bloom must focus on how to evolve to serve these needs.
“Sadly, the number of children in the foster care system is on the rise, so we have to address how we will keep pace with the numbers,” says Davenport. “In the last 12 months, the number of children served through our foster parenting program has increased by 30%.”
There are 14,000 children in foster care today, and Bloom has cast a vision to reach 50% of these children by 2021. Davenport says in order to address this growth, they must continue to provide more essential items for children through The Bloom Closet.
“From the day children come into care, they can shop for free at The Bloom Closet for clothing, necessities, school supplies, and toys,” adds Davenport. “Parents can shop four times a year, as seasons change, and children outgrow their clothing. Whether it’s infant clothing, bedding, teen boys’ and girls’ clothing, or a suit for a young person interviewing for their first job, you’ll find it in The Bloom Closet.”
The Bloom Closet serves a vital role for foster children in the community, and throughout the state. It’s important to note that it is 100% donor-funded, receiving no government dollars. And, according to Davenport, The Bloom Closet could not operate without Fayette County and the surrounding communities. This past year, 8,493 volunteer hours were devoted by local businesses and individuals.
Davenport says the organization’s dream is to introduce a special mobilized version of The Bloom Closet in the next few years. The Zoom Closet, as it would be called, could expand Bloom’s reach so that children in rural areas or those who are unable to travel could still receive service. The customized truck would travel to lower-income areas and group homes providing children the opportunity to have a shopping experience similar to visiting The Bloom Closet.
“Our objective is to break down the geographical and economic barriers that prohibit foster children from traveling to The Bloom Closet,” says Davenport. “There is a sense of dignity when you are able to shop for the clothing you like; to feel like the other kids.”
Last fall, as part of the organization’s expansion, Bloom opened the new Volunteer and Donation Center on Highway 54 in Fayetteville. According to Davenport, there was a great need for the building as they had run out of space at The Bloom Closet for receiving and sorting clothing. And, she says, there have been added benefits to the new building as well.
“It’s been wonderful to see how the new Volunteer and Donation Center has impacted our visibility. We have been amazed at how many people will stop in and want to learn about Bloom simply after seeing our sign on Hwy 54. In addition, our donations have increased by 40% since we added the building.”
Davenport says the building would not have become a reality without support from the Atlanta metro area and the local community. Businesses, community organizations, foundations, and individuals took part in Bloom’s $1.1 million capital campaign to fund the building’s purchase and renovation. The campaign wrapped up in December of 2019.
Given the growing numbers of children in the system, there is much more than physical expansion needed to continue Bloom’s work. Davenport believes it is important to recruit exceptional foster parents and then offer them the quality training they need to succeed. This is accomplished through Bloom University, a state-of-the-art training program housed within Bloom’s Volunteer and Donation Center.
Bloom’s work with foster children in our state has been critical over the past 30 years. In March of this year, Bloom was honored at the State Capitol with a House Resolution citing the organization’s excellence in service to the foster children in our state.
“It’s taken an army of supporters over the past three decades,” adds Davenport. “We could not have delivered on our mission without the countless volunteers and supporters who have been by our side every step of the way. We will continue to need the hands and hearts of our community to address the growth in the population of foster children in the years to come. Together, we can serve the precious foster children in our state –they are depending upon us, today and for the future.”
It’s clear that Bloom’s comprehensive, wraparound approach is working for the children. The foster parent program is seeing transformational results. 92% of the children in the program remain with the foster parents until their final placement. In 80% of those cases, the children are reunified with their families, which is Bloom’s goal.