Giving Tuesday

September 24th

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Stories

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Q&A with International Foster Care Expert Dr. John DeGarmo

Over the past 16 years, Dr. John DeGarmo and his wife Kelly have welcomed 55 children in foster care into their home and hearts. While the children were in their care, the family provided them with much more than the basics of food, clothing and shelter. They gave them the unconditional love and support every child needs to grow into a healthy adult.

On September 22, Dr. DeGarmo, who has also devoted his professional life to serving children in foster care, will be the featured speaker at our Foster from the Heart conference. As a primer for the free event, Dr. DeGarmo graciously agreed to participate in this Q&A.

 

How has fostering changed you as a person?

Foster parenting has been the most difficult “job” I have ever done. But it is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done, as well. Without a doubt, I am a far better person for each experience and a far richer person for each child who has come to be a part of my life.

 

What is your single most memorable moment as a foster parent?

Oh, so many. I have watched children smile for the first time, heal from abuse and learn how to trust again. I have also adopted three children from foster care. So many wonderful memories!

 

What is the truth behind what you consider to be the most common misconception about fostering?

Despite what some people think, foster parents are NOT in it for the money. In truth, taking care of children in foster care can be financially straining and even stressful. To be sure, foster parents are reimbursed for many things. But we often spend our own money to give the children in our care the same opportunities other children have, whether that means a special birthday celebration, a memorable Christmas or a family trip.

 

Are there certain qualities every foster parent should have?

You don’t need to own a big house, have lots of money or even be married. You just need a heart for children and a passion for helping children in need.

 

You have three biological children. Has it been hard for them when you bring new children into your home? If so, how did you ease the transition?

We have been fostering for 16 years, and my oldest child is 21, so fostering is a lifestyle for us. Of course, that won’t be the case for everyone. As I wrote in The Foster Care Survival Guide, when you decide to become a foster family, you need to prepare yourself and your children. After all, their lives are going to change, too. Your children will not only be sharing their home, but they will be sharing you, their parents. This can be difficult for them to understand, and they will need your support more than ever. One way my wife and I show our support is by including our children in deciding whether to bring a new child into our home.

 

How has the opioid epidemic impacted the foster care system, and what can be done about it?

The opioid crisis is straining America’s foster care system. There are not enough foster homes for the approximately 450,000 children currently in care. Now, more children are entering the system every day because their parents are in jail or, tragically, deceased because of opioids. We have to work together as legislators, foster care agencies, health care providers and as a community to:

  • Deliver more resources and help to families before a child is removed and placed into foster care.
  • Increase awareness about the dangers of opioids, not only to those who take them, but to their unborn children.
  • Improve care to children who are born addicted to the drugs in their system.

There are thousands of teens in foster care and a common misconception is that fostering teens is more challenging than fostering younger kids. What are the rewards in fostering teens?

Oh, there are so many rewards. Just last year, I had three high school seniors living in my home, and two of them were homeless. There were certainly challenges, but there were also so many joys and adventures. It was a house full of laughter and discovery. I would not have changed a thing about it.

 

All children in foster care have suffered trauma. We know that trauma impacts education in many ways. As a doctor in education, a former teacher and a longtime foster parent, can you explain how foster parents can help ensure their children get the best education possible?

Well, as I write in the book Helping Foster Children in School, foster parents NEED to be advocates for their children’s education. Children in foster care are typically about 18 months behind academically. There are bound to be behavior challenges, as well. Here are five things you can do right now to help the children in your care succeed:

  1. Reach out to teachers and stay updated on your children’s progress.
  2. Volunteer in the school.
  3. Encourage children to become active in after-school activities.
  4. Take an interest in your children’s school work, and make sure they do it to the best of their ability each evening.
  5. Help your children study and praise them when they do well.
  6. If you have young children in the early years of school, help them with their spelling and writing skills, read to them each evening, or listen to them read to you.

 

What unique safety risks does today’s digital world expose children in foster care to, and how can we protect them?

Where do I start? As I note in the book Keeping Foster Children Safe Online, human trafficking, cyberbullying, and pro-suicide sites are just the beginning of these challenges. Quite simply, foster parents need to be vigilant in monitoring their child’s online access and use. Here are just a few ways to keep a child safe online: Know their passwords, monitor which sites they visit, know who their social media friends are and put protective filters and software in place.

 

You’re invited!

Upbring invites you to meet Dr. DeGarmo and hear more about his experiences during the Foster from the Heart Conference on September 22 in Flower Mound. The conference is open to foster and adoptive parents, social workers, counselors, child protection staff, educators and anyone else interested in child welfare. Limited seats for the free event are still available, so register today. We hope to see you there!

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10 Easy, Nutritious School Lunches for Busy Parents

Back-to-school means back to early morning alarms, scrambling to find missing shoes, making sure all the homework and important papers are back in their folders and hurrying to drink a cup of coffee while asking your kids for the eighth time if they’ve brushed their teeth.

 

That doesn’t leave much time for packing a nutritious lunch your kids will love. If you want to make mornings run more smoothly and prepare your kids to tackle the day with plenty of energy and focus, try these 10 easy, nutritious, kid-friendly lunches.

 

1. Tortilla roll-ups

Fill a wheat tortilla with peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese or any filling your kids love. From there, roll the tortilla, slice it into pinwheels and secure it with toothpicks, and you have an easy lunch on-the-go. Grab some spinach or tomato wraps to add color – and to sneak a bit of veggie in there, too!

 

2. Pizza pieces

Instead of a foil-wrapped slice of leftover pizza, go the deconstructed route. Put turkey pepperoni, reduced-fat cheese slices and crackers into a container. Add a little sauce in a small, plastic to-go cup for dipping, and you have a fun, interactive lunch.

 

3. Simple sandwiches

Sometimes, simple is best, which means your child’s favorite sandwich might be exactly what they like best. Put a twist on it by cutting it into a fun shape like a star or butterfly for a surprise in your little one’s lunchbox. Add apple slices, a string cheese and a small bottle of water for a lunch that is sure to satisfy.

 

4. Turkey, apple and cheese roll-ups

Looking for an alternative to the simple sandwich? Take a piece of thick turkey and place a slice of apple and a slice of cheese in the middle. Fold it over like a burrito, and you’re ready to go!

 

5. Hummus & pita plate

Slice pita bread into triangles, add your child’s favorite veggies and some hummus (which comes in a huge variety of flavors) for a filling lunch that is packed full of protein, fiber, iron and B vitamins.

 

6. Chicken noodle soup

This classic, easy-to-make soup is a crowd favorite. Whether canned or homemade, it’s sure to be a hit with your little one. Pour it in a thermos so it’s served up warm at lunchtime. Include saltine crackers for extra flavor.

 

7. Apple & peanut butter sandwiches

Spread peanut butter on apple slices and stick them together for a yummy snack that’s high in protein and provides a serving of fruit.

 

8. Tortilla soup

A simple crock-pot recipe can provide lunch for the entire week. Add chicken, chicken broth, corn, black beans, salsa and seasoning, and you’ve got a tasty lunch alternative. Pour soup into a thermos to ensure it stays warm until lunchtime.

 

9. Veggie taco salad

Shred some lettuce, slice a tomato, add corn, black beans and avocado, and you’ve got a bold and delicious lunch that fits easily in a Tupperware container. Add corn chips and a cup of dressing for a touch of Southwestern flavor!

 

10. Don’t forget the snacks

A nutritious snack can be the best defense against the dreaded mid-afternoon slump. Stock up on pretzels, fruit, trail mix and small treats for kids’ lunchboxes.

 

Our mission at work

Upbring believes every child deserves the chance to shine through the power of education. We also know that children, like adults, have a difficult time concentrating when they’re not getting enough nourishment.

Through Upbring education programs, we ensure the children we serve receive nutritious meals every day. Without worrying about their growling stomachs, children can focus on learning English, math and science, as well as building important life skills.

Through our continuum of care, we surround children with services that meet their needs in five key areas.

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How to Decorate on a Shoestring Budget

Leaving home and moving into their first apartment or house is an exciting time in a young adult’s life, but it also presents challenges. For example, how do you make your new place feel like home when your finances are stretched thin between rent, car insurance, groceries and other obligations that come with growing up?

 

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to transform your new digs. Ready to get started? Our staff put their heads together and came up with 8 creative ways to decorate on a shoestring budget that we think you’ll love!

 

1.  Shop Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

It might take time to find what you want, as well as a little planning to pick it up, but both websites are great places to find low-cost items that need a new home.

 

2.  Paint an accent wall.

Painting makes a huge impact, but it can also be expensive. Instead of painting your entire home, choose just one wall and get a paint that includes primer so you can finish the job in one coat. If you are renting, talk to the owner or property manager before you paint.

 

3.  Add rolling casters to an inexpensive bookshelf to create a rolling storage system.

You could even create a small, mobile kitchen island by adding a cutting board to the top and storing your cooking utensils on the shelves below in canisters from the dollar section.

 

4.  Stock up on frames when your local craft store has a big sale.

Then, fill them with artwork from last year’s wall calendar, your favorite magazines or the thrift store to create a gallery wall.

 

5.  Hang decorative blankets on a wooden ladder, or stack wooden crates for a creative bookshelf.

Both the ladder and crates serve as decor and storage in one.

 

6.  Get even more for your money with multi-purpose pieces.

For example, find an ottoman that doubles as a coffee table and storage space.

 

7.  Mirrors are an easy way to add light to a space and make it feel larger.

They’re also practical. Consider hanging an inexpensive, full-length mirror horizontally behind your sofa for an instantly stylish look.

 

8.  Create an easy place to hang coats, hats and bags with decorative Command hooks.

They’ll keep everything neat, and you won’t have to worry about fixing holes in your walls later.

 

Our mission at work

Many young adults who age out of foster care have no home, no family and nowhere to turn. Sadly, 20 percent will become instantly homeless, and only 50 percent will be gainfully employed by the age of 24.

Continuum of Care

 

Through our continuum of care, we surround children and young adults with services that meet their needs in five key areas.

 

The Upbring BeREAL program walks alongside these young men and women as they take their first steps toward independence.

 

From identifying their education and career goals to moving into that first place of their own – and decorating it on a shoestring budget – we give young adults the guidance and encouragement they need to succeed.

 

“I came to BeREAL with nothing but a trash bag that had my clothes in it. Two vans pulled up to help me move into my apartment, and they were full of furniture. I told my BeREAL caseworker this wasn’t my stuff, and with a big smile on her face, she said, ‘Yes, it is.’ I didn’t even know these people, but they wanted to help me. That was such a powerful moment for me.”  – JoAnna, BeREAL participant

 

Want to help?

If you want to support a young person like JoAnna on their journey to adulthood, consider making a donation (Select BeREAL in the “Designate Your Gift” drop-down menu) or volunteering your time and talent.

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Hurricane Harvey: The Road to Rebuilding

Tomorrow, as the sun rises on a new day, one can’t help but think back to this time a year ago when windows were boarded up and grocery store shelves were empty as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in South Texas. It’s hard to believe 365 days have passed since the destructive storm terrorized our state – shattering records, leaving 68 people dead and making a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands. Homes and streets were flooded. People spent days lofted on their roofs waiting for rescue teams to alleviate them from increasingly high waters. Food and water supplies diminished too quickly. Several regions of our state were in chaos.

But as always, we as Americans showed our resilience and banded together to help impacted families. With support from generous friends, not only in Texas but across the country, Upbring stood with the community, helping families find food, clothing, medical assistance and safe, clean shelter. We also had the resources to provide our Foster In Texas families with stipends that helped cover essentials like travel costs, temporary housing, clothing and diapers. For those affected by this horrific storm, the generous support and donations that poured in helped ease their minds and allowed them to focus on rebuilding without the fear of where their next meal would come from, if they would have a roof over their heads and if their children would be comforted after days of living in fear.

Together, we stood strong in the face of tragedy and made an immediate difference in the lives of families who needed our help. Still, thousands more are continuously working to rebuild their lives, and Upbring will stand with them. Our Disaster Response Team is preparing to mobilize and take over case management for families in need in South Texas. We ask that you keep our team and the families they will serve in your prayers.

 

ICYMI: We shared six tips to help you prepare for a hurricane. Check them out here.

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Are You Prepared for a Hurricane?

132 mph winds, 27 trillion gallons of rain and, tragically, 88 lives lost – Hurricane Harvey carved a destructive path across the Gulf Coast last fall. Harvey went down as the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Texas since 1961, and many families are still working to rebuild their lives.

Natural disasters can happen suddenly, with little to no warning. As Harvey’s 1-year anniversary approaches, the Upbring family encourages you to make a plan for protecting your family during hurricane season.

 

Here are 6 simple hurricane preparedness tips for the 2018 hurricane season:

1.  Stock an emergency preparedness kit with essentials such as food, water, medications, first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries and cash. Be sure to include your pets’ essentials.

 

2.  Keep important documents in a safe place, or create password-protected, digital copies as part of your hurricane preparedness plan.

 

3.  Protect your property by decluttering drains and gutters to prevent flooding, installing check valves in plumbing to prevent backups, and considering hurricane shutters. Remember that homeowners’ and renters’ insurance do not typically cover flood damages, but flood insurance does.

 

4.  Plan how to communicate with family members if you lose power. During disasters, sending text messages is usually faster and more reliable than making phone calls because phone lines are often overloaded. The American Red Cross Safe & Well website allows you to tell family and friends you are safe during a disaster.

 

5.  You might have to leave home quickly, so prepare an evacuation plan. Review your evacuation zone and route, and learn where emergency shelters are located. Keep your car in good working condition and your gas tank full. Stock your vehicle with emergency supplies and a change of clothes for each member of your family. Finally, and most importantly, never ignore an evacuation order.

 

6.  Sign up for disaster alerts to stay up-to-date during a disaster. You can also download apps by the American Red Cross, the Weather Channel and FEMA.

 

More resources

For more information about protecting your home and family during hurricane season, visit these websites:

 

LSS Disaster Response – Here for the short and long haul

In Harvey’s wake, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response was there to meet families’ immediate needs by providing emergency hardship grants and helping them find food, clothing, medical assistance and safe, clean shelter. Because of your support, we are also there for the long haul, offering assistance for future preparedness, emotional and spiritual care, volunteer coordination and long-term recovery.

 

On behalf of the many families impacted by Hurricane Harvey, thank you for your prayers, your donations and the gift of your volunteer efforts. Together, we are supporting families during difficult circumstances and allowing them to focus on creating safe, loving homes for their children.

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5 Tips for a Smooth Start to the School Year

As a child, I wasn’t thrilled when the end of summer vacation ushered in earlier bedtimes, earlier wake-up times and, of course, homework. I also remember experiencing anxiety over who my teachers would be and whether I would know anyone in my classes.

But a new school year also meant the chance to catch up with friends and do one of my favorite things: shopping for school supplies, which I enjoyed doing with my own children when they were in school. Your child might have the same mixed feelings about the start of the school year.

 

Here are five simple tips to help your child easily transition back to school.

 

1. Get excited!

You are your child’s most important teacher. If you’re not excited about school, they probably won’t be either. Share fun memories from your teachers and classmates. Talk about one of your family’s back-to-school traditions. Maybe you can share this tradition or start a new one.

 

2. Ease their nerves.

It is completely normal for your child to have jumbled-up emotions about going back to school. You can ease their nerves by arranging a visit to the school. Show them their new classroom and let them meet their teacher.

 

3. Go shopping together.

Allow your child to choose some school supplies on their own. A Disney backpack or a superhero lunch box can go a long way toward making them feel comfortable and confident.

 

4. Establish a routine.

Inclement weather. Traffic jams. Faulty alarm clocks. A solid routine is your best defense against the stress that comes with running behind. Figure out what time everyone needs to get up, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and get dressed. Identify the most efficient route to school, and consider alternate routes in case you need them.

 

5. Make the first morning memorable.

If you’ve followed the first four tips, you can rest easy knowing your child is prepared to start the school year. All that’s left now is to make that first morning memorable. Have breakfast together. Chat. Smile. Pray together about the year, for the friends they’ll make and for their teachers. Speak encouragement over your child, reminding them that they are brave, kind and loved. If this is your child’s first year in school, it’s okay to cry. Just save the tears until you get back in your car!

 

About the Author

Brenda Burdick has 33 years’ education experience. She spent 15 years molding young minds as a teacher for grades one through eight and as a lead English teacher in middle school. She also brings 22 years’ administrative experience as an assistant principal, principal, director of curriculum and director of admissions. Today, Brenda serves as Director of Christian School Expansion and Ops at Upbring. She and her teams at Upbring School of Arts and Sciences Central Austin and Upbring School of Discovery and Leadership are excited to welcome students back to school!

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The Color of Healing

If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle to a young child, you’ve probably done your share of arts and crafts. Activities like drawing, coloring, finger knitting and making homemade slime are just a few fun, educational ways to spend quality time with children.

For the girls we serve at Upbring children’s centers, art is also a powerful tool for coping with childhood trauma. They are girls like Angel, who combined her passion for art and writing to tell a beautiful story of hope and healing.

“They love me because I matter”

My Name is Angel, and I am 16 years old. My art piece, “Metamorphosis,” is a tree that is full of anguish and distrust, pain and suffering represented by the black and gray roots.

The trunk of the tree is when I was not only brought to Krause but started seeing the potential in myself and the hope that my life is not defined by my gray and black roots, my past.

The purple branches are all of the souls at Krause who have been there for me, helping me through my past. My therapist, resident counselors, teachers, all the Krause staff who love me and believe in me, who have given me hope in myself and have taught me that I did not deserve my past.

The red branches are for the love that I have found for myself and others, for life.  The love that I feel from others that don’t owe me a thing. They just love me because I matter.

The green and yellow branches represent light, life, my inner beauty that I never knew I had. This hope and knowledge of who I am helps keep me on the right path.

Turquoise and blue shades represent my future, my skill and God-given talent as an artist, my desire to work toward self-reliance with a vocation of helping others.

White throughout the piece in the gray areas, as well as the colorful areas, is goodness, God working within my soul and placing people in my life who lifted me out of the grey. Now that I am free and colorful, they help highlight the good things, the hope that I and they have for my future.

Next stop: Japan!

Angel recently completed her treatment, and she’s living with a relative while she finishes her senior year.

When she’s not painting, Angel enjoys exploring Japanese culture. She’s happiest when she’s reading comic books about her favorite teenage ninja and watching Anime with her best friend.

After graduation, Angel wants to pursue a double major in teaching and Japanese, and then teach English in Japan.

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How To: Make a Pet Rock

We’re in the home stretch of summer vacation, and you know what that means – it’s time to cross those final items off your summer bucket list! ICYMI: We shared our own bucket list a few weeks ago, and today we’re going to show you a step-by-step of one of our favorite activities: painting pet rocks.

 

Painting a pet rock allows your children to spend time outside and indoors while using their imaginations. Our friends at Upbring School of Arts and Sciences helped us demonstrate how to turn an ordinary rock into a colorful, googly-eyed creature! Let’s get started!

 

Step One:

Head outside and find the perfect rock

Venture out into your backyard and start hunting! Your rock can be any shape or size. It can be big or small, round or square, bumpy or smooth – it’s totally up to you! Collect several rocks to maximize your collection!

 

Step Two:

Clean your rock

Once you find the perfect rock (or three!), head inside to the sink. Rinse your rock off with water, then add soap and scrub with a toothbrush to get it extra shiny and clean. When all the soap is gone, dry your rock off with a towel and get ready to paint!

 

Step Three:

Paint the rock

Now that your rock is dirt-free, it’s time for the main event! Put on a smock or an apron and fill a plate with your favorite paint colors. You can use as many or as few as you’d like. You can paint it like a rainbow or make it look like your favorite animal. Add glitter to make your pet rock sparkly or attach pipe cleaners for antennas or a tail!

 

Step Four:

Add googly eyes

After you’re done painting, bring your pet rock to life by adding two googly eyes on top. For extra fun, you can make your pet rock a cyclops with just one eye, or you can add as many eyes as you want!

 

Step Five:

The finished product

Congratulations! You just created your very own pet rock! Finish up the fun project by giving your rock a name and letting it dry on the windowsill. Use your imagination to create stories about where your pet rock came from and what kind of adventures it goes on.

 

Did you try this activity with your children? Share your photos and stories in the comments below. We’d love to see what you created!