So a kid can be a kid
Foster the Village moves, hopes to become heart of foster care community
By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – Since 2018, the number of children in Brown County’s foster care system has increased by 49%.
Through no fault of their own, nearly 300 kids in Brown County currently find themselves in the uncertain position of being separated from their parents or guardians and away from their homes.
Foster the Village, a nonprofit providing aid to the foster care community in Brown County, is responding by relocating to the former St. Jude’s Catholic School on Division Street, giving it four times the space to meet the increasing need for its services.
The goal of Foster the Village is simply to make children in the foster care system, who often arrive at a foster home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, feel as normal as possible.
Whether it’s providing basic necessities like shoes, clothing, cribs and baby seats or just a calm, quiet place to be for awhile, Foster the Village does everything it can to offer a sense of normalcy for the children and the foster families of Brown County.
Formerly located on the second floor at 1270 Main Street, or the East Port Center, Executive Director Cheri Salmon said Foster the Village had definitely outgrown its old home of three years.
“So this space, simply put, is for any child that is being served by Child Protective Services,” Salmon, who is also a foster parent, said. “Foster parents and social workers come in and they can get anything the child needs.”
There are 15 rooms in the new facility and each of them will have a specific purpose.
Five will be basic needs rooms, each stocked with everything from formula, blankets and onesies for infants and toddlers, all the way up to winter-ready outfits and jackets for the bigger kids.
There will be a youth game room (an air hockey table is in the works), a play room dedicated to the infants and toddlers and, of course, a library.
An office/meeting room is also in the plans, as well as a training room and space for the volunteers.
To cap off the amenities at Foster the Village’s new digs, the playground at the former St. Jude Catholic School is in pretty good shape and plans to add to it are already being looked at.
It all goes towards helping kids feel as normal as possible as they go through a traumatic time in their life.
Regular visits with biological parents are a goal for everyone in the foster care system and when they fall through for whatever reason, it can have a devastating effect on the child.
“We used Foster the Village recently, this past summer I think, when we had a visit canceled,” Vickie Schiefelvein, Brown County foster parent said. “It was so devastating to this young girl. So we brought her to Foster the Village and she picked out a new outfit and spent some time. Not that shopping should be a therapy, but just that she was able to do something to take her mind off of not being able to have a visit that day, she was able to make herself feel a little better.”
Providing relief and peace in these situations is crucial and Foster the Village looks to become a hub for dealing with these unique problems once in the new building.
A community comes together
The 25 or so active volunteers of Foster the Village, the foster parents of Brown County; and as the owners of the building, Quad Parishes of Green Bay, have really stepped up to make this happen.
The facility no longer looks or smells like a schoolhouse built in 1958.
The original flooring, asbestos and all, has been ripped out and replaced with attractive, durable vinyl paneling and anything that was once painted avocado green has been given a makeover.
“We’re trying to start with a clean slate. We want to make it as welcoming as we can for the kids who will be using it.” Salmon said.
Once the walls of Foster the Village get a fresh base coat, local artist Beau Thomas, whose stunning murals add color to the walls of buildings across the downtown area, has offered his time and talent to help make the space unique with murals in several of the rooms.
Salmon said the goal is to build a sense of community amongst foster families that goes beyond just keeping the necessities in stock.
“Originally, what I wanted to do was provide the clothing and basic care items,” Salmon said. “But this is what we need. We need a support system.”
The new facility’s expanded space, according to Salmon, will allow for programming that supports the emotional needs inherent in fostering, for the children in the system as well as their foster families.
These tools, she says, could help change the trajectory of a child’s story for the better.
“It’s wonderful to be able to refer our foster parents here. They can come for the community support, to chat with other foster parents who understand,” Jamie Chaudoir, a Brown County social worker, said. “Maybe they’ve just accepted a new placement and ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have this or that for a three-month old’, they can come to Foster the Village and get those items. It really helps ease some of the up-front burden to have this amazing resource that can help us with those items.”
As long as it’s nice or new, anyone looking to help out is encouraged to donate items.
The goal is to help the kids with their self esteem, so a new Under Armour or Adidas hooded sweatshirt goes a long way in helping a young person feel comfortable amongst his or her peers, Salmon said.
Also, they pair well with Bombas socks.
Those familiar with the high-end brand may also know about their policy of donating a pair of socks to a worthy cause for each pair they sell in the retail world.
There’s a room at Foster the Village half full of boxes from Bombas containing hundreds and hundreds of pairs of cozy socks, all donated.
At this point, Salmon said, financial contributions are needed most.
The facility is well stocked for the upcoming winter but the more funds coming in to cover renovations on this vital space, the better.
Donors can check fosterthevillage.org for information on what is needed in the future as far as donations go.