By Daniel Sherrier
A group of Caroline human services agencies and nonprofits wants to make sure everyone is fed, foster children can be placed in local homes, and families are taken care of during the holidays—and that would just be the beginning.
The Caroline Resource Council has been meeting monthly since March, bringing together representatives from the Department of Social Services, Sheriff’s Office, Parks & Recreation, Town of Bowling Green, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and other nonprofits, as well as volunteers.
Its mission statement, introduced at its June 11 meeting, says, “The mission of the Caroline Resource Council is to research both the issues and the resources of our community and to connect and share those resources through advocacy, collaboration, and education. The development of these relationships will serve as a catalyst for solution and community action.”
“We’re in our infancy stages. We’re just kind of feeling our way through it, but in a short amount of time we’ve done a lot of exciting work. The subcommittees are where that happens,” said Tonya Christian, director of Caroline Social Services, who began leading that agency in December.
Three active subcommittees have already formed: Caroline County Christmas Partners, the Food Committee, and the Foster Care Committee.
“Our first couple of meetings, we brainstormed what the needs of the county were, what we thought collectively the needs were, and then the next meeting we said, ‘Okay, what do we want to prioritize?’” Christian said.
“Because we’re new, we don’t want to bite off too much in the beginning, so this will be evolving in the weeks and months to come,” she added.
The importance of having local foster families was stressed during the June meeting,
Ramonda Pollard, family services supervisor for Social Services, said her department just recently had to place a Caroline child in a foster home in the City of Richmond.
“We were very lucky to find someone in the City of Richmond,” Pollard told the council, adding that she also had to take three siblings from Caroline to a foster family in Poquoson.
“The bottom line is, we are in desperate need of foster families/resource families in Caroline County, not because a case worker has to drive all the way to Poquoson, not because I have to drive to the City of Richmond, but because … I am taking these children that far away from their community.”
Pollard continued, “We took them that far from their schools. We took them that far from their friends. If they go to church, we took them that far from their church.”
As of Jan. 1, 2013, there were 4,302 children in foster care in Virginia, according to Pollard. Currently, 21 Caroline County children are in foster care.
“That’s 21 children that we had to remove from this community. We need foster parents. We would ideally like to have foster parents who are willing to adopt,” she said.
Allison Burton, foster care family services worker, is in the process of being trained to be the foster parent recruiter and trainer for Caroline County.
“I just completed the first round of my training. I have one more round to go next week before I’m able to start teaching foster parents. It’s very exciting,” Burton said.
“It’s a ground-breaking program,” said resource council member Susan Sili. “Caroline has never been able to teach its own foster families. This is a big deal.”
Christian told the members, “This will be a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if this group could help us spread the word, we’ll get where we need to be, and we’ll be able to serve these children better in their community.”
Also during the June 11 meeting, the food committee discussed summer programs to feed children who are on free or reduced lunch during the school year.
“For children who are on free and reduced lunches at school, during winter break and spring break and summer break (they) have nowhere to eat, and a lot of these families, that’s the only time their child eats is at school,” said Beth Jimenez of the Family Nutrition Program of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“So we want to make sure there are places in the summer that they at least get a meal, at least several times a week,” she added. “That’s real important for a lot of families.”
Transportation was another issue that came up at the meeting, as members discussed options for finding volunteer drivers to transport Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW) clients to job interviews or jobs to help those individuals become self-sufficient ultimately.
Christian also brought up the idea of collecting gently used children’s books to place in the Social Services lobby so that children who visit the office can leave with the gift of a book.
Each Caroline Resource Council meeting features a presentation on a resource available to the community.
This month, Mary Hutcherson informed the council about 2-1-1 Virginia, the health and human services information line for the Commonwealth.
Virginians can dial 211 any time of any day to receive information and referrals on a variety of services, such as rent assistance, utility assistance, food assistance, child care, housing, after-school programs, elderly care, financial literacy, and job training programs.
The line is free and confidential. In 2013, 2-1-1 Virginia answered more than 143,000 calls.
The Caroline Resource Council meets the second Wednesday of each month at 2 p.m. The next meeting will be July 9 in the Emergency Operations Room #2 in the Caroline Community Services Center.
For more information about the Caroline Resource Council, contact Tonya Christian at (804) 633-5071, ext. 114.