• Margie Lewis’ Journey from Foster Parent to Mom

    After being a foster parent for over 30 years, Margie Lewis has impacted the lives of numerous children who have been in and out of her home. “Every child that comes in my home, I treat them like they are my very own. I want them to feel loved,” said Margie. “They may be gone tomorrow, but you love them anyway and try to make a positive difference in their life.”

    But recently, when she found out that her grandchildren (her adopted son’s biological children) were coming into care, she knew she had to do something to keep her family together. So, Margie decided to adopt.

    “The adoption day was emotional for me; I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. Adoption’s bittersweet because you want the kids to be with their bio parents, but sometimes that’s not an option. I wanted to try to keep Parker and Gabby in our family,” said Margie.

    Being in their new environment, Parker and Gabby are thriving and continue to grow every day. Parker, being a child with vision impairment and multiple health care needs, has improved daily. “He’s done what they didn’t think he would do; he has made great progress,” she said. Now, not only can Parker see color, he can identify each color he sees. As for Gabby, Margie felt that when they brought her home from the hospital, she would never see her smile. Now, as a 3-year-old, she smiles all the time and enjoys singing, dancing, and helping Parker.

    Although Margie was not one to brag about herself, Foster Care Supervisor, Susan Hosman, had nothing but praise for Margie.

    “Ms. Lewis was my super foster parent,” exclaimed Susan. “She’s a loving grandmother that has taken on the role of mother and father to the children. Ms. Lewis is an advocate for her grandchildren and she always puts the children first.” Having love and compassion is something that is so natural to Margie as she focuses all her attention on what is best for each child. “She never once complained about all of the doctor appointments that Parker was in need of. She is the true definition of what a foster parent should be,” said Susan.

    This is what adoption is all about – providing the best care for children and allowing them to thrive in a safe and loving home. “My goal is for them [Parker and Gabby] to make the right choices, to be on the right track and break the cycle,” said Margie.

    Margie will continue to work hard to ensure that all of Parker and Gabby’s medical, emotional, and educational needs are met, and she’s giving hope to a second generation. She has faith that they will break the foster care cycle.

     

  • 5 Books That Help Foster Families

    Every foster families’ story is different;  however, there are a number of situations – both positive and disappointing – that they are familiar with. To better understand and respond to various situation, many foster parents urn to available support, from social workers to therapists, and even books.

    So for National Reading Month this March, we’re helping foster families expand their resource list.  Check out our book list with useful stories and insights about different aspects of the foster care and the adoptive journey: 

    Siblings in Adoption and Foster Care: Traumatic Separations and Honored Connections by Deborah N. Silverstein and Susan Livingston Smith

    The parent-child relationship is important, but the connection between siblings – adopted or biological-  should receive just as much care and attention. This book explores the complex relationships between adopted and foster children and their new siblings, as well as the bond between them and their biological siblings they may have been separated from. Siblings offers insights on this experience and strategies to help foster these different child-to-child bonds in healthy ways.

    Foster Parenting 101: When A Foster Child Leaves by Dr. John DeGarmo

    Through all the tough moments foster parents may endure, having to say goodbye to a foster child can be the most difficult. This book outlines the different ways this affects foster families and provides some ways to help everyone make it through this challenging time when it comes.  

    The Adoptive Parent Toolbox by Mike & Kristin Berry

    Biological or adopted, each new child brings a new experience for their parents. This book shares true testimonies from adoptive families all over the world that provide wisdom gleaned from the many lessons learned. These stories illustrate both unique experiences and common obstacles throughout the adoption process and touch on various challenging aspects of the journey that may crop up in everyday life.

    Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families by Jayne Schooler, Timothy Callahan and Betsy Keefer Smalley

    Parents often experience anxiety when preparing to welcome a new child, whether the child is biological, adopted or taken in from foster care. Those who are expecting a child coming from trauma may experience even more uncertainty. This book is written to address the experience of each party: the child, the parents, as well as others affected by this transition, in order to help calm concerns and navigate expectations.

    Adopting the Older Child by Claudia Jarrett

    The adoption and/or “fostering” process is a very specific experience, but welcoming an older child into the family is an even more distinct part of that journey. This book is widely considered to be a “classic” among adoption and foster care books, as it was written through the lens of each party (i.e. the child, the parents, as well as others affected by this transition) in order to help calm concerns of the family as a whole and navigate expectations to create a comfortable experience for all.

    There is no perfect roadmap to fostering or adopting, but these books can offer lessons and both personal and professional advice that can guide families through the journey.

  • 3 Ways Social Workers Further Our Work’s Impact

    The work our social workers do isn’t easy, but it’s so important, and they do it day in and day out. We’re always grateful for their hard work and dedication to our youth, but during National Social Workers Month this March, we want to take the time to acknowledge them for all that they do.

    Here are three ways social workers are integral to our work:

    They guide

    When families experience challenging situations, our social workers are there to determine what interventions need to take place, and make sure they receive it.

    “As I was working with one of the families I serve, whose kids just came in to care, I started by identifying issues they were having. Then, once we identified those, I had to determine what services are going to best equip them to care for their children in the future. We did the integrated assessment, and I was also able to help the mother see how certain classes and services that we offer can benefit her.”

    They check in

    Our social workers look out for the youth they serve by thoroughly checking in on their well-being to make sure they’re safe and physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally stable.

    Social Worker, Tyler Michael feels that checking in on her youth is key to developing a trusting relationship. “I always make sure I am able to talk to my youth one-on-one, because that makes them feel like they are being seen and heard. I want them to know that I truly am listening to them and focusing all my attention on them.” Michael also meets with all of her clients three times a month, attends their IEP meetings, and takes them to their doctors appointments as a form of consistently checking in.

    They advocate

    Social workers are able to speak on behalf of the kids and families they serve to advocate for the needs that will be in their best interests.

    Our social workers here at Hoyleton believe in empowering our youth to speak up and tell their stories. In order to do so, sometimes our social workers have to step in and advocate for each child. Social Worker, Tyler Michaels, fuels this passion by advocating on behalf of one of her 15-year-old clients. “I could tell something wasn’t right in the home and that the kids were scared, so I actually advocated on behalf of the kids. Finally, when they came in to care, they were able to admit that they now see how they were in a bad situation, but in the given moment they could not speak up for themselves,” Michael said. “Now, the 15-year-old is actually very empowered and speaking up for herself and telling her story of what happened.”

     

    Remember, March is a time to recognize social workers. So, if you know a social worker, please make sure to thank them for the many ways they serve others when they need it most.

  • 3 Questions with Stephanie Tesreau, Hoyleton’s new Director of Communications & Marketing

    Though Stephanie Tesreau only recently became a part of the Hoyleton family with her new role as Director of Communications and Marketing, she is no stranger to our mission and the critical services we provide youth and families in Southern Illinois. That’s because she and her husband have been foster parents for over 12 years.

    Learn about Stephanie’s journey as a foster parent and why her new role at Hoyleton is so special for her career:

    How did you first get started as a foster parent?   

    My husband and I both came from large families,  and we were used to little ones in the house. When we got married, I had a biological son; my husband wanted kids, but couldn’t due to a prior period with cancer. So, fostering was something for us to do together.

    Now, we’ve been fostering children for 12 years and have had over 12 kids in our home. We’ve adopted three boys over the past two years, and we’re working on our fourth adoption that should be finalized this year.

    How will you approach your new role given your own personal experiences with foster care?

    It’s interesting because when I took this position, I told management, ‘this is the one job where my passion, my spiritual gifts, my life experiences, and my education collide.’ It made me smile just thinking about it because I would never have imagined that everything that I had been working on independently would come together in one career.

    My personal and professional lives right now are very intermingled because, while I’m here [at Hoyleton], I also work with foster moms at a state and community level where I’m helping them get through whatever emergency they have. At my day-to-day job here, I focus on what I can communicate not just to foster parents, but also help inform the community of other areas Hoyleton serves. So, I will always strive to make sure that they have the resources they need.

    Additionally, it’s important for people to know that a foster parent’s job is often to co-parent alongside birth moms or a guardian. Most of us don’t expect that – even me probably, years ago when I started. Now, I have a relationship with my foster daughter’s grandma – we built that relationship, and she’ll always be in her life. And that’s important because kids need to know that they weren’t just forgotten. Unfortunately, sometimes those kids do feel that way and while we can’t always fix that, if we build those relationships it may at least help a little.

    What opportunities and priorities are you focused on in your first year here with Hoyleton?

    Communication is the biggest thing; people just need to know what’s going on. Building ways to cultivate our relationships, letting our community know what’s going on, and how they can help us and how we can help them are critical touch points.

    When people hear Hoyleton, they automatically think foster care or residential care, they don’t really know all the additional services, and I think it’s essential that we let them know that we’re a large, well-rounded organization that’s continuing to grow. Additionally, because we are in so many counties across the State, we’re thinking of how we can best serve them from north to south and east to west. I think that’s going to be a  big opportunity for us, and it will be exciting to explore the best ways to do that.

    Welcome to the team, Stephanie. We’re delighted you found your perfect role.

  • 5 Ways We Advocate For Our Youth

    Our many programs are designed around creating safe, healthy environments for Illinois youth, in order to encourage their confidence and identify their full potential.

    Here are just a few ways we advocate for our youth daily:

    1. We counsel, we don’t condemn

    We understand that some of the children we serve endure difficult situations. That’s why our Behavioral Health program provides emotional support and counseling to children and families, to offer healing for past traumatic experiences, as well as to help them find opportunities through their challenges.

    1. We work to tackle problems in advance

    Our Preventative Services offer education for families in order to prevent challenging issues like substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Our coalitions are recruited to investigate circumstances like potential human trafficking cases to avoid recurrences whenever possible.

    1. We guide foster youth as they step into themselves

    We set our adolescents up for success by helping them make a smooth transition from foster care to independence, with our Independent Living Opportunity, which allows them to live in their own apartment while receiving guidance on money management, meeting educational and professional goals.

    1. We help pregnant youth build their futures

    The support young people receive in their youth goes a long way to build their success further down the line. Young adults who are pregnant receive support through Our New Life Parenting Program, which helps them to develop nurturing, healthily parenting skills.

    1. We contribute to addressing their mental health

    Mental health is crucial to overall well-being, especially during the pivotal years of youth. We provide Mental Health First Aid training for adults, which helps them to more effectively respond to behavioral incidents by trying to understand the causes of that behavior and how mental health plays a part in them.

     

  • Meet Kelly Bandy, Hoyleton’s Incoming Board Chair

    Starting in October, Kelly Bandy will become the Chair of Hoyleton’s Board of Directors.   Kelly has been a member of the board for over 10 years, most recently serving as its Vice Chair.

    Kelly and her husband, Eric, are long-time supporters of Hoyleton.  Both are native to Southern Illinois and have a deep passion, and commitment, to youth and families throughout the region. They operate a family business, Bandy’s Pharmacy, inspiring health and wellness throughout three communities.  Today, Bandy Pharmacy has locations in Centralia, Salem, Irvington and Mt. Vernon.

    Hoyleton was first introduced to them through a business partnership; their pharmacy in Irvington, supplies Hoyleton’s nursing staff with the necessary prescriptions for the youth living at Hoyleton’s residential campus. Irvington is just a short drive away from there.

    As the business relationship grew, Kelly and Eric’s fondness for Hoyleton’s work grew, as well.

    “Hearing stories from foster parents or kids in the residential program really made an impact on me.  Those stories really put things in perspective for my life. Kids are going through different trials that most, including me or our kids, don’t experience in everyday life.  Thankfully, Hoyleton’s been there for youth and families to count on for almost 125 years,” says Kelly.

    Eventually, Kelly joined the board of directors. Her motivation was to further her advocacy efforts for the youth in residential services with the goal of helping them create a quality of life she desired for her own children.

    Kelly still has the same motivation and calling today, but her focus has broadened.

    “Many don’t realize how much Hoyleton provides.  Programs like Puentes de Esperanza that serves our Hispanic community members, pregnancy and parenting teen classes, an integrated living program, and foster care – the list goes on – are all critical to our region.  Hoyleton plays a key role in delivering services and resources to many individuals and families.”

    When Kelly assumes the chair position, she’ll focus on sustaining and improving all the best-in-class programs and services Hoyleton offers. She will explore ways to expand services to meet more needs, as well. In all, she’s encouraged by the many transformational outcomes she’s witnessed in her many years on the board, but she knows there are many more people to serve.

    Kelly says, “When my term is complete in two years, Hoyleton will be beginning its next 125 years.  It will continue to be financially strong, growing steadily, building communities and serving youth and families with care. “

    Thank you, Kelly, for your dedication to Hoyleton’s work and to the over 3,000 youth and families Hoyleton serves every year.

  • Happy Valentine’s Day: Here’s What We Love About You

    Every day, we’re blown away by the support our community, yes – you, shows us in a variety of ways, and our work could not happen without it.  So, for Valentine’s Day, please accept our warm love, deep gratitude, and these reasons for our love:

    1)You include our youth and families in your holiday traditions.

    Christmas 2018 was the most generous Christmas donation drive we’ve had in our history!  Long-time supporters, and several new ones, donated money and purchased toys for our children and youth in foster care. You made It a truly memorable season, and so many young ones felt your compassion.

    2) You share our mission and work with your friends, family, and community.

    Over the last three months, we’ve witnessed many of you engage with our many stories shared online. You like them, you love them, and you share them with your community. For that we’re pressing:     

    3) You understand the importance of meaningful community partnerships.

    A week doesn’t go by without receiving a call or email from a local business or organization leader, asking how they can help support our work. We’re all stronger when we work together on solving complex social issues facing many, and it’s an incredible feeling to know a “collective impact” mentality is valued greatly in Southern Illinois.

    4) We know you’re committed to furthering our mission.    

    Many of you have supported our mission for decades. Others of you come from a family that has supported us across generations. And, a growing number are new to the Hoyleton community. Regardless of your time with us, we always know we can count on your commitment to furthering our mission.  Your devotion to our organization is beyond words, so we can only hope our love and commitment to those we serve every day will show our gratitude.

    Happy Valentine’s Day and thank you for loving us so dearly! 

  • Three Things We’re Celebrating About Our Puentes de Esperanza Program Right Now

    In 2004, a new program called Puentes de Esperanza (translates to Bridges of Hope) was established at Hoyleton. The program was developed after the Illinois South Conference (United Church of Christ) and Hoyleton recognized the lack of bilingual services available for the growing Hispanic population in the region. The Puentes team at Hoyleton serves as a bridge for Spanish-speaking families to connect to needed resources.

    The Puentes team organizes various workshops to educate families on personal well-being, community or cultural adjustments, navigation of complex social systems, and improvement of their professional skills.  In this work, the team provides advocacy at every encounter and strives to build a go-to community for clients, community partners (social service providers), and Spanish / non-Spanish speaking businesses.

    The program has provided incredible value to people throughout the years. Here are three recent program outcomes we’re celebrating:

    In 2018, the Puentes team served 617 individuals with over 1,577 hours of supportive services.

    In 2018, the Puentes team helped individuals save $94,073 through financial assistance programs.

    A Reading Success Program was recently developed to support individuals working on their English skills.

     

    There are several new developments happening in the program this year, and we can’t wait to share more details soon.

    For more information about Puentes de Esperanza or to find out how you or your business can provide resources and/or opportunities to the community, please contact Kristen Shinn, program director, kshinn@hoyleton.org.

  • Meet Hoyleton’s 2018 Employee of the Year, Vicki Sharkey

    2004 was a significant year for Vicki Sharkey. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, it would be the year she’d begin a celebrated 15-year (and counting) career at Hoyleton.

    Vicki is a Nurse Case Aid at Hoyleton, and she supports our nurses that care for 40 youth living at the residential services’ campus.  She has several responsibilities in her day, but her key duties are to coordinate transportation for youth to – and – from medical appointments and to record those provider appointments to ensure youth are meeting compliance standards with the State.

    She has a big responsibility, but in her tenure she’s learned a lot from her co-workers and bosses. She’s also learned important life lessons from the youth she’s supported.

    “Many of our kids get a bad rap, but people need to know that with the proper support, they can be productive in life. People must take time to understand each situation. They could then learn things for their own life. I know I have learned a lot”, says Vicki.

    The art of patience is one skill she’s learned and mastered in her time at Hoyleton. She faces many challenges, but she has the ability to break through the stress and focus on helping each youth uniquely – based on their personality and needs. This approach takes extra time, but everyone benefits in the long-run.

    Fifteen years ago, Vicki came to Hoyleton looking for a job and the desire to work with kids.  Now, she’s given so much to the organization and to others, and we can’t thank her enough for her commitment to our mission and youth.

    She represents the positive attitude, desire, and compassion that we hope every team member shares in his/her work, and we’re grateful she’s on our team.

    Congratulations, Vicki, on your 2018 Employee of the Year Award!

     

  • Residential Services Receives Tier One Status from Department of Children and Family Services

    If you visit the Hoyleton Campus in Hoyleton, Illinois on a weekday around 8:30am, it might look like the streets in most neighborhoods. Youth scurrying around, making their way to school just-in-time for the opening bell. The campus is where almost 40 boys and girls live 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each has their own unique story, but all have been referred by the State.

    This year, the Residential Care program at the Hoyleton campus was granted Tier One status from Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services.  It’s a classification that only a few similar programs in Illinois receive. The status is based on key performance scores that measure the program’s ability to successfully retain youth in treatment, present opportunities and enable youth to grow in core-life areas.

    “The Tier One classification shows we’re looking at outcomes, and the State is measuring our performance on ways we’re treating youth. It indicates the viability of our program. Data measures our work which shows we perform at a higher level.  And that makes Hoyleton a preferred provider to the State”, says Brice Bloom-Ellis, Chief Program Officer at Hoyleton.

    Hoyleton’s Residential Care staff, including counselors, administrators and educators, work together to ensure each young resident has the tools and structured experiences, like school, to move from their challenging past into a new, productive future.

    A significant factor to the programs’ success is the staff’s willingness to improve at every step.  Just last year, the program adopted an evidenced-based practice model developed from mental and behavioral health experts at Cornell University. The practice model is called CARE – Hoyleton is just one of only 50 agencies in the United States chosen by Cornell to implement the model.

    Residential Care Director, Monte Mister, explains, “Over the years, we’ve tried to take a real-life approach to youth, but they’re not really in normal life situations.  The CARE model provides our staff with a practice framework that has a common language, so we can better address our youth’s situations as they are.”

    Over the next year, more Hoyleton staff will become CARE trainers, and the practice will be fully implemented in that timeframe. The new practice will help secure Hoyleton’s Tier One status for years to come, which will give youth the quality, personalized care they need and deserve.

    “Our kids have problems but they need “normal” experiences; in many ways they’re no different than other kids – they have the same wants, needs and desires everyone else has”, says Mister. “We’ll continue to work hard each day so they know they’re people worthy of our love and support.”

    To learn more about Hoyleton’s Residential Care program, click here.