By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

In an all too familiar scene, foster parents may only get a moment’s notice they will be receiving a foster child, who when they arrive may be traumatized after being quickly taken from their home and may be suffering from neglect or abuse. Foster parents and children often need support materially, emotionally or spiritually.  

 

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Volunteers accompanied by family members sort through items to distribute at the Foster Village in Walker. Photos provided by Shayna Landry 

 

The Foster Village was the dream of Amy LeJeune, foster mom, and Shayna Landry, kinship foster parent and adoptive mom. They saw the great need in Region 3 of Louisiana, which includes Livingston Civil Parish and at present has the largest number of children in foster care within the state.  

They were going through similar life experiences so they talked on the phone and brainstormed on how they could establish a one-stop for foster families to receive assistance they need.  

Landry posted on Facebook they were looking for a storage space where they could collect and distribute items that would help foster parents  who may not have everything they need to adequately meet the child’s needs. An area church offered the women a room in a building the church owned, but the organization quickly grew and the church offered them the whole building. 

“Our mission is to be able to have a place where children in foster care and foster parents can come and get things for free,” said LeJeune a member of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge.  

Speaking from experience, LeJeune said people may be excited at the thought they will be taking in a foster infant or child and don’t think about all the everyday items and necessities the child is going to need. And while they may receive a stipend, the cost per month of raising the child can be twice as much as they receive for raising the child. Some foster parents may go from having zero to three within a couple of weeks, according to LeJeune.  

In addition to providing those “comfort” items, the Foster Village also provides a support group for the parents where they talk about their experiences, exchange ideas and can put together scrap books about their foster children.  

Social events are also held for the children. They can do such things as see fire trucks and police cars or do crafts together. This provides a sense of safety and security as they meet other children who have been through similar experiences.  

“We’ve had children that were taken away from their parents and brought to the house of a stranger, and they want to run and fight because they don’t see your home as a safe home,” said LeJeune.  

The Foster Village helps in the processes that are in the best interest of the child, whether it’s reunification with the biological parents whose circumstances have improved so they can care for them again or helping the child to be adopted.  

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Foster parents and children receive comfort items and support at the Foster Village. Photo provided by Shayna Landry

 

During these times of change, Foster Village helps the child to find comfort.  

The social get togethers for the children and providing the small toys and other comfort items bring a sense of normality for the children. 

Landry and LeJeune talked about a birthday bash for one girl who loved unicorns.  

“Low and behold a donation came in a couple of days later and there was a pair of pajamas with unicorns on it, so the next time we saw her we were able to tell her, ‘Guess what. We have something special just for you,’ ” LeJeune said.  

Nicole Otillio, a Foster Village board member, heard about Foster Village through a presentation Landry and LeJeune gave at the meeting of the Livingston Civil Parish Rotary Club.  

“I can’t go to sleep at night saying ‘It’s okay’ to see the number of foster children in our area, especially Livingston Parish. It’s a crisis,” said Otillio, also a member of Our Lady of Mercy.  

“Some of them have been (before being brought to foster care) introduced to drugs by people who are supposed to be taking care of them. It made me think about the things I did in my childhood that I took for granted as the joy of being a kid. It’s unimaginable some of the horrors that some of these kids go through that live so close to me,” said Otillio.  

She began volunteering with the Foster Village by helping with administrative work. As she witnessed the benefits that the children or parents were receiving from the Foster Village, she was drawn into helping them with social gatherings and other ways.  

“It’s great to see them (children and parents) out of their immediate emergency mode and relaxing and enjoying themselves,” said Otillio.  

She described Landry and LeJeune as selfless servants and that the Foster Village helps bridge that gap between the state’s resources and foster parent’s needs.  

In addition to donations, the Foster Village needs volunteers, and provides training for its volunteers. For more information about the program and how to donate or volunteer visit tfvwalker.org.