Original published in print and online at https://owslife.com/filerepository/archives/1-18owsl/index.html, page 38
"It all began with a used Xbox. Earlier this year, a group foster home in Oviedo came to the attention of a neighbor, Wednesday Hugus. Wednesday noticed the six girls who live in the home, all between the ages of 11 and 14, were not always getting a positive response from other residents in the neighborhood. “They didn’t feel very warm and welcome,” Wednesday says of the girls, who would often arrive at the home with a bag full of clothes and not much else. When the supervisors of the group home put out feelers in the neighborhood for a used Xbox video game console, it was initially met with “mixed responses,” according to Wednesday. She describes the girls who live in the home as the highest level of at-risk kids, those who have been victims of human trafficking or abuse. “If they could be in traditional fostercare placements, they would be,” says Wednesday. And while some in the neighborhood would prefer not to have such a situation down the street, others saw an opportunity for much-needed help. Another neighbor, Tina Marinshaw, picked up the home’s request for an Xbox and put the word out on Facebook. Within hours, enough money was raised to purchase a used Xbox for the girls, and things have blossomed from there."
Wednesday and Tina set out to better incorporate the group home into their neighborhood, and that evolved into an ongoing effort – Foster Friends of Oviedo – with its own Facebook page. More than 200 people joined the group in the first week, organizing events like barbecues and a Valentine’s Day party for the girls who live there. “It took on a life of its own,” Wednesday says. “People began sending wonderful things, people from across the nation... handmade soaps, lip balms... all so the girls could have a nice Valentine’s Day.” But this particular Oviedo house is only one of Central Florida’s many group foster homes. The need is great. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, more than 10,000 children in the state were in licensed foster care as of this past June (an additional 13,622 were in foster-care placements with relatives). To serve more kids, the Foster Friends of Oviedo changed its name to Foster Friends of Central Florida, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit*, and began helping five other area foster homes, as well. All donations – 100 percent – go to the foster homes the organization serves. Foster Friends of Central Florida, which Wednesday runs, is attached to a charity Tina had previously cofounded called iPrevail International, which was originally established to aid typhoon victims in the Philippines. With the organization’s help, the girls in the Oviedo home appear to be thriving, especially considering their circumstances, says Sharon Pomales, the volunteer house mother. With the help of the community behind them, the girls are now getting good grades, participating in after-school activities, and showing kindness toward others. “They are very motherly with each other,” says Sharon. “They feel they’re all sisters.” Though the average foster-home placement lasts about 87 days, the core group of girls in the Oviedo house have been there longer. Foster Friends of Central Florida has coordinated meal nights at the home, during which volunteers bring in dinner and desserts for the girls and their aides. Photographers and stylists have donated services for special nights like homecoming; birthday celebrations have been coordinated; welcome baskets have been assembled for new arrivals; costs for excursions like ziplining, movies, and Disney trips have been donated; craft nights have been organized; and more fundraisers are planned for the coming months. “The changes have been amazing,” says Wednesday. “Things have shifted. The girls now smile and wave. Before, you might have gotten a glare. Instead of it being ‘that problem foster home’ in the neighborhood, calls about the house have decreased dramatically.” Sharon has learned about herself, as well. She had never volunteered for anything before she found the Oviedo house. “I didn’t know I had it in me,” she says. “It’s changed my whole life.”
To learn how you can help Foster Friends of Central Florida, visit iWillPrevail.org/ friends-of-foster-homes.
Admin correction: Foster Friends of Oviedo has been recently renamed Foster Friends of Central Florida. It is a program of iPrevail, a 501 c(3) organization.