Traditional Picnic Celebrates Untraditional Families

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About a hundred children and members of their foster families turned out Aug. 23 at Chinquapin Park for Alexandrias annual Resource Family Barbecue.

Dubbed the Resource Family Barbecue with Magical Fun For All Ages, sponsored jointly by Alexandrias Department of Social Services and the Womens Giving Circle of Alexandria (WGCA), the events purpose was to have fun celebrating foster care.

When they were not in the throes of a specific, organized activity or eating the abundant picnic fare, children enjoyed the swings and other playground equipment, had their faces painted or enjoyed the magic show while parents visited or listened attentively to an upbeat, dynamic presentation on positive discipline by Joyce Rawlings, a regular presenter on the subject of parenting skills for Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) in Alexandria and Fairfax county.

Suzanne Kratzok of Alexandria Social Services, the driving force behind the foster care fete, was pleased with the record turn out. We hold the picnic every year to thank resource parents and their families for bringing foster care children into their homes. Social Services wants to show them that we recognize that what these families are doing is special, rewarding and yet challenging, Kratzok said.

 This picnic is super, said Greta Rosenzweig, the Resource Home Recruiter for the Alexandria Division of Social Services. Its all about having fun as a family.  I am humbled by the willingness of our resource families to step in and care for the citys children who are most in need. Being a resource parent is very rewarding.  It also can be challenging and emotional, particularly when the children who have been living with a family reunify with their birth parents or relatives.

Families develop strong ties with the children in their care, Rosenzweig continued, and it can be tough when these children leave their home.  At the same time, they experience the joy of having participated in the process of reunifying a family, and that is incredibly satisfying.  Many of our families are also willing to provide a permanent home through adoption for children when needed.

Community Service Important
The WGCA organized the picnic and provided enthusiastic volunteers to help out with the festivities. WGCA Co-President Peggy Morrison-Curtis was an active volunteer at the event and jumped in to assist wherever she and the WGCA volunteers were needed. The WGCAs goal is to help children in Alexandria by pooling its members resources and investing in initiatives that prepare Alexandrias children for success, Morrison-Curtis said. Community service is an important part of who we are and what we do. We were excited about being involved with the resource parent and foster care event because the picnic helps affirm, inspire and reinforce foster families bonds. Ultimately, it is great for the children in their care.

The resource parents and their biological children who open their homes and their lives to foster care children were an inspiration to the volunteers. Debbie Matthews has two biological children, Paula, 10, and Donald, 18. Initially it was Paula and Donalds idea for their parents to become resource parents. I have been a foster care parent for four years because my kids begged me to do it, said Matthews. When my kids heard that a teenage girl we knew needed a place to live, they said Do it. You have to do it. So, four years and 10 foster care children later, Debbie still loves her role as a resource parent. She continues, saying that I am fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom and I can do this even though you can get a call any time of the day or night. The notice that a child is coming to live with us is short sometimes. Once I got a call at 1:00 a.m. giving me 20 minutes notice that I was getting two boys, and another time I had two hours to get ready. I love kids and if I can make a difference, it is all worth it.

While a magician evoked laughs from the families watching carefully to see if they could figure out just how the tricks worked, the real magic was in watching the evident compassion and care the resource parents had developed for the children in their charge.  Resource parent Steve Snow said, I have a hard time putting into words how I feel about being a foster care parent. I love it. I lost my first born biological son in a car accident, and now it is as though I have a chance to be a do-over dad. I have two adopted children and a teenager and her one year old living with my wife, Mary Kay, and me. It is great! You could even say I am a foster grandfather now! 

For information about becoming a resource parent for a child in foster care or to learn more about adoption, please call Greta Rosenzweig at 703-838-0700. Two information seminars are scheduled at the Beatley Library, 5005 Duke Street, on Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The free seminars provide information on the children, the programs and services and the process involved in adopting or becoming a resource parent for a foster child.

If you are unable to be a resource parent, you can still help a child in Alexandrias foster care by donating to the The Fund for Alexandrias Child. The Fund provides material and monetary support for children in foster care so that they can participate in clubs, band, lessons, scouts and activities from which they might otherwise be excluded for lack of financial resources. For further information, call Suzanne Kratzok at 703-838-0700.

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