Volume 1, Issue 4 | July 2018
Inside this Issue: Advocacy and Action at Harvest of Hope 
Conversation with Former Foster Youth and Advocate: Berisha Black, First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens Launches Foster Care Ministry, Arizona Leads with Month-Long Foster Care Orientations for Prospective Parents
A Walk In Her Shoes: The Berisha Black Story
After spending nearly her entire childhood in foster care in and out of placements, Berisha Black ran away and begged her social worker to allow her to emancipate early, at age 17. Instead of letting her go, her social worker introduced Berisha to a woman who she came to know as "grandmother," who encouraged her to enroll in college and take control of her life. Berisha took her grandmother's advice, graduating with a degree in social work from California State University, Los Angeles, and spent years of her career in various roles and agencies that advocate for children in foster care. In 2004, Berisha was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles County Women’s Commission and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for her outstanding work in the field. Now the Executive Director of Foster Care Initiatives in Phoenix, Arizona, and a friend of Harvest of Hope, Berisha sits down to discuss the current needs of the foster care system and how we all can help.
Click the video above to hear Berisha's foster care story.
How did your journey in foster care impact your career and what is most important to you in this work?
My work started in advocacy because I truly believed that every foster child deserved the love of a Grandmother like mine. I was blessed and fortunate and wanted that for every child in the system. Advocacy and training became my specialty. I recruited new foster families and trained social workers about what it is like being a child in the system and understanding their trauma. This became my passion and gift: to influence child welfare professionals and families to see foster children in a different light and make better decisions around their treatment and care. They are the most vulnerable children in our society and they deserve our best foster parents, services and support.

How is the work of Harvest of Hope addressing the foster care crisis? 
Here in Arizona, you have foster kids that say, "We want foster parents that look like us." I feel that HOH is trying to answer that call by reaching the churches of their communities to engage in this crisis. HOH has also shed light on the foster care crisis for many churches that were unaware. Targeting the group home kids is also important because they are the ones that often feel forgotten.   

How are churches uniquely qualified to take on foster care ministries?
I think that churches are the first point of contact for families that are struggling. Churches are often the beacon of the community and many times, they already know some of the families but may not know how to help. If the church is equipped to help meet the needs of families, it can help lessen the trauma for the children if they can stay in the same community and see familiar faces at church. I can remember how the church impacted my life growing up in foster care.
It was the one place that I felt normal and comfortable. I loved going to camp with the youth group. I still have friends from church camp to this day. I can also remember my friend's mom trying to get licensed to take me in. She didn't qualify, but when I connected back with her some 20 years later, I saw that she still had a photo of me on her wall. This moved my heart to know that I was not forgotten. You never know the impact you could make in a child's life, and it is worth the effort.

In your opinion, what is the most critical aspect of the foster care system that needs immediate change? 
I have always believed in prevention. The more we can prevent system involvement the better it is for families. Prevention supports takes more engaged churches and communities. The church has a role and responsibility to help the orphans so we do not have to continue to rely on government. We have to step up and be the change we want to see.

What are ways in which people who have a heart for foster care can get involved in this work? 
There are so many ways to get involved. First, we always need more foster parents (and those interested can contact their local Child Protective Services office.) You can become a ministry leader to help start a foster care ministry at your church and get involved with Harvest of Hope. You can even consider becoming a respite provider, which is basically a licensed babysitter to help give foster parents a break. Youth in group homes need mentors to take them on outings and to spend time with them. Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) because there are never enough volunteers for all the kids in the system. And of course, the children and families always need your prayers.
First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens Relaunches
Foster Care Ministry
On May 6, 2018, the First Sunday of National Foster Care Awareness Month, Founder and CEO of Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. and Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ, Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. announced the relaunch of the foster care ministry. Dr. Soaries, along with HOH Foster Care Specialists Katherine Taylor (left) and Ashley Trotter (right) invited current and prospective foster/adoptive parents to join the ministry. This moment reflected back to a similar invitation made over 20 years ago when Dr. Soaries ignited the church to respond to the boarder baby epidemic in New Jersey, thus sparking the initial creation of Harvest of Hope. Today, the ministry is recommitting themselves to this original mission, with 35 people signing up for the ministry in the first week. There is much to be done and many hands make light work! Please read and share the information below.
FBC Invites You to Join the Foster Care Ministry!
A Foster Care Ministry will create a strong sense of community among foster and adoptive families at FBCLG by engaging families with one another, the church, and the community. If you are or have been interested in becoming a licensed resource to a child, the Ministry will provide information and serve as a support through the licensing and training processes. If you are already a licensed foster or adoptive parent or kinship caregiver, the Ministry will support you with prayer, education, and encouragement. Families will receive support for their respite needs, thus maintaining children in a familiar community. Adoptions will be an occasion for celebration, and families anticipating the arrival of a precious child will receive support through the provision of prayer and other practical support. 
The Ministry will also serve as an information and referral source for families seeking services. Special events will be hosted for children, youth, and their families, and educational training will be facilitated by a variety of professionals to address topics that affect families. 

If you or someone you know is looking to get involved in the foster care ministry at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, please contact ministry leaders Katherine Taylor and Ashely Trotter at ktaylor@harvestofhopefamily.com and atrotter@harvestofhopefamily.com.
"Thank you for your kind letter of appreciation and encouragement to those of us who are willing to open our homes and partner with this ministry. I have prayed about getting involved for years. However, I strongly believe our God knows when to act on our behalf, despite our impatience. It is a great ministry and I know God will send the right addition to my family when He finds that person. Where He leads you...follow."
-FBC Foster Care Ministry Member
Spotlight: Moving from Words to Actions
Congratulations to Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Incorporated and Agape Adoption Agency of Arizona for hosting three successful foster and adoptive parent orientations in Phoenix, Arizona for the moth of June! Great work and collaboration by two outstanding organizations committed to removing barriers in foster care system and creating long-term solutions!

Education for Liberation: Knowing the Facts
As advocates for change in the foster care system, Harvest of Hope is committed to spreading awareness and forging dialogue in hopes to inspire action against the injustices of the foster care system.
  • On any given day, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States.

  • In 2015, over 670,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

  • On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.

  • Despite the common perception that the majority of children in foster care are very young, the average age of kids in care is nearly 9.

  • In 2015, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color.

  • While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority — 14 percent — live in institutions or group homes.

  • In 2015, more than 62,000 children – whose mothers’ and fathers’ parental rights had been legally terminated – were waiting to be adopted.

  • In 2015, more than 20,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.

  • While states should work rapidly to find safe permanent homes for kids, on any given day children available for adoption have spent an average of nearly two years waiting to be adopted since their parental rights were terminated.

Source: “Foster Care.”  Children's Rights , www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/. 
"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
– Mark 9:37
Get Connected, Stay Connected
Reverend Sheila Gibson of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens of Somerset, NJ delivered a most powerful foster care prayer on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 during The Prayer Connection: Pray Up. Click HERE to listen.
If you have been inspired by the work of Harvest of Hope and you would like to support children in foster care, please consider making a donation. Your gift can help fund our foster family recruitment efforts, orientation and workshop training, or perhaps assist with the purchase of a coat, school supplies, backpack, or more. You can help, in any number of ways. No amount is too small.
Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Incorporated 

Corporate Headquarters 
727 Franklin Boulevard, Suite 1
Somerset, NJ 08873