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Raising Arizona Kids

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ARIZONA’S CHILDREN: Make a difference for kids in foster care

Chris Paulley enjoys making Play-Doh sculptures with a child at Child Crisis Arizona in Mesa. Photo by Rick D’Elia.

Fifth in a series about foster care in Arizona

The joys of childhood are simple — a ride on the swings at the park, a game of catch in the yard, a quick story before bedtime.

It doesn’t take much to make children happy. But as Torrie Taj, CEO of Child Crisis Arizona explains, “Not all children have a safe, secure home, and some do not enjoy the joys of childhood as we know it.”

Sometimes children must be removed from their homes for their own safety. More than 16,000 Arizona children find themselves in this situation. Placed in the hands of friends or family members through kinship care, or with strangers through foster care, these kids yearn for the same love, attention and security that all children need.

Throughout 2017, RAK has featured stories on the foster care crisis in Arizona.

We have looked at how fostering and adopting children can be a life-changing and deeply rewarding experience. Realistically, not everyone can take this momentous step.

Fortunately, there are many other ways to help that have great impact.

An Arizonans for Children mentor posted this photo of time she spent over yogurt and painting with her young mentee. Because of confidentiality rules, no faces can be shown of children in foster care.

Be a mentor

Laura Pahules, executive director at Arizonans for Children, says there is a great need for mentors. At her organization alone, 114 kids are on the waiting list.

Mentors — who commit to spending eight hours per month with a school-age child for at least a year — “take kids out into the community and help them with life lessons on basic skills such as how to navigate public transportation, how to count change and how to tip,” Pahules says.

The special attention kids get through time with a mentor can make a big difference and is often reflected in improved grades at school, better attendance rates and higher self-esteem.

Arizonans for Children also provides after-school classes in cooking, sewing, dance, art, woodworking, financial literacy and STEM. Volunteers are needed to serve as teachers in this coursework at Phoenix and Mesa locations. Financial support is also needed and appreciated.

Arizonans for Children
1112 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
1020 N. Horne, Mesa
480-838-0085 •

Be a legal advocate

Perhaps no one plays a bigger role in bringing positive change to the lives of vulnerable foster children than a CASA, or Court-Appointed Special Advocate.

Guardian ad litem Bill Owsley, a legal advocate for foster children in the courtroom, says the state of Arizona desperately needs more volunteers serving in this capacity.

“CASAs have more contact with the kids than anyone,” he explains. “They advocate for the child and become the eyes and ears for the court.”

A CASA’s first job is to listen. CASAs get to know everyone in a child’s life, from the parents and relatives, to foster parents and teachers, to medical professionals and attorneys, to social workers and more. CASAs try to understand how a child is feeling and what his or her desires might be. Once they have gathered all the pertinent information, CASAs help to inform judges and others who are making decisions about permanent placement for the child.

You do not have to be a lawyer or a social worker to become a CASA. If you care about children and are willing to use good, common sense on their behalf, you are qualified. To become a CASA you must pass a background check, undergo an interview, participate in a 30-hour training course and agree to stay on a case until it is closed (usually about a year and a half).

Allison Hurtado, outreach specialist for CASA of Arizona, says there are about 1,000 active CASAs in Arizona. Since each can take only one or two cases at a time, most children in out-of-home care do not have CASAs.

Being a CASA is “fulfilling because you get to stick with it until the situation is resolved,” Hurtado says. Being part of “getting children to a place where they are in a secure and loving environment can be a truly life-changing experience.”

CASA of Arizona
602-452-3654 •


Brett MacLay affixes a swing to the ceiling as his wife Becki holds their 18-month-old foster son. Their 20-month-old foster daughter waves from the slide. Photo by Rick D’Elia.

Become a respite-care provider

Foster- and kinship-care families have a multitude of responsibilities. With doctor’s visits, court dates, visitation appointments and more, it’s hard to find time for anything else.

“You don’t realize how great a need is until you’re in the middle of it,” says Chandler grandmother Kelly Ray, who provides kinship care to her four grandchildren. “The hardest part is not having anyone else to support with this. … Since I’ve had them, I’ve only had one day and one full night [to myself].”

As a respite-care provider, you can give foster families the precious gift of regenerative time away from all-encompassing responsibilities. You help the children and the wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to them. Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health offers respite care and trains volunteers, in addition to providing many other foster-care services.

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Respite
6439 E. Eugie Terrace, Scottsdale
480-634-2028 •

Volunteer at an emergency shelter

When foster or kinship care placement cannot be made quickly enough, children are often taken in by emergency shelters, such as Child Crisis Arizona. These facilities are always in need of volunteers to rock babies, cuddle toddlers or play games with preschoolers.

Volunteer positions usually require a one-year weekly commitment of time. The age requirement to volunteer at the shelter is 16. For younger volunteers, there are opportunities with the VIP Kids Club to plan parties and help in other ways. One-day group volunteer opportunities can be great team-builders for churches, businesses or other organizations. Monetary contributions and donations of children’s items are also greatly appreciated.

Child Crisis Arizona
480-834-9424 •

Support Arizona Friends of Foster Care

“Most children come into foster care with little more than the clothes on their back or what they can carry in a trash bag,” according to Kris Jacober, executive director at Arizona Friends of Foster Care.

Foster parents, too, are often lacking in resources. Providing the basic necessities for a child’s survival is sometimes about as much as these families can muster. “We pay for things for kids in foster care that the state doesn’t pay for,” Jacober explains.

The organization provides funding to make sure foster kids experience normal childhood activities like summer camps, sports teams, swim lessons and even tickets to theme parks.

Since 1984, the organization has awarded more than $7 million to more than 32,500 children. It receives no government funding and relies solely on the generosity of donors and volunteers.

Arizona Friends of Foster Care
1645 E. Missouri Ave., Suite 450, Phoenix
602-737-2676 •

A 4-year-old receives her first bicycle from Arizona Helping Hands. Photo

Donate to Arizona Helping Hands

Arizona Helping Hands is the largest provider of basic needs to foster families. According to Dan Shufelt, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, the organization’s core service is providing beds.

“We have already provided over 3,000 kids’ beds and cribs to foster homes,” he says. The goal is “to make kids lives as normal as possible.”

Arizona Helping Hands also provides personal items, diapers and toiletries. Another signature program is “Dream Kits for Foster Kids.” Foster parents fill out an online application — for a toy, a book or whatever they feel will make a child’s birthday special — and Arizona Helping Hands works to make those wishes come true.

“Every package is decorated in a special way that shows somebody cared about them,” says Shufelt. “We want them to know that their lives are worthy of celebration.”

Find a list of what’s needed on the organization’s website or Facebook page. All donations should be new items with the exception of gently used children’s clothing. Drop off donations at any Mattress Firm store or at the Arizona Helping Hands warehouse, which is located in the Scottsdale Airpark. Volunteers and monetary donations are always appreciated.

Arizona Helping Hands
7850 E. Gelding Drive, Suite 500, Scottsdale
480-889-0604 •

Contribute to Helen’s Hope Chest

Helen’s Hope Chest is a place where foster families can bring kids to “shop” for things they need. Set up like a boutique, the space offers a wide variety of clothing, shoes, books, hygiene items and more.

But unlike a store, the items are available to foster kids for free. Families just call and make an appointment to take the kids on a “shopping spree.” Children are suddenly allowed to make their own choices, which builds self-esteem and helps them to bond with the adults in their lives.

Katie Pompay, executive director of Helen’s Hope Chest, puts it this way: “You don’t think about shopping when you don’t have food or a home. We want to let these kids know they can think about those things, because they’re safe now. We let them know that whatever they pick out here, it’s theirs to keep. It gives them a bit of their identity back.”

Helen’s Hope Chest — which serves about 650 children per month, and this year alone provided 1,600 backpacks with school supplies — always needs donations, especially gently used or new clothing items and shoes. Elementary school-age boys clothing is in high demand. Drop items at the north side of the building. Financial donations also are appreciated.

Helen’s Hope Chest – Mesa United Way
126 E. University Drive, Mesa
480-834-2121 •

Volunteer with Children’s Heart Gallery

As you scroll through The Children’s Heart Gallery, the faces of children become etched in your mind. These are the children who qualify for adoption but for whom permanent placement has not been found.

Owned and operated by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety, the mission of The Children’s Heart Gallery is to “use the power of photography to capture each child’s unique spirit and story in profile.”

Janine Ramirez, adoption specialist with DCS, says volunteer photographers are always needed. Hairdressers and makeup artists can help with weekend photo shoots, where they bring out children’s unique personalities and make them feel like celebrities for a day.

Volunteer guides take children to various stations for “spa treatments” and help gather information to create individualized profiles and biographies. Guides also play games with the kids and help them make photo frames for their portraits. To volunteer, visit the Children’s Heart Gallery website and fill out the “Volunteer Interest Form.”

The Children’s Heart Gallery
877-543-7633 •



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Sheri Smith

Freelance writer Sheri Smith, of Scottsdale, is the mother of Aidan (17) and Sarah (13).


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