May is National Foster Care Month, and as a blog focused on moms in the Rio Grande Valley, we wanted to highlight a non-profit who’s number one goal is to support area foster families. Jeanette Ahlenius began One Starfish Ministry in early 2017 and has worked to expand its reach and offer new areas of support for foster families in our community. We invite you to read below to find out more about this unique organization in the Rio Grande Valley.
Q: Who does your organization serve?
A: We are a ministry of Calvary Baptist Church that is dedicated to making a different for foster parents in the Rio Grande Valley. We work alongside the ten child-placing agencies in Hidalgo County, as well as with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to help provide resources and support for area foster parents.
Q: What inspired you to begin One Starfish Ministry?
A: My youngest son, Mark, and his wife began welcoming kids from hard places into their home and were licensed as foster parents about three years ago, and it was something that I didn’t really even know how to process. I wanted to offer help on what I realized was an intense and challenging road, but I wasn’t sure how. They lived in College Station at the time, so a lot of time, all I could really offer was a listening ear over the phone. As time went on, they told me about a resource room and parent’s night out events that a local church offered. I started to wonder about resources here in the Valley for foster families. As I looked around, I couldn’t find anything similar to a resource room or a parent’s night out, so I decided that that was where I would start.
Q: What kind of items are available at the Resource Room?
A: We have a variety of larger items for infants, including things like toddler beds and mattresses, swings, car seats and strollers.
Q: How do foster families access the items in the Resource Room?
A: I’ve worked with all of the child-placing agencies in Hidalgo County to let them know about our Resource Room, and they let their licensed families know that we are here to support them. We have an online system that lets families electronically request to check out items that they need, and then we arrange for pick-up. We have 5-6 families per month check out items. I like to keep smaller items on hand like diapers, training pants, formula and pacifiers so that when families come for a larger item, they can also grab something small that might save them a trip to the store.
Q: Can people donate items to the Resource Room?
A: Yes! Items that are most needed would be crib mattresses, toddler beds and twin beds, but we also accept gently used baby equipment. At this time, we aren’t taking toys or clothing. Diapers and formula would also be great items to donate.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Parent’s Night Out Events?
A: We have offered three events so far, and would love to have more volunteers to help! The events were on a Friday night and we offered childcare for foster families for a three-hour window. Because the children must be with trained caretakers at all times, we worked with some of our volunteers to complete the DFPS babysitter training. We made sure to have at least one trained volunteer in each room, along with other church members and caretakers. We had games and snacks for the kids, and sent them home with a small appreciation gift for their foster parents. We served about 35-40 kids each time we hosted the events.
Q: How can volunteers help your organization?
A: I would love to see more volunteers become DFPS certified babysitters. The necessary training can be completed on a Saturday with a little extra time via online webinars. I have also encouraged college students to become certified babysitters, and One Starfish Ministry has helped to cover the cost of their CPR and First Aid training.
Q: What is most rewarding about what your organization does?
A: I started One Starfish Ministry out of the desire to do as must as I could to help area foster parents. I want to bring awareness in our community to foster care, adopting from the foster care system and to support current foster parents. We have seen many of our own church members complete the volunteer training, and some of them have even taken bigger steps to become respite providers or licensed foster parents after becoming involved with the ministry.
Q: What are your future plans for One Starfish Ministry?
A: I would love to keep offering the Parent’s Night Out events, and we are also looking at putting together a backpack drive around the start of the new school year. In April, we partnered with Buckner Children and Family Services (one of our area child-placing agencies) to offer the Empowered to Connect Simulcast. It was a two-day event highlighting Trust-Based Relational Intervention® methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University. We plan to offer the event again in Spring 2019 and would love to see many professionals and counselors from Region One and area schools participate in the training.