18 months ago, Jillana Goble, an adoptive and foster parent, had a conversation with her certifier. She simply asked, “What happens when children enter the foster care system? What’s the protocol?” In response, her certifier painted a gloomy picture of scrambling each and every time a vulnerable kid is brought in. As she listened, Goble saw an opportunity for the Church to enter this scene to bless Oregon’s kids in foster care and DHS staff.
Churches across the area conversed, convened, and mobilized to find ways they could serve these people in need. With a grant from her church, Imago Dei Community, Goble pioneered a program to provide welcome boxes filled with snacks, toys, and personalized notes to comfort children waiting to be placed in homes. The faith community in Portland has since distributed 6,500 boxes.
The project became a gateway to bigger things. “This has been a really humble and surprising catalyst for further community involvement,” Goble said in a recent update given to 160 pastors in Southeast Portland. “It’s just prompted the next natural question of who are these children in the office and why are they waiting?” As Goble and other leaders continued to wrestle with what the Church could do, it became clear that foster care’s biggest need is caring families to provide homes for these vulnerable kids. They founded Embrace Oregon, an initiative to provide 884 certified foster families.
Since spring 2012, they have garnered 49, according to a recent article in The Oregonian. Norene Owens, manager of foster care, adoption, and visitation for DHS in Multnomah County, sees the progress as huge because “it’s a huge ask.” The faith community has also rallied around revitalizing DHS facilities across the area and hosting events for children to give foster parents an evening out.
“It’s just a privilege for the Church to be engaging in this relationship,” Goble says. “Children in foster care are our community’s children. The states of Oregon is not a warm and fuzzy parent. It’s painful to hear that these are the state’s children because these are our children.”
Owens calls the partnership growing between the faith community and DHS “a revolution” and says the possibility for change is very real. “DHS has opened doors that often felt closed in the past,” she says, addressing Portland’s churches. “That relationship with the faith community has brought us hope. We need you; please join us. We want to keep this going.”
Likewise, leaders and pastors of some of the area’s largest churches have expressed excitement over the initiative’s momentum and see the need to keep it up. “This is a door that God has opened that no man can shut…In fact, the door’s not even open; it’s off the hinges,” said Pastor Marc Estes of City Bible Church, which participates in both the Welcome Boxes and Foster Parents’ Night Out projects. “This is an unusual opportunity where the state of Oregon is coming to us and saying, ‘please help with this epidemic.’ It is a pretty big deal.”