Santa Rosa program gives foster families ‘a safe space,’ free resources
When foster parents Katie Anderson and her partner got a call that they immediately would be receiving a set of siblings from another county, they assumed there would be just two. They were stunned to learn that five kids were on their way, each with serious mental, physical and emotional problems, any of which would challenge any parent.
The oldest had leukemia. The second oldest had an extremely rare genetic disorder. The middle kids struggled with deafness, autism and ADD. The youngest had severe behavioral, social and emotional problems because she had been molested from infancy by her mother’s boyfriend. She was 3.
It was an emergency placement and these extremely sick, needy and traumatized children were coming with only the clothes they were wearing.
It was 10 p.m. but Anderson, in desperation, knew she could call Dominique Soileau, a fellow foster parent who knew the ropes and what she needed. Soileau rushed over and helped Anderson figure out where everyone would sleep and by morning had a set of bunk beds delivered.
“She had toys for them to make them feel at home. She had food delivered to our house to help us out. It was just beyond what I expected,” Anderson said. “All I could do was cry because I was just so thankful I had someone like Dominique in my life who could help out and to be able to help out these kids and make them feel at home so quickly.”
Soileau and her friend Amanda Kitchens have been offering 911-style support to overwhelmed fellow foster parents for years. At the end of 2018, they decided it was time to formalize their efforts. They registered a web domain name, set up a Facebook page and opened Our Village Closet, a clearing house for resources desperately needed by foster parents who can’t possibly be prepared for the widely varying needs of the children who may be brought to them on very short notice.
“I had one with 30 minutes’ notice. I couldn’t accommodate that one,” lamented Soileau, who has adopted three of the children she fostered.
One challenge is simply the massive amount of supplies the average parent accumulates and takes for granted. But until last month, Our Village Closet was were a closet in name only.
For two and a half years, Soileau and Kitchens, who has adopted all four children she fostered, collected donations of all kinds and stashed them in whatever vacant place they could find — in the garage, a bedroom, storage lockers, a backyard treehouse, donated warehouse space. The pair, struggling to remember what was stored where, darted around the county, pulling together clothing, toys, baby gear, car seats and a multitude of other items for newborns to teens and delivered them to stressed foster parents scrambling to provide a welcoming home on the fly.
In June, however, after a stressful year of porch drops during COVID-19, Our Village Closet cut the ribbon on a permanent location, two floors of a vacant school space at St. Luke Lutheran Church on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa.
Here, care providers can shop and choose necessities themselves, from socks to strollers, with everything nice or new and neatly ordered. Upstairs is a cool space just for teens and young adults up to age 24 who are emerging from foster care and striking out on their own. It’s stocked with contemporary clothing, backpacks and other school gear, as well as basic household items. There is a resource space with books and materials to help foster parents with children who have special needs, a work/craft table and a zippered tent where children who need to withdraw can chill out.
Any foster parent, youth or child can take what they want, with no limits or conditions. It’s all free.
Our Village Closet also offers emotional support, peer counseling to other parents, advice and resources to help caregivers engulfed by the responsibility and complexity of caring for children with so many special needs and wounds. Kitchens and Soileau have been offering these resources ad hoc for years, but now a permanent home will allow them to create more formal programs.
For their volunteer efforts to provide desperately needed support for foster children and their families while also caring for their own, Soileau and Kitchens are being honored with this month’s North Bay Spirit Award. A joint project of The Press Democrat and Comcast, the Spirit Award puts a spotlight on individuals who go above and beyond to find creative ways to address unmet needs in the community, typically as volunteers.
“What Dominique and Amanda are doing is beyond just handing out clothes and cradles. They’re providing a safe space for these families to go,” said Anderson, who has adopted two foster kids and now volunteers at Our Village Closet. “They’re providing a support space and resources for these families, who are given what the county can give them, but it isn’t much, unfortunately.”