National Foster Care Month: 6 things Heart Gallery of Alabama wants you to know

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Heart Gallery Alabama takes professional photos of children in the foster care system.
Photo by Anna Filly Photography

Did you know that May is National Foster Care Month? Heart Gallery Alabama is an organization in Birmingham working to place children living in foster care in forever families.

Below are 6 things they want you to know about foster care, plus ways you can change the life of a child in the foster care system.

What is Heart Gallery Alabama?

Heart Gallery Alabama has a traveling visit that goes around the state.
Heart Gallery Alabama’s traveling exhibit. Photo supplied

Heart Gallery Alabama is a Birmingham-based nonprofit that helps find forever families for children in Alabama’s foster care. Together with the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), they create a traveling photo exhibit. These professional portraits and thoughtful interviews represent children across the state who are longing for loving families to call their own.

Heart Gallery Alabama was founded in 2005 with the aim of helping at least one child in the foster system find a forever home. Now, almost 15 years and a lot of support later, they’ve helped find forever homes for more than 65% of the children they have photographed.

6 things Heart Gallery Alabama wants you to know for National Foster Care Month

1. There are 6355 children—and rising—in foster care in Alabama

Did you know there are 6,355 children (and rising) in foster care in Alabama?

According to Heart Gallery Alabama Director Michelle Bearman-Wolnek, more children are finding their way into the foster care system because of rising opioid use among parents.

2. There are a lot of myths about children in foster care

Photo of a boy in foster care in Alabama.
Photo by Lindsey Roughton Photography

Bearman-Wolnek and Marketing and Communications Director Joycelyn Haywood want everyone to know that young people are placed in the foster care system “out of no fault of their own.” Children are placed in foster care based on choices their parents make—not because of something they have done.

3. Skye’s story: overcoming challenges and becoming an advocate

Skye has been in foster care in Alabama for just under a decade.
Photo by K. Olis Photography

Eighteen-year-old Skye has been in the foster care system for just under a decade.

Back in 2010, Skye’s biological mom moved her, her two older brothers, and her younger sister to Alabama. On March 20, 2011, they celebrated her second oldest brother’s birthday. That night, their mom went out partying and didn’t come back.

Two days after his birthday, Skye’s brother went into what turned out to be a diabetic coma that ultimately lasted three months. When the paramedics found four children with no parents, they called DHR, and shortly thereafter, Skye met her first social worker.

In the eight-plus years since that fateful day, Skye and her siblings have been separated.

Skye has lived in group homes, therapeutic homes and the hospital, before landing in the home where she lives now. She loves it there and enjoys all the people in the family. Because of all that Skye and her siblings have been through, she has had to work through a lot of anger along the way.

Now, Skye has channelled her fire into becoming a powerhouse. At her high school, she’s active in a number of clubs, including the Prom Committee and Talent Search. She’s also an Ambassador with a group called DREAM Council that works with DHR. DREAM stands for Dedicated, Responsible, Empowered, & Motivated.

With the DREAM Council, Skye has traveled across the state and other places to speak about her experiences and advocate for young people in the foster system.

Skye’s most recent accomplishment is being awarded four scholarships to college. She still hopes to find her forever family, because young adults need the support, love and stability parents can provide.

4. A look at Jefferson County

Jefferson County Alabama is home to 956 children in foster care.
From worldatlas.com

According to Heart Gallery Alabama’s sources, there are 956 children in care in Jefferson County. 224 of these young people are in traditional foster homes. This means a lot of children in foster care—both in Jefferson County and Alabama as a whole—need homes. There simply are not enough licensed foster homes for all the children who need a home.

5. Many of the children that Heart Gallery represents are in “congregant housing” (as opposed to foster homes)

This means they’re not living one-on-one with a family. Instead, they’re in places like group homes, behavior facilities or rehab hospitals. They end up in these institutions not because of anything they have done,  but because there is no other available living arrangement.

6. What you can do to support children in foster care

Picture of a girl in foster care twirling. By Heart Gallery of Alabama.
Photo by Stephanie Fisher Photography

Not everyone’s in a position to adopt or foster a child, but if you are, by all means, get in touch with the folks at Heart Gallery Alabama. And, if that’s not something you can or want to do, there is still a lot you can do to make a big difference in a young person’s life. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Help celebrate a child’s birthday by donating a gift for Heart Gallery Alabama’s Big Birthday Bash. You can drop off gifts or gift cards at Heart Gallery’s office in Homewood. Or mail them in if you would like: 3100 Independence Dr suite 200, Birmingham, AL 35209.
  • Be a mentor
  • Donate money.
  • Share articles like this one to help educate others.
  • Learn about the needs of children living in foster care and advocate on their behalf—especially at the State Capitol.

Two upcoming events that support Heart Gallery Alabama

Regions Field is the home of the Heart Gallery Classic.
Regions Field is the home of the Heart Gallery Classic. Photo from Facebook
  1. Come out to Kid at Heart June 7 at Avondale Brewing
    Kid at Heart is an adult game night benefiting Heart Gallery Alabama. Games include giant Jenga, cornhole, Connect 4, musical chairs, checkers and more. It’s at Avondale Brewing on Friday, June 7, 2019 from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM CDT. Admission is free.
  2. Go to the Heart Gallery Classic at the end of June
    Watch the Birmingham Barons vs. Mobile Bay Bears at Regions Field, Friday, June 28, 7:00 PM CDT. Tickets $25 each or $75 for a family 3 pack.

Every little bit makes a difference. As they say at Heart Gallery Alabama, “you never know if the person you share a child’s story with is going to be their future family.”

There are a lot of ways you can have an impact on a young person who’s in the foster care system. Share this article with your friends, family, or religious organization. You can follow Heart Gallery Alabama on Facebook or Instagram. Attend one of their upcoming events. Sign up to volunteer. Or, if you’re feeling the call, find out what is involved in fostering or adopting. No matter how big or small the action you take may be, you can make a difference.

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Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference