It looked like any other Christmas party as families celebrated together at the Greater Maple Valley Community Center.
But the gathering meant so much more than activities, Christmas carols and telling Santa Claus what was on the wish list this year.
Children wrote letters to Santa, opened gifts, ate, laughed and played Dec. 19 during the second annual Foster Family Fun Night at the Greater Maple Valley Community Center.
Ruth Pomerantz, a foster mother who lives in Maple Valley, explained the significance of the event.
“This tells my family that we’re important, that the community cares about foster families, that we’re not alone,” Pomerantz said. That people care enough to sow into the foster care families and the foster kids.”
Dozens of families in Maple Valley, Covington and neighboring communities provide foster care to children including short term care that is a day or two or long term care which can last months or even lead to adoption.
Kim Emmons coordinated the event for the first time a year ago after she took in a foster child, to ensure that all the foster children in the area received shoes for Christmas. Emmons discovered the Fostering Together group, which meets monthly to provide support, training and friendship to local families who have taken in foster children. Last year Emmons suggested to Lisa Wiscomb, the coordinator for the group which began meeting in July 2011, that they throw a Christmas party for the foster families.
In a few weeks the event came together, Emmons said, with tremendous support but this year that grew. John L. Scott, which is the company Emmons works with selling real estate out an office in Four Corners, along with her husband’s restaurant Mitzel’s in Kent, and a number of donations from individuals such as Karen and Michael Crowe, among others, helped make this year’s event even more successful.
“Our community is so caring and generous to our foster children and families,” Emmons wrote in an email Dec. 20. “Because of their kind hearts Santa was able to provide a pair of shoes and a toy to all 92 children that attended the event. And it didn’t stop there, the outpouring of support was so massive that we were also able to provide 13 foster families additional gifts to put under their trees for Christmas morning.”
Pomerantz had nothing but praise for Emmons and her husband, Jack.
“Kim and Jack have just gone over the top,” Pomerantz said. “They are what have made this work. They are amazing.”
Pomerantz explained that she first became interested in fostering more than six years when one of her daughters brought home a magazine with an article about a group of children who were rescued in another part of the country and would need to go into the foster system.
But, Pomerantz said, she wasn’t sure if that would be the best fit for their family at the time. She talked it over with her husband, whom she said has a heart for children, particularly those in the foster care system, and he agreed to sign up. They were licensed five years ago.
They knew they wanted to do short term care, Pomerantz said, and they would not want to adopt.
“We found out that there was a huge need for what we did,” Pomerantz said. “A lot of the children we take are under age 3, and within a week they go back to their homes or they go to other long term care. And a lot of foster parents don’t answer the calls in the middle of the night.”
Over the years, Pomerantz and her family have taken in more than 140 children, which is no small task given they have seven children of their own.
Pomerantz said she is thankful for the support this Fostering Together group provides.
“One thing is there’s just so much love and support in this group,” Pomerantz said. “Everybody supports each other. If somebody has a need, they help out.”
Sarah Parker-Johnson, a foster mom who lives in Covington, said she wishes a group like this existed when she first started taking children in 15 years ago.
Parker-Johnson is also intimately familiar with the foster care system. She grew up in an orphanage after she was taken out of her home as a small child after suffering severe abuse — she spent nine months in the hospital.
“During the time I was in care I realized I wanted to work with children,” Parker-Johnson said. “I actually got into foster care on accident, I was helping out a family member who told me I needed to get licensed.”
Since she first started fostering, Parker-Johnson along with her husband, fostered more than 50 children and adopted seven.
Her husband died a few years ago and since discovering this Fostering Together group, the support the members provide one another has been particularly important to Parker-Johnson.
“I love it,” Parker-Johnson said. “I have only been back for a few months and they welcomed me like I was a family member. They’ve really made Christmas very special for my girls. It’s really a wonderful group. Lisa and Kim, all of them, they’re really just so wonderful.”
And those couple of hours at a Christmas party, which was all about family whether the child was a foster or biological, were also meaningful.
“They get to see that they’re not so different, that there are other kids who are going through the same thing,” Parker-Johnson said. “A lot of kids, they’ve moved around a lot, and they’re lost … there’s this whole community who, they find out they’re not the only ones.”