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Mentors teach foster kids how to give back

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image Sixty children were identified by Lord’s Lighthouse founders Bill and Dora Cruz and their staff to receive backpacks filled with complete outfits, shoes, and school supplies. The items were supplied by South Bay Church’s Shepherd’s Connection ministry thr

Foster children learn they can be a contributing part of society, even at a young age.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
A unique project helps foster children and teens learn that they can give as well as receive.

“We want to be sure they don’t think they’re always the ones with their hands out. That they know they’re worth something.They can give as well as receive,” said Grace Selph, one of the two women who headed up a project that culminated at the Lord’s Lighthouse in Ruskin Saturday, Aug. 10.

The project was to give away backpacks filled with clothes and school supplies to migrant farm workers’ children chosen by Lighthouse founders Bill and Dora Cruz and their staff.

For many, the things they received will be all they get before they start school Aug. 20, Selph said.

The give-away project has been in the planning since May. It is part of the community projects done by a volunteer group called Shepherd’s Connection within South Bay Church, located at 13498 U.S. 301 in Riverview.

“We’ve worked with foster kids and now we’re expanding into helping and mentoring single-parent families within the church, and hope to also be able to expand that into the community,” Selph said in a telephone interview prior to the Aug. 10 event.

Foster children they have worked with, sometimes up to 15 at a time, help with community events, she explained.

To become part of Shepherd’s Connection, volunteers must be 18 or older. To work one-on-one or to transport children, they must also undergo a background check.

Members Mike and Sandy Paquin had already had their background checks through state agencies as foster parents, so they were a natural to take on projects within the group involving children, Selph said.

Selph’s partner in planning the event, Linda Ward, was busy directing a crew of volunteers — both men and women — handing out backpacks filled with complete outfits, including underwear and socks, shirts and pants and shoes as well as school supplies. Each child identified on the list given to them by the Cruzes received a number, which was then attached to the packs, so everyone got things that fit them.

The Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, made up of local houses of worship in that community, gave $7,500 to make the project possible.

“It was a miracle — a real God thing,” Selph said. She said they worked hard for days on the grant application, and then received a check in the mail. “We didn’t expect it. We hadn’t heard anything. It just came, and we are so very, very grateful,” she said.

Ward said there were many others who helped by providing food, snacks and clothing. “We could never have done this alone,” she said.

The Sun City Center Interfaith Council donates to projects all over South County but only through nonprofit organizations. Whenever the Council members are interviewed, they ask that people be told they give outside of Sun City Center as well as within it. Any charitable organization in the area may fill out a grant application online.

Shepherd’s Connection tries to do at least one project every year where the foster children they work with can help.

“We work with kids from 13 to 19. We mentor and do community projects, but we also have fun. Like horseback riding and picnics,” she added.

The Paquin family was busy all during the event, including Austin, one of three children they have now.

The couple, who have been married 13 years, currently have three children, two of whom they have adopted; the third a foster child, the brother of one who came suddenly four months following the placement of his sister.

Raised in Valrico, the couple recently returned from living awhile in Maryland.

They find their children through the Childrens’ Home Society.

“It is certainly a blessing to us,” said Sandy Paquin, handing her son a plate of food.

Selph said community events like these help the fosters they work with realize they can be a contributing part of society, even at a young age.

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