By PHYLLIS HODGES
The South Shore Chamber of Commerce officially welcomed Safe Families for Children with a ribbon-cutting/brunch event in August at Wellspring church in Ruskin. The chamber’s honorary mayor, Carrie Elwell, was on hand to welcome the group to the membership roster.
Jewel Photopulos and Kristin Fuhs form the two-person dynamo team that guides Safe Families volunteers—the group’s circle of support that includes host families, family coaches, family friends, resource friends and ministry leads.
The goal is to prevent children from unnecessarily entering the foster care system by providing assistance in unmanageable situations such as homelessness, hospitalization or domestic violence. Each group of the circle is essential to reaching the group’s goal. The host families, for example, provide temporary housing for children; others provide funds and work with the parents to provide family-like support. Referrals come from a variety of sources: community partners, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, DCF and law enforcement officers. A thorough vetting and monitoring process for all involved ensures safety throughout the host period.
Stacy Richey, program and shelter manager of Mary & Martha House was on hand at the August event and said she knows of no other group performing the service that Safe Families does in serving families who have nowhere else to turn. In just the past year, they have partnered in 10 difficult family cases. Mary & Martha House is the only residential shelter located in south Hillsborough County that serves women with or without children who are homeless and/or victims of domestic violence.
Also among the roomful of attendees were Janice and Jon Davis, a young Apollo Beach couple with two young girls of their own. The Davis’s volunteered to become a host family after learning about the organization at Wellspring. Since becoming involved late last year, they have assisted in two cases. “We are getting much more than we are receiving,” they said. The Davis’s were thrilled to host a baby for a few days and now two teenage girls from Puerto Rico are staying with them until their single-mother family situation has stabilized.
The Safe Families for Children organization, founded in Chicago in 2003, is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year. Since its beginning, over 63,000 children have been hosted in volunteer homes. Over 100 chapters across the country are working with a variety of faith-based nonprofits to keep kids safe and families intact. Funding comes from private donations, foundations and grants.
Safe Families is now seeking sponsors for a fundraising Buckles & Boots Hoedown Gala planned for Saturday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m. The public is invited to the night of fun at Restoration Ranch, 15721 Colding Loop in Wimauma that will include live music, mechanical bull riding, cornhole, silent auction and more. Contact 813-703-0075 or 815-216-3880 for more information.