This is part of a weekly series that highlights the organizations or people behind one of the Foundation’s funds.
Off the bat, Hope For Kids looks like any other office. But upon closer inspection, the playground in back, the toy chests, and the paper trees adorned with children’s names that line the walls show that something different is going on here. Upstairs, people work toward Hope For Kids’ goal of providing disadvantaged children with specialized foster care services from a Christian worldview, giving them a loving family and reintegrating them into the community.
After giving me a tour of the offices, Executive Assistant Patti Menges takes me downstairs to the Kidz Rainbow Center, a separate agency that offers daycare services, where it’s anything but your usual office atmosphere. As she takes me around, I encounter rooms filled with children of different age groups, from tiny infants asleep in their cribs, to toddlers playing with toys, to 5-year-olds who excitedly tell me about their recent trip to a bug museum.
Having so many children a stone’s throw away might overwhelm your average office dwellers, but Menges eagerly takes a sobbing little boy in her arms, patting him on the back until he quiets down.
Some people just fall into their careers. Not the staff at Hope For Kids. President Brenda Lee Goldman said that her work at Hope For Kids is a mission from God.
“It was a call. This was a direction the Lord was taking me,” Goldman said.
Goldman’s dedication to the ideals of the organization, which she co-founded in 1997, doesn’t end when she leaves work. She has 10 children, 5 of whom originally came to her as foster children.
Providing specialized foster care means that the children Hope For Kids works with are behaviorally challenged, their needs are too intense to be served appropriately in traditional foster care and they are at high risk for institutional placement.
“It’s not just neglect or poor parenting. These children have been exposed to unimaginable abuse,” Goldman said. “The post-traumatic stress they endure creates lifelong challenges.”
According to Goldman, being a Christian organization is a key element of what they do, because the children need spiritual healing as well as mental and physical healing.
Though state budget issues have hit them hard, the organization currently has 34 foster kids placed with 39 foster parents.
Hope For Kids receives referrals from the county and matches children with families they think will be compatible. Many of those children, 14 last year, then go on to be adopted by their foster families.
“Almost 100 percent of the time foster families come in thinking they want a certain type of child, and they leave with someone different from their expectations,” Goldman said. “But it almost always works out.”
And if it doesn’t work out with one family, they don’t just give up on the child. Goldman talked about one child who had trouble with his first few families, “but with the 5th family, it just clicked and he was adopted and is doing wonderful.”
Taking care of troubled children is a challenging act of love that not everybody is cut out for. People who just do it for the stipend don’t last, Goldman said. Hope For Kids’ foster families are extremely dedicated. They’ve had many fathers who have quit their jobs to stay at home with their foster or adopted children, including Goldman’s own husband.
“We’re all born with an inner drive and desire. You have to have that in you. You have to have the gift of loving unconditionally,” she said.
Hope for Kids has an organization endowment fund at the Centre County Community Foundation. Goldman called money from this fund, from the United Way and other sources a blessing, especially during these tough economic times, because it enables Hope for Kids to pay for services it provides, including counseling and mental health services for the kids.
The people of Hope For Kids often come up with ideas for the organization based on situations they’re facing in their own lives. Menges and Goldman have both experienced the challenges associated with caring for an aging family member, and that experience has inspired them. In the future, Hope For Kids would like to have an intergenerational program on-site where the elderly will spend the day receiving care and services and interacting with the little ones from the daycare program.
Older people are often delighted and energized by time spent with children, and “It’s a wonderful way for kids to develop respect for the elderly,” Goldman said.
They would also like to create a non-medical home companionship program, Brenda said, adding that these proposed programs would create jobs in the community.
Until funds for those programs can be found, the people of Hope For Kids will continue to work hard to give disadvantaged children a better life. Though not theirs by blood, Goldman said foster parents unconditionally love their foster children like one of their own.
“We birth these children through the heart,” she said.