The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a fair amount of hardship, especially for those in the foster care system, who face a greater challenge than ever in finding suitable housing, says Aimee Larsen, CEO of a local non-profit organization that serves host families in the tri-state zone.
âThe biggest difference between 2019 and 2020 and 2021 is that there are a lot of ‘COVID babies’ that are brought into the foster care system,â said Larsen, CEO of Flourish Foster Care Closet & Support Inc., who provides clothing and basic items. necessities for children of foster families.
“COVID babies” are children conceived during the pandemic, she explained, and there are a number of reasons they end up in foster families, including the increase in teenage pregnancies. , job loss and drug addiction.
At the height of the pandemic, Flourish Foster Closet worked closely with the Northwest Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services, she said. When DFCS received a call about a new child being introduced to foster care, Flourish would do door-to-door drop-offs of clothing and essentials for the child.
As things have started to return to a sense of normalcy in 2021, Flourish is able to once again serve host families in person by providing community-donated clothing and essentials in their closet locations. “.
Flourish started in 2017. Larsen, having raised two children herself in foster care, knew the needs that foster families face, especially those new to the system and caring for children. with a host family. So she decided, along with her friend and current Vice President of Flourish, Alicia Hollomon, to start a small non-profit organization that would provide clothing and essentials donated by the local community.
Flourish opened her first formal ‘closet’ in 2019, inside Erin Crane’s State Farm office at 2 Forrest Road in Fort Oglethorpe. There, homestayers could come and “shop” for themselves.
In March 2021, they opened a new location at 364 Cleveland St. in Ringgold. This now serves as a teen closet, and the Fort Oglethorpe location now focuses on items for young children.
Larsen said the original plan was to have both a child and adolescent closet, but due to the growing needs of adolescents in the foster care system, they decided to open a separate location.
âA lot of teens feel guilty about asking new things from their foster families,â Larsen said, explaining that most teens in foster care have been in the system for some time, so they do not need emergency clothes or supplies, but a new wardrobe. “So when they come into our teenage closet and we tell them they can have whatever they want for free, their faces light up and they load up on clothes.”
On average, Flourish serves 25 to 30 foster families per month in a 12-county, tri-state area, Larsen said, with northwest Georgia being the main area they serve. The counties that have received the most services so far this year are Catoosa, Walker, Whitfield and Hamilton, in that order, according to statistics posted on the association’s website.
In the first quarter of 2021, Flourish was able to serve 103 families, 45% of which were residents of northwest Georgia.
âThis is our highest number in the first quarter to date,â said Larsen.
Despite an influx of foster families, there are still children in need of shelters, she said. In order to meet the need for more foster homes, Flourish is also providing resources to show potential foster families the first steps to take, working with several local foster services to deliver quarterly IMPACT courses to help form new host families.
âOur # 1 goal is to eventually be able to have more foster families than foster children,â Larsen said.
Flourish’s newest business is a facility in Summerville, Georgia called Esther Manor, which will help girls who have aged out of the foster system. Each year, 20,000 young people aged 18 to 21 leave the reception system – 50% of whom have no income within four years of age, according to the DFCS.
The group home was founded by four nonprofits: Foodbank for Chattooga County, Jonathan’s House Ministries, The Grace & Joy House and Flourish.
âWe not only want to provide them with a place to stay, but also give them a sense of family and help them with things like job hunting and finances,â Larsen said.
In addition to the dormitories, the establishment will also have a nursery.
Esther Manor is currently still renovating and cleaning, and Larsen said he is looking for volunteers to help him. Those interested in getting involved can visit the Flourish website to see how to volunteer and donate.
The biggest donation needs for Flourish’s “closets” are baby clothes, diapers and beds, she added. To learn more, visit bloomcloset.com.
Contact Samantha Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org.