Northside launches Safe Families program in Newberg
When Margaret Reed approached the leadership at Northside Community Church about starting a Safe Families for Children program in Newberg, she was hoping to attract volunteers like Jenn Maxfield.
Maxfield and her husband David had previously considered becoming foster parents and even completed seven of the eight training sessions before deciding it wasn't for them.
When she heard about Safe Families, the faith-based program where volunteers take children into their homes on a temporary basis and provide support to struggling parents in times of crisis, Maxfield was immediately on board.
After attending the initial informational meeting, Maxfield has not only been an ideal volunteer as a host family, opening her home to the children of strangers at the drop of a hat, but has also become an enthusiastic advocate for Safe Families ever since Northside got the program up and running in late May.
"I want to go to state to state and petition with every state capital why this is a good thing," Maxfield said. "We're from Rochester, N.Y., and the first very thing I did is I came home and looked up if it's present in Rochester because I could not tell enough people about it."
Reed is hoping there are many more people in Newberg will be similarly interested, so Northside will host an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 to share how unique and effective the Safe Families program is, but also how great the need for it is.
In many of the situations Safe Families helps address, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is unable to provide assistance to parents in crisis, but if the situations aren't addressed quickly, they are very much in danger of having DHS place their children in foster care involuntarily.
"I'm praying more people will want to get involved because through the structure of Safe Families they can have a big impact in Newberg," Reed said. "We need people who are willing to come alongside people who live right here our community."
Perhaps the most important message Reed wants to spread is that while host families are the most urgent need, there are other ways to volunteer.
Northside drew about 50 people to its first in-house informational meeting and that produced a few host families, but it also resulted in numerous folks serving as "family friends," who help parents in need by offering moral support, friendship and coaching, as well as providing transportation or running other errands for parents in need, their children and the host families. For those who with less time to give, "resource friends" can support the program with donations or making purchases on behalf of host families.
"Literally every person in the church could become involved because you can pray, you can give money, you can give a little bit of time," Reed said. "That's my hope that someday that happens."
A big part of the attraction for the Maxfields was that they aren't obligated to participate, only when they are willing, or burdened with some of the responsibilities placed on foster parents, like navigating the legal system. Placements can also be a short as a few hours or a weekend, when parents just need a brief respite, while longer-term arrangements are evaluated on a six-week basis as Safe Families works with parents to achieve both short and long-term goals and establish a stable environment for the children to return to.
"My only job, and I can do that well, is to handle kids," Maxfield said. "It's said that you bless someone and you're going to be blessed a thousand fold. That's not the reason we do it, but I don't have to wait for the end of my life to see how true that is."
In 2015, Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LSCSNW) received a grant from the United Way, part of which went toward founding Safe Families programs in Yamhill County. As implementers of the program, LCSNW does the background checks, which are required in order to have any interaction with children, and training for volunteers.
Safe Families coordinator Kathy Ann Meier said the application and training process can be done in as little as two or three weeks.
"The biggest piece is getting their background check done and they have to go and get fingerprinted for that," Meier said. "The training is not labor intensive and the application and home visit are pretty quick."
Maxfield encourages volunteers to do the complete training, even if they don't intend to serve as host families because that allows them to do more in a family friend role, like taking the children shopping, driving them to appointments or providing a few hours of respite for the parents or even the host family.
"It's not for everyone, but it should be for everyone because I think we all have gifts that we can give something away," Maxfield said.
The Maxfields, who have three children of their own, have served as hosts for two of the three Newberg area families that Northside's program has served so far. In that time, Jenn Maxfield said she's seen how the program works for both the children and parents, in part because she and other volunteers have maintained their relationships with them, so she's seen how much progress has been made.
"That's truly the best part, that I know we are forever going to see these kids," Maxfield said.
Churches in McMinnville were the first to join the program, but Meier said that Northside has been "amazing" so far and said the current push to draw more volunteers will be an important step.
Maxfield added she feels well supported by Reed, who as the program liaison at Northside, receives referrals for families from LCSNW and matches them with host families.
"I don't even know what Margaret's background is, but she's good at this," Maxfield said. "I can throw all my ideas at her, all my concerns, and she sifts them out and puts them in the right bucket."
Families in need can contact LCSNW by calling 503-472-4020 or go online to fill out an application form at www. lcsnw.org/yamhill/safe families.html.