Jan. 9, 2021 — Every Child Lane County has a new advocate working with vulnerable children and families in Western Lane Oregon. Clara Smith, a teacher at Mapleton Elementary School, is now the part-time representative for foster families in Florence, Mapleton and the upriver communities.
“Our goal is to provide love, care and support for vulnerable children and families,” Smith said. “We work to serve foster children and their families in our community by just coming around them and supporting them in the best way that we can. And we really like to engage, and that’s all done with our community members.”
Smith gave a brief update on Every Child Lane County to the Kiwanis Club of Florence in December, right before delivering Christmas presents to the children in the area’s foster families.
Every Child Lane is an offshoot of Every Child Oregon, which serves 17 of Oregon’s counties. In Lane County, 1,530 children spent time in foster care in the past year, with some of them in more than one home in that time period.
“Foster parents are loving and giving people who try to meet all the needs of these kids, but sometimes it can be difficult for them. That's where Every Child Lane comes in,” the group stated. “Several people volunteer with the nonprofit agency that works closely with the Oregon Department of Human Services to fill those gaps and provide a little extra for children who are in an especially vulnerable time in their lives.”
Before Smith stepped in, the position in Western Lane County was a volunteer position, but grew to needing someone with more dedicated time.
“The need for support from Every Child was just bigger than (the previous person) could manage and it was just growing. In June, they hired me to come in and start running things in Florence,” Smith said.
In the past six months, Every Child Lane has continued to adapt its operations to still provide support while operating under COVID-19.
“Since June, we've successfully launched one of our programs here, called My NeighbOR,” Smith said, emphasizing the “Oregon” part of the name. “What that does is provide tangible needs to Florence families. And it doesn't just serve foster families, it serves families of origin.”
According to Every Child Lane, My NeighbOR is designed to mobilize caring Oregonians to connect goods and services from community members to families and youth impacted by foster care.
A request comes to Smith, and then Smith reaches out to the community, which then pledges to meet that goal.
“Through that, we have provided gift cards to a family for food. They had an emergency placement and they needed groceries,” Smith said. “And then our biggest request yet was we had a family that needed bunk beds.”
She connected with Roby's Furniture & Appliance in Florence. Between donations and grant money, Every Child Lane was able to provide the family a bunk bed, mattresses, sheets, pillows and blankets.
“Our biggest need locally is just finding partners for My NeighbOR,” Smith said. “That will mean having more resources or people to reach out to when we need to fulfill those requests.”
Most community requests are not for big items like a bunk bed, but sometimes people need clothes or baby supplies, for example.
Besides My NeighbOR, Every Child Lane also provides the occasional activity box to take the place of some of the events it can’t hold during the pandemic.
“We've been trying to find ways to reach our families and remind them we're here, but also being safe about it,” Smith said.
The group provided the Foster Parent Night Out in a box in October. It contained everything needed for a game night — a game, snacks and things that families could play together. There were also Christmas presents for all the kids in those families. And an upcoming box will contain decks of cards donated by Three Rivers Casino Resort and pizza donated by Abby's Legendary Pizza.
“We're just trying to find those ways that we can reach out to our community and our foster families, and support them in any way that they can. So even though we can't provide them a respite night, we can still give them something to do,” Smith said.
There are more than a dozen children in foster care in the area.
“A lot of them are family placements, meaning their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, and then we have some general placements, where somebody just signed up to be a foster parent,” Smith said.
She continued, “There's a saying, ‘not everyone can be a foster parent.’ Even though that's what we need, because there are a lot of kids out there in foster that need a good, safe place to go. But there are other ways that we can engage the community or groups to help these kids and give them a good, happy childhood memory.”
The main needs for Every Child Lane are volunteers, foster families and donations.
Even Smith’s position is funded through community donations, as well as a $10,000 grant from Spirit Mountain Community Fund, $2,000 donated from three churches in Florence, and a community match of up to $5,000.
According to the website, “Every Child gathers families to love, care for, and support vulnerable children and families in Lane County. It focuses on meeting tangible needs for foster children and families in Oregon communities.”
That has proved important this past year.
“With our foster families, for the most part they seem to be doing okay. They are struggling but they seem to manage,” Smith said.
For more information, visit everychildlane.org or www.facebook.com/everychildoregon, or contact Smith at [email protected]