How Foster Care Organizations Make a Difference

Without foster care organizations, life would be very different for foster children and foster parents.

40 years ago, New Jersey foster parents Hattie Talley and Sue and Bernie Dondiego came together in Hattie’s kitchen with a purpose and a question. “Someone needs to stand up for the foster children. If not the foster parents, then who?”

That realization led to the formation of the New Jersey Foster Parent Association, known today as embrella, one of the leading foster care organizations in the United States. FAFS celebrates 40 years of service on April 1, 2013.

Even after 40 years, FAFS is as enthusiastic and committed to our mission as ever, introducing new programs, services, and ways of helping the public understand the facts about foster care. It’s true what they say; age is just a number.

But FAFS isn’t about numbers; FAFS is about people.

FAFS is about families: foster, adoptive and kinship parents and the children they help overcome abuse or neglect to become happy and productive members of our community.

I Could Have Been a Statistic; Instead I Am a Scholar

FAFS is about Tony, a foster youth who graduated Rutgers with his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with the help of FAFS Private Scholarships. He participated in a 10 month Americorps program with the City Year in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Tony plans to pursue his Master’s Degree in Social Work.

FAFS is about Rajaun, who graduated from Kean University with his Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Minor in Public Administration the help of the FAFS administered New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program.

He is continuing his education with the goal of obtaining his Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Learn about our foster care organization’s foster care scholarships.

I Could Have Been Ashamed; Instead I Am Proud

FAFS is about Mariah who, at nine years old, drew pictures of a monster in a suit and tie standing over her bed to express her terror of her abusive birth father. For years, she kept them hidden in a drawer.

Now seventeen, she takes art lessons paid for with the help of a Fostering Wishes for Children grant and plans to show her work at her high school’s annual art show.

FAFS is about Charlie, found at five years old wandering along the side of the highway looking for food. He had never received anything new in his life and was amazed when he got a backpack during his first week in foster care, provided by FAFS’ Backpack Program.

Charlie couldn’t stop smiling and thanking his foster mom for the backpack. He cherished it and used it every day in school.

Learn about our foster care organization’s foster children programs.

I Could Have Been Rejected; Instead I Am Understood

FAFS is about Trevor, who grew somber each December when his classmates asked him what his mom and dad were giving him for Christmas. How could he tell them that he wouldn’t see his mom and dad during the holidays, much less get a gift from them, and how sad that made him feel?

Trevor’s foster family knew there were many children who understood Trevor’s feelings; he just had to meet them. While attending FAFS’ A Holiday Celebration For Every Child party, Trevor met Larry and they got to talking over pizza.

When the party was over, Trevor told his foster parents about his new friend. “Larry says he doesn’t live with his mom too, but he still has fun on Christmas, even though he misses her. He says maybe I can have fun on Christmas too.”

FAFS is about Rochelle, an only child who, at seven years old, became the caregiver for her drug addicted mother. When Rochelle was eleven, her mother OD’d. Rochelle entered foster care and bonded with her foster sisters quickly. Every summer, the sisters went away to sleep away camp for a week. Rochelle was going to be lonely without her foster sisters in the house. Her foster sisters always looked forward to camp in the past, but they didn’t want to go this summer unless Rochelle could come too.

Her foster parents couldn’t afford the extra fee to send another child to camp, but they knew how much it meant to Rochelle and their daughters. They applied for a FAFS Camp Scholarship so Rochelle and her foster sisters could all go to camp together.

Rochelle emailed her foster parents from camp to say, “We’re having soooooo much fun! I will never forget this summer EVER!”

Learn about our foster care organization’s foster children programs.

I Could Have Given Up; Instead I’m Giving Back

FAFS is about Donna, who became the subject of a child abuse investigation when her troubled foster son ran away. With the help of her FAFS Family Advocate, Donna persevered during the questioning, confident in the knowledge that her name would be cleared eventually. The support of her advocate helped make a very difficult process a little bit easier, and gave Donna the confidence she needed to continue to keep her home and heart open to children in need.

Learn about our foster care organization’s foster adoptive & kinship parent support.

I Could Have Weakened; Instead I Have Grown Strong

FAFS is about Devon, who grew especially attached to his foster daughter Shari. Shari’s mother successfully completed a rehab program for her drug addiction, which meant Shari, after a year in foster care, was able to return home.

Devon knew that reunification was the best thing for Shari, but he knew he would miss her terribly. From the big things, like accompanying her to the father daughter dance at school, to the little things, like popping popcorn and watching The Princess and the Frog on Saturday afternoons, Devon couldn’t imagine life without “his” little girl.

After taking FAFS’ free foster parent training course, “The Empty Seat at the Dinner Table: Resource Parent Loss and Grief”, Devon realized that his emotions were normal and that, with time, he would be able to look back at his time with Shari with joy instead of sorrow.

Learn about our foster care organization’s free foster parent training.

I Could Have Been Silent; Instead I Spoke Out

FAFS is about Sue Dondiego, our foster care organization’s founder, a stay-at-home foster mom who testified at the State House in Trenton for increased board rates. In the 1970s, the monthly clothing allowance for a child in foster care was about equal to one-third of the price of a new children’s coat.

“It’s cold outside,” Sue told the legislators. “What part of the coat would you like me to buy the child this month? The right sleeve? The left sleeve? The buttons?”

Sue’s frankness and concern for the children in her home resulted in a 26% increase in board rates that year.

Learn more about the history of foster care in NJ.

FAFS is proud to be one of the leading foster care organizations in the country, making a positive difference in the lives of foster, adoptive and kinship families. We believe that children in foster care are the community’s children, with the same hopes and dreams of all children. We work every day to help make those dreams come true. Please join us.

Author: Lloyd Nelson, FAFS Digital Media Manager

Lloyd Nelson is the Digital Media Manager of Foster and Adoptive Family Services. He can be reached at

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