NewFound Families has been working hard to build our Trailblazers Program - a program we developed to train support and mentoring leaders who are willing to start support groups for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents, or mentor newly certified parents and caregivers. Our goal is to develop new support and mentoring leaders in all 5 regions of Virginia.
It’s so important that foster, kinship, and adoptive parents have a support system of other caregivers who know and understand what they’re going through. Having a support group or mentor to turn to can be a tremendous resource and stress reliever. To show just how impactful a support group can be, we will be highlighting a few of the support group leaders who have gone through our program. Our first support group leader is Marlyena, a foster parent in Loudoun County.
Marlyena has been a foster parent for 6 years, and is 1 of 4 leaders for a small but growing Trailblazers support group in Loudoun County. She decided to become a support group leader because “Foster Care is such a challenging thing to do. I felt like we needed more people, more support, to build comradery. People who are not in foster care don’t understand what we go through.”
For Marlyena, it was important to know other foster parents in her area. Unfortunately, before her group started, there weren’t programs specifically for parents like her.
“When NewFound Families said they were going to help us start a support group, I was hesitant. I wanted to find a group of people where the meetings weren’t so formal. Normally, support groups will have a speaker and you sit in a library room with tables and chairs. It feels like there’s not an opportunity to connect with people.”
Marlyena really wanted to connect with other foster parents. She wanted to be able to talk about the situations she was facing without judgement or risking confidentiality. She decided to give Trailblazers a shot.
“Training with NewFound goes over how to keep people interested, how to notify people, and how to have different topics at your gatherings. There was also a lot of information about confidentiality. You have to be careful what you share, but anything that is shared is not repeated.”
Marylena’s vision for her support group was to create something approachable and informal. “A get together, where we sit on couches, have coffee, talk about emotions, and connect with families to get to know each other.”
She wanted the group to build friendships where they feel comfortable reaching out to each other outside of the meetings to check in. And that’s exactly what she did. The group’s first gathering was hosted in her home in April.
“At least eight families showed up with 20 kids in the basement. The teens helped keep the kids entertained so the adults could relax and hang out. It was a great start that continued into the next one. NewFound Families assisted us in getting Minor League Baseball tickets to raffle off for our next one.”
Marylena reports that the Loudoun Trailblazers have had 4 solid support group meetings. Here’s what a typical meeting looks like for her group.
“The typical meeting is very laid back and hosted by different people each time. We sit around the kitchen table, eat, and talk about things like summer plans and respite care. We also talk about specific cases and get advice from each other if there’s something we’re having a hard time with. We also share advice on training.”
The meetings are usually 6:30-8pm - Marylena doesn’t want them to be super long or intense.
“We chit chat for a while, talk, and then we go on our way. I really just want it to be where we get together and have fun. The kids and families get together and get to know each other. If it's too formal, it makes it easy to not go. I want to add in picnics, movies, and bowling. I really want to build the community.”
Marylena’s Advice to Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parents
“Foster care is such a hard thing to do, that when you’re doing it alone, it alienates you from your family or other family members. When you find a friendship with another foster family, it makes it so much easier to charge forward. When you have someone who knows where you’re coming from, and you can let those feelings out, it gives you the confidence to keep moving on. It’s important to have someone - an ear to listen who understands - someone who can validate the things you are going through.”
Marylena says the Loudoun Trailblazers support group gives her the confidence to keep going.
“If I didn’t have this support, I would have given up a long time ago. You have to have a community of people who are going through it with you. Otherwise, it’s just too much.”
“It makes a difference in your life, which means it will make a difference in a child's life down the road.”
Marylena’s Advice for Future Support Group Leaders
Marylena stresses the need to make your meetings informal and family friendly.
“Don’t try to create something huge, just strive for making friendships. Start with coffee and build from there.”
The Trailblazers Program is for parents and caregivers who are interested in becoming support group leaders and mentors. NewFound Families, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services, provides training for you to serve as a mentor or develop your support group and facilitate in person meetings to provide peer to peer support. Learn more here.