Even someone with poor eyesight can see a problem.
But correcting that issue takes vision and the desire to create a solution.
Sarah Coleman, thankfully, is one of those people. Though the 43-year-old Monroe resident wears glasses, she has 20/20 vision when it comes to filling the needs of those in foster care.
Five years ago this month, Coleman and another foster parent founded Hope’s Closet in Hamilton, and since then, one of southwest Ohio’s largest foster-care nonprofits has assisted more than 4,000 children and equipped their foster parents with the necessary tools.
It will celebrate that fifth birthday with an open house from 4-6 p.m. today at 332 Dayton St.
Children in foster care and those responsible for their care find hope within the walls of the Community Development Professionals building on Dayton Street.
Listen to Coleman tell horror stories — you can only stomach a few — and you quickly realize the trauma some of these neglected children endure before they’re removed from their parents. The boy with black eyes and cigarette burns on his arms. The 7-year-old boy who lived in a shed while his parents got high on drugs. The newborn girl who faced withdrawal from five illegal drugs.
“These kids are coming from hard, hard stuff,” said Coleman, who served as chair of the board of directors for 18 months before transitioning to executive director of Hope’s Closet in 2016.
So when the kids walk through the doors of Hope’s Closet, the goal is for them to feel at home, maybe for the first time in their lives. Couches and chairs form a circle and there are books to read, toys to play with.
“We don’t want it to look like a thrift store,” Coleman said. “We want them to feel comfortable and give them an opportunity to bond.”
Coleman said the message to the children is simple: “You are valuable. You are special.”
And that’s how they and their foster parents are treated. Hope’s Closet personal shoppers help the children, who may have been removed from their parents with only the clothes on their backs, select 10 outfits, pajamas, shoes, socks, underwear, toiletries.
All the items needed to “start a new life,” Coleman said.
The donated clothes are neatly organized and labeled in numerous rooms by the nearly 100 volunteers at Hope’s Closet. Gently used items are accepted, and if they don’t meet the requirements, they are donated to a local church clothing depot.
Coleman said only the “best of the best” is given to the foster children.
Have a newborn? No problem.
“Baby shower in an hour,” Coleman said with a smile.
There are diapers, cribs, clothes, baby wipes, everything but car seats.
When a foster mother picks up a package of 32 diapers, Coleman tells her: “Every time, in the middle of the night, when you are sleepless, when you are on the front lines, remember that somebody bought these diapers for you. You are not alone.”
She speaks from experience. Coleman and her husband, Tim, have five biological children — Nathan, 20, Hannah, 19, Daniel, 17, Andrew, 15, and Abigail, 14 — and three foster children they adopted — Colton, 6, Alaina, 5, and Jessi, 2. They adopted Jessi two weeks ago on National Adoption Day.
Eight is Enough, right?
“It could change any second,” she said.
Hope’s Closet also provides programs and support groups for foster parents. Coleman said half of foster parents quit fostering in their first year, but 90 percent are retained after one year when supported by the community.
She often tells foster parents: “We are here for you and we got your back.”
Starting next month, Hope’s Closet is beginning a new program called ImpACT and the goal is for volunteers to provide assistance to foster care parents with everyday chores, fixing meals, cutting grass, raking leaves. Every one hour volunteered means that foster parent has one more hour bonding with their foster child.
“We see it as a way to buy them an hour of time,” she said. “Maybe they use that hour to read.”
She has talked to numerous foster parents who said the services offered at Hope’s Closet is what kept them from quitting, from walking away from the children who needed them the most.
“That just fills my soul,” Coleman said of her reaction. “We want to be the change and turn a life around. There was a need and we filled it.”
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