It started in garages and basements. Now this inspiring Hamilton business is serving more foster families.

Hope’s Closet in Hamilton has had great success helping Butler County find and keep foster families. Executive Director Sarah Coleman combined a fun boutique where needy kids and their foster parents can shop for essentials and where volunteers can find out more about the system.

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A group formed almost five years ago.

“We started out grassroots in people’s garages and basements wanting to make a change ... we looked at the whole culture of foster care and said surely we’ve got to make a change and what can we do to more positively impact this whole system,” she said. “Anybody can just give away a clothes.”

Coleman partnered with other foster parents — she and her husband Tim have five biological kids, two adopted children and will likely also adopt their 15-month foster child — and ultimately Butler County Children Services. In the past year they have recruited 40 foster families for the county and 47 more are in the process now.

BCJFS Executive Director Bill Morrison gave all the credit for the recruiting idea to Coleman and her crew.

“They get people to volunteer to help out with the clothing depot and with Foster Mom Night Out and these kinds of activities and as people volunteer they get exposed to foster kids coming in and they’re helping them shop… So the foster kids feel really special when they come in there and they have a personal shopper helping them, Morrison told the Journal-News. “So as they’re doing that then the people start thinking ‘well I could be a foster parent too’ and that’s the recruiting strategy.”

The boutique is located on Dayton Street but is soon moving to Donald Drive in Fairfield near the Ohio Means Jobs offices. Morrison said the county has paid $229,877 over four years to hire staff and pay bills to run the boutique and recruit.

Coleman said beyond just recruiting, they offer a lot of training and mentoring and opportunities like the “Night Out” events for moms and dads. Everything they do is aimed at building strong, lasting foster families.

She said the idea was to give support to foster families who often take charge of very traumatized children with special needs. It’s easy, she said, for new foster parents to get disheartened, no matter their good intentions.

“It’s like they are complete newbies thrown out into the wild and it’s sink or swim,” she said. “Then you’re placed with a traumatized child that has potentially lots of difficult issues. To be able to form this network of support around them, to build them into being stronger foster families means they might not give up on that child so quickly.”

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