In 1998, The Colarelli Family Foundation, a 501c (3) organization, was established to serve as a vehicle for the charitable and social service interests of the Colarelli family. The mission of the organization is “to recognize and support ordinary people who live extra-ordinary lives.”
The board of Colarelli Family Foundation developed an increasing interest in the plight of foster children. In 2002 the Board undertook an extensive research effort to learn more about the foster care system. What clearly emerged from the research was the need to support and strengthen the role of foster parents. A dramatic increase in the tenure and number of well-intentioned, qualified foster parents is necessary if the foster care system is to improve.
The board of Colarelli Family Foundation took on the task of answering the following question: “What would enable more people to volunteer and persist as foster parents?”
Interviews with foster parents identified some of the assistance they needed, and they needed it to be easily accessible and non-bureaucratic, such as:
- Respite care and babysitting
- Transporting children to multiple appointments such as: therapy, doctors, court personnel, etc.
- Assistance with tutoring and coaching the children
- Professional services beyond those which the state provides, but which the child needs (orthodontic, vision, psychological and educational services, etc.)
- Donations of clothing, sports equipment, bicycles, etc. for the children
- Some other adults who would listen as knowledgeable friends and be a “sounding board”
In effect, they described a community of supportive individuals they could call on when they needed assistance with the challenge of caring for their foster child, i.e., they needed something like extended family. These would be people who would help them care for and develop the child, as well as provide the child with a sense of connection and secure bonding to a group of adults. The Colarellis looked to the faith community as a natural and best delivery system of their helpfor foster families.
In Colorado Springs, El Paso County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) recognized that the Colarelli’s utilization of the faith community matched that of one of their service providers, Faith Partners, a 501(c)3 organization, whose mission is to help families escape poverty. Established in 1999 by a coalition of local churches responding to the challenge of welfare reform, Faith Partners used teams from faith communities to create a highly successful mentoring program that helped families transition from welfare to work. DHS introduced the Colarelli Family to Faith Partners to perhaps collaborate.
In January, 2006, an exploratory program, called the Fostering Hope Program, was initiated with a grant from the Colarelli Family Foundation and in kind contributions from Faith Partners. Faith Partners managed the administrative and day-to-day operations of the program, a partnership that lasted until 2010. The Colarelli Family Foundation concentrated on strategy, church relationships and funding.
In February, 2008, as a result of the program’s positive impact, the board of the Colarelli Family Foundation incorporated the Fostering Hope Foundation (FHF), an independent 501(c)3 operating entity, to oversee and be the operating foundation for the program. FHF seeks to initiate and nurture the program nationally, as well as in its starting location of Colorado Springs, and now in Milwaukee.
In July, 2008, the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program awarded a one year development grant to the Fostering Hope Foundation and several community collaborators:
- The Medical College of Wisconsin
- The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare
- Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin
- Faith Partnership Network
- Consultants from UWM Helen Bader School of Social Welfare
Along with input from foster parents, former foster youth, the faith community, human services professionals and other stakeholders, the planning effort allowed the community to tailor Fostering Hope for implementation in Milwaukee. After joining forces with SET Ministry, Inc. as an administrative partner, our inaugural team of volunteers from St. Marcus Lutheran began working with its first foster family in the summer of 2010.