Fostering Families TODAY May 2011 : Page 28

focus BY SHAY OLIVARRIA It takes a village, with E velyn Polk wants every child experiencing foster care and/or adoption to feel understood, appreciated and loved. She began For a Child’s H.E.A.R.T. after adopting an older child from foster care and attempted to adopt another child while growing the non-profit. She is working hard to provide the tools, resources and support to families that are transitioning from foster care to adoption so that “the villagers” can step into their new roles with confidence. It takes a lot of work, what Polk calls “H.E.A.R.T. work,” for a vil-lage to raise a child. When you’re in the foster care system, you often feel alone. You feel like no one cares about you and no one listens to you. I wish I had met Polk when I was about 16 years old. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Polk until I was an adult still deal-ing with the many emotional issues that were exacerbated by my time in care. I have read her book, “It’s H.E.A.R.T. Work: Being the Village That Raises a Child,” been a guest on her television show “Visions for a Child’s H.E.A.R.T.,” and spent many hours chatting with her over dinners and homemade smoothies. Polk is exactly the person you want in your corner regardless of if you’re a child ior in a myriad of different ways, many times not acknowledging that they are responding not only from a place of profession-alism, but also from their own experiences. Polk helps families focus on how their own emo-tions are causing them to act, or respond, in certain ways. It isn’t until we can take a critical look at our own issues that we can act with love and compassion toward others, Polk says. Evelyn Polk shares a heartfelt moment with attendees following a California book signing and reading. going through “the system” or an adult advocating and caring for a child in care. She says, “when I started it [For a Child’s H.E.A.R.T.] little did I know I would need the ser-vices more than anyone else.” It’s possible that she’s so helpful because she has experienced working with children in foster care and she has experienced being an adoptive parent. Polk dealt with children being defi-ant, therapists trying to put her children on drugs to control their outbursts, and the younger child taking on the habits of the older one. T HERE ARE N O B AD C HILDREN The idea to start a non-profit that would provide counseling services to youth and adults TODA Y I MA Y/JUNE involved in foster care and adop-tion, mentoring to families, foster pride events, and on-going support to youth that were in care but have aged out began while driving home from a committee meeting to recruit adoptive parents. She wanted potential parents and kids to be prepared for the challenges of adoption. Too often she saw children returned to temporary placements because the child, the adults, or both simply gave up. “Other caregivers did not have the skills, resources, tools or support to help the village not give up,” she says. Children act in challenging ways because they are dealing with challenging situations the best way they know how. Adults respond to the children’s behav-I Sometimes that help comes from others who have been in similar situations. Polk believes that no matter how much, or how little knowledge and experience foster parents think they have, they can still be of service to someone else. That’s why she began the television and radio shows that she hosts. She gives those of us who grew up in care a place to share experiences and suggestions for improving foster care and adoption. For those of us who work with children in care or are part of families that include kids in care being able to see and hear examples of challenges others have had and ways they’ve moved past those challenges gives us inspiration and hope. I T T AKES H.E.A.R.T. W ORK Being involved with the foster care/adoption systems in any 28 FOSTERING F AMILIES 2011 WWW .FOSTERINGF AMILIESTODA Y .COM FOCUS: National Foster Care Month — Stories from Those Who Make a Difference

It Takes A Village, With H.E.A.R.T., To Raise A Child

Shay Olivarria

Evelyn Polk wants every child experiencing foster care and/or adoption to feel understood, appreciated and loved. She began For a Child’s H. E.A.R.T. after adopting an older child from foster care and attempted to adopt another child while growing the non-profit.She is working hard to provide the tools, resources and support to families that are transitioning from foster care to adoption so that “the villagers” can step into their new roles with confidence.It takes a lot of work, what Polk calls “H.E.A.R.T. work,” for a village to raise a child.<br /> <br /> When you’re in the foster care system, you often feel alone.You feel like no one cares about you and no one listens to you. I wish I had met Polk when I was about 16 years old.Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Polk until I was an adult still dealing with the many emotional issues that were exacerbated by my time in care. I have read her book, “It’s H.E.A.R.T. Work: Being the Village That Raises a Child,” been a guest on her television show “Visions for a Child’s H.E.A.R.T.,” and spent many hours chatting with her over dinners and homemade smoothies. Polk is exactly the person you want in your corner regardless of if you’re a child Going through “the system” or an adult advocating and caring for a child in care.<br /> <br /> She says, “when I started it [For a Child’s H.E.A.R.T.] little did I know I would need the services more than anyone else.” It’s possible that she’s so helpful because she has experienced working with children in foster care and she has experienced being an adoptive parent. Polk dealt with children being defiant, therapists trying to put her children on drugs to control their outbursts, and the younger child taking on the habits of the older one.<br /> <br /> THERE ARE NO BAD CHILDREN<br /> <br /> The idea to start a non-profit that would provide counseling services to youth and adults Involved in foster care and adoption, mentoring to families, foster pride events, and on-going support to youth that were in care but have aged out began while driving home from a committee meeting to recruit adoptive parents. She wanted potential parents and kids to be prepared for the challenges of adoption. Too often she saw children returned to temporary placements because the child, the adults, or both simply gave up. “Other caregivers did not have the skills, resources, tools or support to help the village not give up,” she says.<br /> <br /> Children act in challenging ways because they are dealing with challenging situations the best way they know how. Adults respond to the children’s behavior In a myriad of different ways, many times not acknowledging that they are responding not only from a place of professionalism, but also from their own experiences. Polk helps families focus on how their own emotions are causing them to act, or respond, in certain ways. It isn’t until we can take a critical look at our own issues that we can act with love and compassion toward others, Polk says.<br /> <br /> Sometimes that help comes from others who have been in similar situations. Polk believes that no matter how much, or how little knowledge and experience foster parents think they have, they can still be of service to someone else. That’s why she began the television and radio shows that she hosts. She gives those of us who grew up in care a place to share experiences and suggestions for improving foster care and adoption. For those of us who work with children in care or are part of families that include kids in care being able to see and hear examples of challenges others have had and ways they’ve moved past those challenges gives us inspiration and hope.<br /> <br /> IT TAKES H.E.A.R.T. WORK<br /> <br /> Being involved with the foster care/adoption systems in any Way can be exhausting. If it isn’t the paperwork, it’s the behaviors of the people who you deal with.<br /> <br /> When you feel frustrated, upset or wrung-out you need to have a support system to turn to. That’s where For a Child’s H.E.A.R.T. steps in. Polk’s organization is a resource for families across the country. By providing counseling, mentoring, scholarships, television shows, radio shows, and sometimes a last resource for those with limited resources, Polk strives to provide support in whichever form you may need it. Sometimes, that support comes via television.<br /> <br /> Polk makes an impression with everyone she meets, whether in person or on air.<br /> <br /> Jacquinn Scales is a college student in Atlanta and met Polk when flipping through channels on television in California’s Bay Area, “I waited until the end of the show when she revealed how to get in contact with her. Now keep in mind it was about 9 p.m. and I knew she wouldn’t be at her office phone yet, however I placed a call to her and informed her that I just saw her on TV and I left my contact information.About a week later she called me back. Since then, I feel as though my bond with Evelyn has been very uplifting and I believe it’s Because of her caring and genuine heart,” Scales said.<br /> <br /> When one of her sons was small, he once told her that she made his heart warm. The phrase touched her and now she works to make sure that everyone she comes in contact with feels warmed that way. She’s so fond of hearts that she calls people involved with For a Child’s H. E.A.R.T. “hearts.” She takes her motto seriously and her office is strewn with plush hearts and macaroni hearts that clients and friends have given her throughout the years.<br /> <br /> Scales says, “I have encountered scores of people who claim to be ‘advocates’ and ‘supporters’ of foster care but Evelyn by far has the kindest spirit. I can and have called on Evelyn for various forms of assistance and she has been very supportive. In addition it is worth mentioning that she won’t hesitate to chastise me and call me out when I have made mistakes. Yet she does those things and manages to always provide constructive criticism.”<br /> <br /> That’s what Polk does best.She’ll give you what you need, though it may not always be what you want. She’s a straight talker who is honest with those Around her.<br /> <br /> FOSTER PRIDE<br /> <br /> This May, like every May for the last few years, For a Child’s H. E.A.R.T. is hosting a foster care pride event in Vallejo. Part of the job of the village is to help families involved with the foster care system overcome any feelings of shame about it. Everyone struggles. No one is perfect.There is no “normal” family. The goal of life is to make lemonade out of the lemons that life hands you. The day will include speakers and workshops, as well as gifts and camaraderie. People from around the country will attend the event in person, make calls to support the event, and Talk about the event on the For a Child’s H.E.A.R.T. Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/dKGH40. <br /> <br /> I’m sure many lessons will be learned that day, but the one that I hope participants take home is that it takes a village, with H. E.A.R.T., to raise a child.<br /> <br /> ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shay Olivarria is a speaker and the author of “The Business of Me, Inc.: Money tips for kids in care” and “10 Things College Students Need to Know About Money.” She speaks a schools, colleges, and community organizations around the country. Visit her at www.BiggerThanYourBlock.com.

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