The truth is that any of us could’ve ended up in foster care. Circumstances like death, divorce, incarceration, abuse, poverty and drugs unfortunately mean far too many kids find themselves at the mercy of the courts. I often think how lucky I am that my grandparents raised my two sisters and I together. I can’t imagine having been brought up by strangers or being separated from my two sisters. But it happens. So when it does, it’s wonderful to see that people like Jennifer Abney exist. She dives deep to improve the foster care system every day through her network. Standing up for kids in crisis? That’s a mermaid for sure. Bold, brave, and working her purpose.
Founded in 2008 and inspired by the desire to improve foster care in Oklahoma. Angels’ goal is to form deep community involvement, volunteerism, and cultivate the best foster homes available for infants, toddlers, and children.
ML: Jennifer, tell us about the moment you made the deep dive for your dream in starting Angels Foster Family Network and some of your successes you are most proud of from over the years.
JA: The moment that I heard about a little girl dying because she went back to an abusive father from foster care, I looked at my husband and he said exactly what I was thinking, “If she had been in an Angels home, this case would not have fallen through the cracks. My husband David and I were foster parents from Angels in San Diego, and we were blessed to become Desi’s forever family. Our experiences there gave us the tools to come to Oklahoma and start Angels here and become a solution for many of the problems in our broken system of care. One of the many special moments that I have on a daily basis that truly puts the meaning of my job in perspective is when I walk with a foster parent through a dark period of having to let go and begin a journey of mentoring a child back home with their biological family. These foster parents are grieving so deeply and it is my job and my amazing staff’s job to walk beside them and give them the tools to become the mentor, and the smooth transition maker, as well as the supportive role model in all of this emotion. While it is so amazing to celebrate a family coming together, it is also so heartbreaking to see someone so sad to let go. This process means that we did our job well. The moment that I hear the foster parent say how happy they are to see their little one reunited with their siblings or parents etc…. is the moment that my heart feels so blessed to see that my life’s work put all of this into motion to give a foster parent to our most vulnerable little people in foster care that would go to the end of the earth and back for them. Our families are fierce when it comes to protecting these precious souls, and they can be so tenderhearted when dealing with their trauma and healing their wounds.The days when I get to attend adoptions are especially happy because I know that a child who has been in foster care long enough and who has patiently waited for their parent/s to work their plan and has been disappointed more than their share, now has a home with a family who understands their story, works to heal the hurt, and loves unconditionally. They are with an Angels family and that makes them part of my family forever. There is comfort in knowing that I will always know that child and make sure they have every opportunity in life to succeed.
ML: Each week I ask our mermaid what always brings a smile to her face. What’s yours?
JA: I am so grateful for this life and what it has taught my children. My daughters are so deeply connected to the friends and world around them and have such empathy for others. The things they see and opportunities they have to share their lives with others is so beautiful to watch. When I come home each day I smile at the beautiful souls in my home and the love they have to share with others. We are meant to be connected to others for a healthy society, God made us that way. Putting others first is the most fulfilling act with the greatest rewards.
ML: Life can be so hard at times and you see a lot of the underbelly of that more than most. What’s been the biggest challenge in your life and how did/do you overcome adversity?
JA: Since placing our first child in January 2011, I have seen the foster system change many times over. It is not the governments role to take care of children and it never should be. My greatest challenge is getting people in our community to step up and take on the role of foster parent to a child in need. This is the most difficult thing we can ask of people whose lives are so settled and content. How do you ask a person to take on the mess of someone’s life and interrupt their peaceful bliss? It isn’t easy. I share my story, my daughter’s story, and my family’s stories every chance I get. We call our biggest fundraising gala “Storytelling” because that is what makes people want to foster, stories. Until people know about the issues or hear about a child, they simply do not know that God is calling them to help. I encourage all of my foster parents to tell their stories because they are amazing! I can meet someone for 10 minutes, start telling them about Desi, my daughter, and her story and leave them in tears. It is truly beautiful to connect with people in that way and watch their hearts soften before my eyes. There is such a peace in knowing that all the years of my life created a path that I walk along each day and that peace gives me the strength to help others along their journey in such a positive way.
ML: What are your favorite tool(s) for enlightened living (presence, intention, action)?
JA: Faith in knowing that people are put in our paths intentionally is my greatest tool in life. Our openness to accept them and learn from them determines our path. The lessons go into our tool bag, and we can celebrate having them when we pull them out to use them. Some lessons are of sadness that once shared becomes joy. Those are the ones that I love the most. I try to share my stories from my journeys through foster care to help comfort families and let them see a glimpse at the joy to come. The joy is there, and I cannot wait to be there when they realize its presence.
A final pearl about Angels Foster Family Network : The roots of our Angels network run deep and wide and fostering with us provides you access to an entire extended family. At Angels we know that our families are our most valuable resources, so we provide the support you need to foster the future of a child.
To learn more about Angels Foster Family Network and connect with Jennifer follow the link: www.angelsfosterokc.org
To living in the deep,
Readers, if you want to read more mermaid stories, check out the past stories on my blog and click “subscribe” to get them in your inbox each week.