By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Julie Stanwood is employed as the “Smiles Coordinator” for the Northbridge-based nonprofit Rise Above. In her work, she processes requests from kids in the Massachusetts foster care system, their foster parents, their case workers and other adults who have a connection to the children. The requests are for things such as sports equipment, musical instruments, dance classes, camp fees and family trips/outings – things that are often unattainable for kids served by the organization.
It’s clear that even though she – along with Rise Above, its partners and its donors – has brought smiles to so many of those kids, foster care children have brought just as many smiles to her. While the current state system has been much maligned in the press, Stanwood’s experience with the system and with the children it serves has been a blessing that she’s grateful for. And it’s one that’s been filled with kindness, respect and love.
Stanwood’s journey as a foster mom began in 2012 when she, her husband Doug and their five children (who then ranged in age from around 2 to 14) welcomed a one-year-old boy into their home. Stanwood said that she believes that everyone has gifts that they can share to change the world in a positive way. For Stanwood and her husband, being able to provide a good home for children is one of their gifts, and that ability is something that Stanwood is thankful for.
“Our house had room for more,” Stanwood recalled. “It just seemed natural for our family to give a safe place to children while their families worked on things.”
Since then, Stanwood and her husband have provided that safe place to 27 more kids, ranging in age from infants to teens and staying with them for one night up to a few years. They recently became legal guardians of one of them.
Stanwood, who became aware of the needs for good foster parents when she ran the nonprofit Friends of Families in Transition, said that they welcome each child into their family and try to understand the child and his or her needs. Although she said that it takes time to help the kids acclimate and adjust to their new environment, it’s worth the time and effort for the sake of the children’s wellbeing.
Another challenge arises when kids leave the Stanwood home. Stanwood shared that although it can be an emotional experience, she believes that it’s in the kids’ best interest to be reunited with their biological parents as long as it’s safe and appropriate.
“Sometimes, saying goodbye can be difficult,” she admitted. But, she added, “I love seeing kids go home to their parents. It’s about what they need, not what I want.”
Stanwood has also enjoyed seeing the children grow and thrive, because they’re in a safe place. “While they’re here, we’re going to love them and give them everything they need,” she shared. “It’s taught my own biological children a lot of compassion and patience.”
Not surprisingly, she encourages caring, responsible couples who are considering fostering children to take the leap. And she recommends that they learn everything they can about the process, talk to people who are already foster parents, and find local support and resources.
“Be open to it,” Stanwood advised. “Be patient. Be kind. And be loving.”
For more information, visit www.weriseabove.org.