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It's a magical place — Foster Family Night Out

Some of our amazing volunteers.

Some of our amazing volunteers.

On any given day, you can find shoeless children running around Perch & Play climbing on the rock wall, enjoying a meal from the cafe, and building well thought out train tracks, but on the first Friday of each month, things look a little different.

Every month,  Skookum Kids hosts Foster Family Night Out at Perch & Play, where we invite foster parents to drop off their kids with our team so they can have a few hours off.  Instead of the building bursting with kids and their parents, children inside are accompanied by community volunteers who provide childcare while parents are away.

Skookum started this program a few years ago after realizing the need to support foster parents in our community, and we’ve been so honored to see it grow.

From the outside, Foster Family Night Out is pretty simple. Foster parents bring their kids to Perch & Play, drop them off and have time for dinner or a movie while their kids play, have a snack, and make new friends with volunteers.  But underneath the simple premise, there’s something really magical that happens each month. I love this part of my job for so many reasons. Over the course of the last year, I’ve been able to hear stories from devoted foster parents, host wonderful kids, and meet some amazing volunteers.

The most obvious win of Foster Family Night Out is for the parents. During check in, I like to greet parents and ask them where they are headed.  Sometimes it’s to the grocery store, sometimes home to take a nap. One time, a set of parents told me, “We were planning a date when we got a call to take these kids, so we have a long overdue steak dinner.”  I’ve heard from other parents who haven’t had a date in months, because it’s difficult to find childcare for their 5 kids. I’ve heard from parents who haven’t had any time alone since taking a new foster placement, and want a few hours together to sort out their strategy as caregivers.  I’ve heard from foster parents whose biological son was on leave from the military, and it happened that his last night at home was also the first Friday of the month. They were so grateful to have time with him before he left home again. When I greet parents, I can tell they are tired and looking forward to a few hours off, but I’m always encouraged by the way they take the time to say thank you and hug their kids before heading out the door.

The more unexpected benefit of Foster Family Night Out has been for the kids who attend. I love seeing kids make new friends and be reunited with old ones on the playground. Often, siblings and cousins placed in different homes great each other enthusiastically in the check-in line.  Sometimes they devise a plan for what activity they will do as a newly founded group of friends, and other times a spontaneous game of tag breaks out. Three preschool aged boys who have attended the event individually in months past, happened to be registered for the same night a few months back.  One of the boys, a four year old with blonde curls walked up to the check in table and asked me if the other two were coming. When I told him they were already playing, he barely had time to get his nametag on before yelling, “MY FRIENDS” and setting off to find them. The three of them could be found the rest of the night holding hands, skipping as though running through a field of flowers chanting in unison, “MY FRIENDS, I found my friends!”  It turns out they were all in the same preschool class, but their foster parents hadn’t been able to set up a playdate. With weekly visits, therapy schedules, and feeding tubes, it’s harder than it should be for a foster child to get invited on a playdate, but once a month we are so thrilled to invite them all.

I work with volunteers nearly every day in my role at Skookum, and it never fails to amaze me the people who show up to volunteer their time with kids.  Foster Family Night Out is one of our only short term volunteer opportunities, and we’ve been able to host so many amazing people because of its nature. Church groups, book clubs, local businesses and even high school leadership classes have volunteered their time!  Some folks volunteer once, some for six months in a row! And still others come up to me at the end and say, “What else can I be doing to help kids in foster care?” Like I said, we have some really amazing people on our team.

As Skookum Kids has grown in the last few years, so has the need for foster parent support!  We are looking for ways to expand Foster Family Night Out and partner with more folks in our community so that we can serve more parents and kids.  You can help this program grow by visiting www.skookumkids.org/give

To register for Foster Family Night Out, visit our Facebook page. To volunteer at Foster Family Night Out, email ellie@skookumkids.org. For other Kids Night Out activities in Whatcom County, check out Kids Night Out at Western and YMCA Overnight Adventures.