On May 1 I left my home, and pretty normal life in the suburbs with a husband, two kids and a dog, for a road trip that would take me 4000 miles across the United States to tour foster care agencies, meet kids impacted by the foster care system and make some wishes come true. Today marks one week since I left...but it really feels like a lifetime.
Traveling with my two toddlers, Morgan (an employee), a driver (some guy who works in my office building) and three twenty-something year old guys from California that I only met the day before sounds insane. It has been pretty insane. We started out knowing very little about each other - just that we all shared a passion for helping foster kids. But slowly I watched as my 3 and 4 year olds fell in love with a tattoo-covered, twenty-one year old former foster kid - chasing him around retail store parking lots with water guns, sitting on his shoulders, running to him to play. I've watched them playfully start referring to another one by his nickname - asking where he is when they haven't seen him for a few hours between our stops. The girls are coloring pictures with Morgan and asking if she can paint her toe nails with them. Gradually, they've started to warm up to the other two guys too - and gradually I'm starting to feel more and more like some crazy, dysfunctional, unlikely family. And that is really what this trip is all about.
It's true our country needs a new child welfare system. Its broken, outdated and ineffective. It needs new leadership, fresh ideas and more progressive methods of communication. But what I'm starting to realize more and more is that the child welfare system needs so much more than that - something that can only be achieved if more people come together to create and believe in a new definition of what it means to be a family.
I've visited kids who have lost their one or more of their parents - to drugs, prison, the "system", death. But each of these kids has found love, support and a bond with someone else...a mentor, a teacher, a foster parent, a caseworker, a church pastor, a friend. Many of them have more than one of these individuals in their lives. These people are making up the village it takes to raise a child. Most don't share the same race, or title, or much else for that matter - just a passion for helping a child. Just like us.