There’s something about the holidays that puts people in a charitable mood. After all, it is the gift-giving season. From food drives, to soup kitchens, to bell-ringing Salvation Army Santas, there are countless opportunities to lend a helping hand to those in need. However, acts of sacrifice and kindness don’t have to be relegated to one month out of the year, nor should they be. The following story is about how one Marketing Executive turned a desire to bless her own family into an ongoing mission to enhance hundreds of lives in her community.
There are more than 4,500 children in the San Diego County foster care system, at least 1,000 of whom are 2 years old or younger. Because there are so few available foster families, these children often end up in overcrowded homes and bounce from family to family. In fact, the average foster baby will live in three to four different locations in his first year of foster care.
A child in such a transient state has a higher risk of developing Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) a serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. RAD can lead to violent behavior in later life, and statistics show that 80 percent of the United States prison population has spent time in foster care.
Studies show that RAD is life-long but preventable. Healthy growth depends on a child’s interaction with a mother figure. Cooing, eye contact, loving touch, consistent feeding and dependable soothing are all vital to early brain development. If a baby has one consistent, nurturing caregiver during her first 36 months of life, she will learn to trust others, express empathy and form healthy bonds and relationships as an adult.
Helping Change Lives
Stacy Fiske knew little about the foster care crisis when she first heard about Angels Foster Family Network in early 2009. She was just looking for a way to expand her family.
“My daughter, Dyllan, was 18 months old at the time,” Stacy recalls. “I was also single, and if that was to be the case for the rest of my life, I didn’t want Dyllan to be an only child.”
While considering her options, Stacy talked to a friend who had adopted a boy. She was surprised to learn that her friend had originally fostered the baby boy through Angels.
“So I attended an orientation to meet the Angels founder, Cathy Richman,” Stacy says. “I went because I wanted to grow my family. After an hour, I was bawling.”
In that life-changing meeting with Cathy, Stacy’s eyes were opened to the harsh realities of traditional foster care. More importantly, however, she learned what made Angels so different.
Each Angels Family:
• Fosters only one child (or sibling group) at a time, ensuring individual attention to each child
• Has at least one stay-at-home parent for babies younger than 18 months
• Commits to caring for a child until the court determines permanent placement (reunification or adoption)
• Undergoes specialized training and extensive screening
“At the time, Angels was still very much in start-up mode,” Stacy says. “They were placing only 40–50 children a year—barely scratching the surface.
“In an instant, my motive changed from fostering a child to getting involved and helping the program grow. I thought, ‘If I could take one child into my family that would be great. But if I could help as many babies as possible—maybe hundreds of them—find loving, compassionate, caring parents who would hopefully want to adopt, that would be amazing.’”
Stacy told Cathy that she wanted to use her marketing background to help Angels expand. Within a week, she began a six-year term on the Angels board of directors. She served as chairman of the board from 2012 to spring 2013 and continues to work diligently to further the Angels mission.
Families who consider fostering a child have to do it for the right reason, namely the wellbeing of the child, Stacy says. One thing that impresses Stacy about the families she works with at Angels is their complete selflessness.
“The decision to be an Angels foster parent requires a lot of soul searching,” Stacy says. “It’s overwhelming because while adoption is a possibility, so is reunification.
“So these parents have to be willing to love a child unconditionally, knowing it’s highly likely that they won’t be with the child forever. That’s probably the hardest thing for these parents to go through, but they’re willing to do it because the outcome is a happy, healthy child.”
Over the past five years, Stacy has not only volunteered with Angels, she’s also built a successful Melaleuca business. What’s remarkable, she says, is that the missions and visions of both organizations are essentially the same.
“Melaleuca and Angels both focus on giving back to the community,” Stacy says. “Melaleuca’s mission is enhancing lives; Angels is all about enhancing the lives of babies. Melaleuca is The Wellness Company; Angels focuses on babies’ mental and emotional wellness.”
Stacy is thankful that her Melaleuca business gives her the time freedom to work with Angels. “I used to work a full-time job,” Stacy says, “and that made it difficult to get to Angels board meetings.
“But in July 2010, I was able to quit my job and focus on my Melaleuca business. Since then, I’ve prioritized and scheduled Melaleuca and Angels around each other. I don’t know any other business that could give me the time flexibility that Melaleuca does.”
Since enrolling with Melaleuca in August 2008, Stacy has earned $727,607. She believes that her work with Angels and the health of her Melaleuca business go hand in hand.
“I truly believe in giving to those God calls on us to help,” Stacy says. “I also believe that if you’re willing to share, it will come back to you tenfold. I’m willing to share what Melaleuca has blessed me with, and I think that’s one of the reasons my business has been successful.”
One thing Angels has done for Stacy—who’s now remarried—is help her appreciate how fortunate she was as a child and how fortunate her own children are. But the real reward for her service is seeing firsthand the love shared between babies and their foster parents.
“Every year we throw a party where I get to see babies’ smiling faces in a loving family environment,” Stacy says. “I see the foster parents, and they are in love with their happy little kids. It’s magic.
“I will always donate my time and money to Angels for the rest of my life, and I will always share the Angels story.”
Since its inception, the Angels Foster Family Network in San Diego has been replicated with sister agencies in Oklahoma City and Santa Barbara, Calif. Visit Angelsfoster.org to learn how you can make a contribution to one of these nonprofit charitable organizations.