Citizens Caring for Children
Year-Round Program Cares for Foster Children
Seven-year-old Sam’s eyes light up as he pulls tissue paper from a gift bag.
“Awesome!” he exclaims, lifting out an electronic card game and batteries. Six other elementary-aged boys are sitting around the table with Sam. They’ve finished eating pizza and most have made their slices of birthday cake disappear too. All agree that Sam’s gift is “totally cool.”
It sounds like any party you might find on a Saturday afternoon. But this gathering is different – Sam and the other guests are residents of the Oklahoma County shelter.
Each month in Oklahoma, there are about 7,600 children in foster care; nearly 3,000 of those are in Oklahoma County. Many of these children have been removed from the custody of their biological parents because of child abuse; others are taken into state custody when their parents are arrested, and some are simply abandoned.
One Edmond woman has made it her life’s work to make sure these children are not forgotten.
Twenty-one years ago, Rose Harper and her late husband, George, were looking for ministry work. They considered many mission options and, after much prayer, they decided to start an organization to help foster children. As foster parents, they were aware of the needs of this group. In 1984, Citizens Caring for Children (CCC) was born as an outreach ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Edmond. The mission of the organization is to break the cycle of child abuse by helping fill the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of foster children.
One way CCC meets the emotional needs of foster children is by holding a monthly birthday party at the county shelter. More than five years ago, the Junior League adopted the birthday party program. It provides funding and volunteers for the event each month.
When children are taken from their birth homes, police officers drive them to the county shelter with only the clothes they are wearing. Personal items, their favorite pajamas, the stuffed animal they sleep with and their school backpack are all left behind.
People from First Presbyterian in Edmond and other friends began bringing Rose clothing for the foster children.
“At first we kept it in a spare room at our house,” Rose said. Eventually the program grew and now the group operates a resource center on 50th street in Oklahoma City. When a child is placed with a foster family, the parents are encouraged to bring the child to CCC’s Resource Center to pick out clothing and school supplies. Last year, 2,495 foster children benefited from this service. About 100 of those children are in Edmond. The resource center ministers primarily to the physical needs of the children, but also to their emotional needs. By giving the children new clothing, it helps them feel special.
“This is all about the messages we are sending to those children,” said Diana Harbolt, CCC director. “We want to boost their self-esteem and self-worth.”
Another way CCC shows children that someone cares is through its mentoring program.
Lori was the first child matched with a mentor, more than a dozen years ago when she was 15. Her mentor, Elizabeth, was an OU student at the time.
“Elizabeth really made a difference in my life,” Lori said. “She helped shape the ideals in my life and showed me that I had choices in my life.”
Elizabeth provided a stable influence for Lori, which is one goal of the CCC mentoring program.
“I moved homes a lot when I was in high school,” said Lori, who was placed in foster homes in north Oklahoma City, on the south side and in suburbs. “But Elizabeth always found a way to come spend time with me.”
This constancy gave the teenager a feeling of comfort when she had to adjust to a new family, new school and often a new social worker. One year, Lori had four different social workers.
Over the years, Lori was in “countless” foster homes. Moving from one foster home to another, children’s belongings are often loaded into a garbage bag.
“Mentors give foster children a stable factor in their lives,” Lori said. “No matter where they are, if they have to put their stuff in a bag and change schools, they can always call their mentor.”
Recently, Lori decided it was time to give something back. She is now a foster parent. She also volunteers with CCC and recently spoke to a group of mentors in training. Sharing her story prompted many questions from the volunteers, and Lori assured them they don’t need any special skills to make a difference in the life of a child.
“Elizabeth would always listen to me,” Lori said. “That’s the main thing the kids need: someone to listen.”
Rose said success stories, like Lori’s, are the best thing about being a part of CCC. It is what keeps her on the phone with foster parents and volunteers, making mentoring matches that show foster children they are not forgotten.
Each year around the holidays, CCC works hard to make sure children in foster care have a Merry Christmas.
This tradition started the first year the organization was in existence.
“One of the local television stations had done an annual toy drive,” Rose said. “But that year they weren’t able to.” The Harpers put the word out and during November and December toys came in from schools and churches in Edmond.
“We were able to collect 400 children’s gifts that first year,” she said. “We took them to the DHS office and there were social workers with tears in their eyes because the children were going to have Christmas.”
With thousands of children in foster care, CCC has to set priorities when it comes to Christmas gift giving. Teenagers staying in the shelter and foster children at the Bethany Children’s Home top the list, Harbolt said.
The children make a Christmas wish list with three requests.
“We try to use the list, because it is more fun to get something you really want,” she said.
CCC also encourages community members to take the lists and purchase gifts. Sometimes companies, organizations and churches take several lists and divide the purchases among employees and members. In other cases, families and individuals bring toys or monetary donations to the CCC office.
“We depend on the community; their support is so important to us,” Diana said.
CCC operates an office in Edmond and the resource center in Oklahoma City. According to Diana, the organization’s goal is to consolidate the two locations and return to their roots in Edmond.
For more information on Santa Stop or any of the other programs of Citizens Caring for Children, call 348-9034 or go online to www.citizenscaringforchildren.org.