RACINE — After growing up in an abusive home, Heather Lojeski has felt the need to help other struggling children.
“For myself, it was personal,” Lojeski said. In 2014 she and her husband, Mark Lojeski, co-founded Faith, Hope & Love, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children in crisis.
Now, they are looking to expand their mission. The organization is starting a capital campaign to raise funds to help open the Faith, Hope & Love Home for Children, a temporary place for Racine County foster children.
“The Faith, Hope & Love Home for Children is a way to provide love and support, even if only for a short time,” Mark said. “That tells these kids that they matter.”
Foster home shortage
Racine County is facing a major foster home shortage, according to Kerry Milkie, youth and family manager for Racine County Human Services. There are currently 360 children in foster care in Racine County and not nearly enough foster homes.
“If you look at the 2014 data, we had 120 foster homes,” said Milkie. “We currently have 88. We’ve had a 40 percent increase in the number of children placed in foster care just over the last year. The math doesn’t add up.”
To address the shortage, in 2016 the Racine County Foster Care Task Force was created at the urging of retired Racine County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Ptacek, a Juvenile Court judge at the time. Ptacek was concerned about the unavailability of foster homes for older youths. Faith, Hope & Love joined the task force the same year.
The shortage has added trauma to children in foster care. Last year, 100 Racine County foster children were placed outside the county due to space issues, Heather said.
“School-age kids have not only now been removed from their parents, they are no longer at their school and no longer with their friends,” Milkie said, adding that Racine County foster children have been placed in West Bend, Brown County, Milwaukee and other outlying areas.
“We pay more to be able to utilize those agencies’ foster beds,” Milkie said. “It makes the dynamics of returning home or reunification harder for the department to achieve.”
The Lojeskis hope that by creating a temporary place for foster children to stay while caseworkers search for suitable homes for the children, they will be able to help make the transition for foster children a bit easier.
“This would allow children to come to our facility to play, get food, rest and make sure their needs are meet while giving caseworkers time to work and not to worry about the children during that time,” Lojeski said. The home would temporarily house up to 10 children, from a few hours to 30 days.
The Faith, Hope & Love Home for Children would allow foster children to receive needed medical care and nutritious foods, Heather said. They also hope to offer volunteer grandparents, aunts and uncles to the children, who will help with homework, make and eat dinner together.
“Hopefully, it will show children that their community does care about them,” Lojeski said.
The home’s creation would also help combat another major issue for foster children — the separation of foster children from their siblings.
“The home would help keep those sibling groups together, allow them to have their needs provided for, including clothing, shoes, books, backpacks, blankets, stuffed animals, toys, whatever they are lacking,” Lojeski said.
“A receiving home could provide short-term placement we can utilize at any time of the day in which we can keep sibling groups intact while we look for more permanent placement for those children,” Milkie said. “It could create something comfortable where staff can provide children the attention they need and deserve after being removed from their parents’ home.”
Plans in place
The Lojeskis have met with Milkie and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave to discuss what needs to be done to make the organization’s temporary home a reality.
Although the county is not involved in the start-up or licensing of this potential home, if the facility comes to fruition, the county could contract with them for this type of service, Milkie said.
Because a physical location has not been put in place, Faith, Hope & Love has put in legwork, including creating manuals and having a staff schedule in place should they raise the funds required to bring the Faith, Hope & Love Home to Racine County.
The nonprofit hopes to rent a building, specifically near the Downtown area or the north side of Racine, and is hoping to raise $25,000, for one year’s rent and the cost of renovations.
If the organization had to purchase a building, it would need to raise $200,000, which is why the Lojeskis would rather rent a facility at first.
Timing is dependent on raising the funds and obtaining a location.
To raise the funds, the Lojeskis have launched a fundraising campaign. The capital campaign kicked off Saturday night and will continue for 28 days.
To donate funds for Faith, Hope & Love Home for Children, go to https://app.snap-raise.com/fundraisers/47179.
More foster homes needed
The Racine County Human Services Department is actively recruiting foster parents in Racine County. To become a foster home operator, there is mandatory free training, a home study, background check and many personal questions asked, Milkie said.
But the end result is helping a child in a time of need.
In December, the Racine County Foster Care Task Force will make recommendations to the county and community for assistance in resolving the foster care shortage.
“The reality is we need more foster homes,” Milkie said. “Is it hard and is it stressful? Yes, but we need more people to want to step up and be licensed foster parents.”