FORT LAUDERDALE — The annual Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner held at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale was an opportunity for Broward County’s foster care agencies to honor outstanding foster families who open their hearts and homes to children.
Hosted by ChildNet, the lead Community-Based Care (CBC) agency in Broward and Palm Beach counties, the event drew more than 300 foster parents, officials, and child welfare administrators and staff for a night of awards.
Symbolizing the ongoing efforts of foster parents, the Starfish Poem was this year’s theme. The poem highlights how one person can make a huge difference, as foster parents do.
ChildNet President and CEO Emilio Benitez kicked off the event, delivering thanks to parents for their enduring support of Broward County’s foster youth.
“Tonight’s dinner is only a small tribute compared with the tremendous care and compassion you provide for the children most in need of love, but it is an important cause for celebration,” said Benitez.
“Our system works because of the strength of this community, and we are truly grateful for each and every one of you who helps provide loving homes for children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected.”
Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary David Wilkins delivered the keynote speech. During the event, Tanya Wilkins, the Governor’s Child Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption, told about her experience with foster care. “We need more parents who are willing to remove the word ‘foster’ and simply become parents,” she said.
PARENTS OF YEAR
Also in attendance were child advocate supporters from foster home management agencies including 4KIDS of South Florida, Camelot Community Care, Florida Baptist Children’s Home, Choices Children & Families Consortium, Kids In Distress, Mount Bethel Human Services, His House Children’s Home, National Youth Advocate Program, Devereux Florida, The Twelve and National Mentor Health Care, Inc. Agencies nominated foster parents who have exceled in their foster parenting roles to receive a special award during the dinner.
Tina Severance-Fonte, who has been president of the Broward Foster and Adoptive Parent Association for the past four years, and her husband Jesus Fonte were the recipients of the Foster Parents of the Year award. The Fontes have been fostering children for more than 10 years, officials said, and currently have their 23rd child in their home.
Seeking to raise awareness of the needs of children in the foster care system, ChildNet also hosted the inaugural Field Day for Foster Care at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. It was the largest collaborative “fun-raiser” to serve the community’s most vulnerable youth, organizers said, gathering 14 nonprofit partner agencies.
“The key to successful fundraising and making an impact on the lives of children is getting the community involved, and what bigger and better way to do that than through joining the most influential nonprofit groups to form the largest collaborative field day event ever,” said Elizabeth Wynter, director of community relations at ChildNet.
“Field day was a perfect opportunity for adults to act like children and to inspire them to think about opening their hearts and homes to children in care.”
Proceeds from Field Day for Foster Care benefited ChildNet, Children’s Home Society, 4KIDS of South Florida, Camelot Community Care, Children’s Harbor, The Chrysalis Center, Kids In Distress, Family Central, Inc., FLIPANY, FLITE Center, Heart Gallery of Broward County, Henderson Behavioral Health, Legal Aid, National Youth Advocate Program and SOS Children’s Villages Florida.
•Picture above from top left: Luis Brinez, Children’s Home Society; Tina O’Brien, ChildNet; with foster parents David and Katherine Mcpherson.