For the next seven months, visitors to State Employees Credit Union branches across the state will see displays featuring the photos of children in foster care in North Carolina who are looking for permanent homes.
The hope is that the smiling faces in these photographs will catch people’s eyes and inspire them to consider adopting one of these or another of the nearly 10,000 children in the state’s foster care system.
“We are trying to expose the community to this need as much as possible and use these photographs and this display as a starting point for that conversation,” said Jamie Bazemore, the adoption services manager for the N.C. Division of Social Services.
In the year ending last June, 1,161 foster children were adopted into permanent homes in North Carolina, Bazemore said. During the same year, though, about 500 aged out of the foster care system, meaning they turned 18 without a permanent family and had to fend for themselves.
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About 500 children have aged out each year for the past seven years. “Too many,” Bazemore said.
Judith Dorsey, the credit union’s card services compliance manager and a former Wake County foster parent, helped arrange for the displays of foster children in credit union offices. Dorsey said the project means a lot to her personally because she has seen the challenges kids face as they age out of the system without a connection to a family.
“I can’t think of a person at the age of 18 who doesn’t need their parents anymore,” she said. “They just don’t have the guidance and the assistance they need if they run into a problem that they can’t handle on their own.”
The displays at the credit union are called Heart Galleries, an old idea promoted by a national umbrella group call Heart Gallery of America. The N.C. Kids Program, the state effort to find homes for children awaiting adoption, has sponsored Heart Galleries on and off since 2005, in churches, libraries, hospitals, malls and even the lobby of recent performances of “The Nutcracker,” Bazemore said.
But the credit union project marks a renewed emphasis on the galleries as a tool to get people’s attention and direct them to the N.C. Kids Program website, where there are photos and information about dozens of children awaiting adoption. Each display comes with brochures with information about each child pictured.
The collaboration came about when the credit union approached the state about doing some sort of project related to foster care, said Susan Funderburk, the credit union’s senior vice president of employee education. Bazemore suggested the Heart Galleries.
“We thought with the credit union being in all 100 counties that it was a great fit,” Funderburk said.
There will be 47 displays, one for each credit union district office, and they’ll rotate through every one of the 254 branch offices between now and the end of July. The galleries will begin featuring the same 23 children, though that number may change as children are adopted and others are added, Bazemore said.
The display will emphasize older children and those with special needs, Bazemore said.
“Those are typically our most difficult to place children,” she said. “We want to use this opportunity to do some targeted recruitment for them.”
Bazemore said the state doesn’t have a good handle on how effective the Heart Galleries are, though anecdotal evidence indicates some children have found homes through them. One goal of the credit union campaign is to more closely measure the impact of the galleries in the months ahead.