DEAR ABBY: May is National Foster Care Month, a time when we celebrate the thousands of foster care parents who play a vital role in helping children, youth and families in crisis to heal. The commitment of these families leaves an indelible mark. They are helping to end cycles of physical abuse, neglect and substance abuse, often enabling a child to be the first in his or her family to go to college.
An example of this commitment and advocacy is a foster parent named Corinne, who, in spite of almost overwhelming odds during Hurricane Katrina, kept her three foster children together in shelters until they could resettle in a new home.
We hope that your readers will join the National Foster Parent Association in showing appreciation and support for every foster parent -- especially during May. While not everyone can be a foster parent, everyone can support foster care. -- KAREN JORGENSEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL FOSTER PARENT ASSOCIATION
DEAR KAREN: Thank you for pointing that out. There are many ways we can lend support and influence the lives of young people who -- through no fault of their own -- are in the foster care system. Readers can:
-- donate goods, suitcases, books, games, computers, sports equipment, musical instruments, clothing and school supplies to young people in foster care.
-- learn about how policy, legislative and budget priorities affect children and youth in foster care.
-- mentor a young person. Research shows that children and youth with mentors earn higher grades and improve their relationships with friends and families.
-- help young people in foster care organize a youth leadership or support group.
-- send "care packages" to foster care alumni attending college, and/or become a "virtual" mentor for a young person in college by lending emotional support as an e-mail/online pen pal.
-- become a foster or adoptive parent. Caring families are especially needed for older youth, siblings and children with special needs.
-- explore how your organization or business can encourage people in your community, or your employees, to become involved.
-- support affordable housing options for young people making the transition from foster care -- a critical time in their lives.
-- become a licensed respite care provider as a way of providing support to foster parents in your neighborhood.
-- become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers are trained citizens appointed by judges to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children.
-- recognize and honor a foster parent in your community. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in praise of someone who is making a difference in the life of a child in foster care.
Visit www.fostercaremonth.org -- an excellent Web site -- to learn more about how each of us can make a difference and change a life.