Originally printed in the Sierra Vista Herald, by Amanda Baillie, January 12, 2016.
As the Arizona Department of Child Safety continues to struggle to find homes for displaced children, one non-profit is hoping to help bridge the gap in Cochise County.
During its 10-year presence in the region, Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest has been focusing on the areas of aging and disability.
It is now expanding those services locally to include a foster care program.
“Over 19,000 children will enter the Arizona foster care system in 2016,” said Karen Bamford, Director of Aging, Children and Disability Services. “There is an urgent need for loving, nurturing families that are able to provide children with the support and structure they need. We hope to work with local families that are ready to open their hearts to foster parenting.”
Founded in Phoenix in 1970 to care for the vulnerable, Lutheran Social Services has since expanded to 10 counties across the state.
Although it began as a faith-based organization, it offers support to anyone who needs it and regardless of religious affiliation.
On Monday, the organization opened its new office at 1865 Paseo San Luis in Sierra Vista, from where it hopes to raise its profile and plan for future expansion – it was previously using an office provided by Catholic Community Services.
“We are positioning ourselves for growth and we want people to know that we are in their community,” explained President and CEO Connie Phillips. “Having a more visual presence and our own identity is important to us.”
The organization offers non-medical support to its approximately 200 senior and disabled clients through its Luminaria Home Care program.
Services provided can include anything from grocery shopping, personal care, and house cleaning, to offering companionship and respite to care givers.
“This is a high retirement area and there is a growing population that needs in-home support,” said Phillips. “It’s more economical to have someone stay in their home, rather than go into an assisted care facility, especially when the average annual income for seniors in Arizona is just $15,000.
“It’s important that we strengthen that in-home approach, as well to break the isolation and lessen depression. Much of this is about socialization.”
Lutheran Social Services is largely funded through its contracts with other agencies, like the Bisbee-based Southeast Arizona Governments Organization, as well as some donations.
It employs 108 staff across Cochise County, whose goal is to help their clients remain safe and comfortable in their own homes.
Clients are usually referred by partnering agencies or can contract on a fee-for-services basis.
“If someone does not qualify for our services then we will still help them to navigate the system and find the help they need,” added Bamford.
And while the support for the elderly and disabled will continue, the organization is excited about its future regarding foster care and the difference it can make.
“There is a real crisis with children being removed from their homes, and there are just not enough foster homes for them,” said Phillips, who added that the organization already works to license foster homes in Maricopa and Pima counties. “There are over 19,000 children in foster care so we see an urgency right now. This is about finding homes for children so they can be safe and cared for.”
Added Bamford, “We are seeing the needs increasing in our state and we are figuring out how to meet those needs. We want to have an impact on these children’s lives, so we are actively recruiting for foster parents.”
Although the organization does not recruit hands-on volunteers to go into people’s homes, there are plenty of other opportunities to help, said Phillips.
Just recently the congregation of the Sierra Evangelical Church donated cleaning supplies and there is currently an ongoing towel drive.
And as the foster care division increases, there will be a need for donations of items such as stuffed animals, pyjamas and backpacks.