Office Moms and Dads is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization based in Vancouver, Washington (USA). It is a grassroots program that stands on three premises: That community members can make a difference in the life and health of a foster child; that community members can help prevent burnout among social workers; and that by giving community members tangible access to the world of child welfare, more foster homes may be formed. The program continues to see exponential growth in Washington State, with interest from many other states as well. Office Moms & Dads believe that child welfare is everyone’s responsibility, and that everyone can do something to help.
How OMD went from an idea to an organization:
Sarah Desjarlais and Kim Karu are two very different people, but that’s what makes their partnership really work.
Sarah, a foster parent and community activist, found herself in a meeting at the child welfare offices of her hometown in Vancouver, Washington planning a graduation party for the class of 2013. It was during that meeting that Sarah witnessed a little boy sitting in a conference room. The meal that his social worker had purchased for him was sitting untouched on the table, and his Care Box lay open, haphazardly gone through. This 9 year old boy seemed to sink into the chair he occupied. He sat there alone, in every sense of the word. His social worker sat across the hall in a cubicle, feverishly working the phone, trying to find him a suitable placement, a place he could call home.
In the same breath, Sarah witnessed two small sisters giggling, running full speed through the office, their social worker in hot pursuit. It occurred to her how hard it would be to do the things required of a social worker while constantly being pulled in all directions, to find them a new home, and to entertain them while the search continues and sometimes for hours. Sarah immediately felt that there must be something that could be done to ease the situation for the child (ren) and the social worker.
Weeks later at the Graduation Party, Kim was working the room with a photographer’s eye, her Nikon810 in hand. Kim, a CPS Social Worker by day and photographer by night, was lending her talent at the party taking pictures for the graduates. Sarah was delivering gift baskets that had been donated by the community and the two struck up a conversation.
The beginning of OMD was in the works the moment a question was posed: What would happen if the community could provide childcare in the office?
The stars aligned, and the rest is history. Together with a team of 5 gracious volunteers, Kim and Sarah launched Office Moms & Dads. New lessons were learned each day as they forged ahead with an idea that had never been tried before in the world of child welfare.
OMD Mission Statement
Office Moms & Dads is an on-call volunteer commitment and is a practical way to care for children who have recently been removed from their home. The wait after a removal can be one of the most frightening and uncertain times of these children’s lives. The purpose of the Office Moms & Dads program is to provide an age appropriate adult whose only job at that moment is to care for, sit with, and entertain children entering foster care. Our volunteers are the lifeforce of the program, as they free social workers to do the monumental task of finding a suitable foster care placement either in a relative’s home or a foster home.
Sarah Desjarlais has always had a deep commitment to social justice. She began her professional career as a Community Involvement Specialist for a local coffee shop and quickly fell in love with giving back to her community. Recruited by a local engineering firm to work as their Public Involvement Coordinator, Sarah obtained skills that she would later carry over into the founding and creating of Office Moms & Dads.
Sarah and her husband, an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree tribe, began their journey as foster parents in 2009 when, in a whirlwind of providential circumstances, they took placement of two sweet babies. Now, years later they have had the great privilege of adopting three of their five children through foster care. Sarah continues to provide respite to local foster families while staying attuned to the unique needs of the Clark County DSHS office.
In balancing the duties of Executive Director for Office Moms & Dads and the rigors of raising five kids, Sarah enjoys sewing, cooking, and walking the beautiful streets of her downtown community.
Kim Karu’s passion for working with people was fostered during her years at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and put into action after graduation when she began working
with children in the Head Start program. That experience of watching how internal and external forces impact a child’s development led Kim to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work, at Eastern Washington University extension campus in Vancouver, WA.
After receiving her advanced degree, Kim became a Child protective Services Social Worker with the Washington department of Social and Health Services in 2008. Her concern for the children served by the state agency goes beyond traditional office hours. After their chance encounter, long conversations, and realizing a need in the community Kim and Sarah Desjarlais teamed up to create Office Moms and Dads. OMD has been growing tremendously throughout Washington State and slowly in other States.
In her free time, Kim enjoys exploring not just the Pacific Northwest, but road trips and camping for new adventures across the nation. This is a chance for Kim to spend time with friends and family and indulge in her second profession for photography.