Sure, we’ve changed our look over the years, but the soul of Office Moms & Dads hasn’t changed a bit. We began with five volunteers (ok, they were all my friends), one location and one handmade apron. Come closer, dears. Let me tell you the tale…
Once upon a time, five years ago, I had a meeting at the child welfare office in Vancouver, Washington. It was a clear Spring day, and I was there with a handful of other community members to find out how we could support graduating foster youth. As I walked through rows of cubicles I noticed two sisters, ages 2 and 5-ish, playing tag and running happily away from their social worker. They had brown hair, beautiful brown skin, and wore matching purple shirts. They were clean and care-free – not what I imagined children in foster care to look like or act like. I walked on, following the group to the meeting room, but caught the social worker’s eye as I passed: she was tired. She knew she would be staying late. Again.
We entered a conference room and were surprised to find a boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, occupying a chair that was twice his size. On a normal day, this boy might have taken advantage of the four wheels beneath his seat and raced that chair right out the door and down the hall! That’s what little boys are supposed to do. Instead, he sat with slumped shoulders, holding back tears, staring at a small box of donated toys and goodies. His social worker had bought him a Happy Meal, but it lay there picked through and half-eaten. No wheels, no toys, no Happy Meals could replace what this boy had lost that day. Across the hall his social worker placed call after call to foster homes in the area asking if they could take him. He was utterly alone in that moment and all-consumed by the despair of his circumstances.
My mommy-heart couldn’t let this go. The faces of these kids and their social workers were burned into my memory. There were so many feelings to feel: sadness, surprise, hopelessness, confusion, and somehow… faith (if that’s a feeling). And so the seeds of OMD were planted. I begged my friends and acquaintances to help get this idea off the ground by volunteering alongside me. I met with social workers to find out what they wanted in the program. Our co-founder, Kim, created in-roads with the State that had never been formed before. My pastor gave us a platform to recruit more volunteers. It was all brand new, all so innocent, and so very unaware. It was never meant to be scaled.
Three months and 15 volunteers later, our neighbors to the North came knocking. They wanted to learn how to implement a program they’d heard of through the grapevine. It suddenly felt like the wind was shifting. This program that brought caring and qualified adults through the doors of cinder block state buildings was creating a window into the world of child welfare. We soon learned that communities wanted to get involved, they just didn’t know how.
We aim to connect community resources to the children who need them most. We aim not to pour money on problems, but to pour people on them. People are our greatest resource, and time is our most precious asset. We ask people to give of their time – to make one child’s day a little brighter, and one social worker’s load a little lighter.
The wind carried our little seeds up Washington’s I-5 corridor, finding roots in city after city. It spread East, crossed state lines, and found a place in Idaho, too. In five years, much has changed. The hand-sewn apron that was so symbolic when we first began has been put in the archives and replaced with branded, factory-made aprons; but the meaning remains.
OMD means safety and comfort, playful laughter, shared tears, full bellies, busy hands, occupied minds. We are calm in chaos. We are comfort in trauma. We are the window between Community and Foster Care. We are Office Moms and Office Dads.
Cheers to blowing winds, the generosity of strangers, and to another 5 years and beyond!