Fostering Love in Central New York

As part of our blog feature, United Way of Central New York aims to provide a platform for our funded programs and agencies to share their stories and amplify their voices in the community.

In honor of National Parent’s Day on July 26th, we recently spoke with Linda Lopez, Executive Director for Community Services at The Salvation Army; Linda discussed The Salvation Army’s Family Place, a United Way of Central New York funded program which supports the local foster care system and provides resources to foster families. Our sincere thanks to Linda for sharing her experiences as a foster parent and teaching us what it truly means to be a family.

Linda Lopez pictured with her two sons, Javere and Amar. Photos courtesy of Linda Lopez.

Growing up with a large extended family, it was never a question for Linda if she wanted to be a mother and have a family of her own. After adopting her daughters Terrika in 1988 and Kara in 1997, Linda and her family were overjoyed when they were given the opportunity to grow their family tree when they welcomed their youngest members, Javere and Amar, in October 2008.

“I always wanted to be a foster parent and help provide children with a safe environment to call home,” said Linda. “Shortly after I attended the required training and became certified as a foster parent, an Onondaga County caseworker called about two biological brothers in need of a foster family to care for both of them. That weekend, I met the boys who were 5-months and 15-months-old at the time and our family instantly fell in love with them.”

After being in the foster care system for about two years, both Javere and Amar were officially adopted by Linda and the Lopez family in March 2010.

There are currently around 325- 350  children in the Onondaga County foster care system in need of loving families. According to the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, children are placed in foster care either by court order or because a child’s parents may be experiencing serious medical, emotional or financial difficulties, making them unable to appropriately care for their child.

“It’s important to remember the main responsibility of foster parents is to provide support to the children that come into their care while understanding that they may be reunited with their biological family,” said Linda. “There have been recent shifts in the foster care system in order to provide struggling parents with the resources needed to ensure children do not remain in temporary care for extended periods of time.”

Since 1883, The Salvation Army has provided life-changing services to residents of Onondaga County. Their innovative programs have helped more than 38,000 people each year, including children & families, youth, adults, and seniors. In support of foster families across the county, United Way of Central New York aids in funding programs such as The Salvation Army’s Family Place. This program creates a safe space for parents to visit their children who have been temporarily placed in foster care and/or are in relative placement. The Family Place program provides foster children with transportation to and from program facilities and onsite counseling services are available for biological parents to receive constructive feedback as they continue to build trust with their children and work together toward successful reunification.

“To be a foster parent also means trusting in the process for children to be reunited with their biological families and continuing to be a positive force in a child’s life even after they’ve left your home,” said Linda.

Looking back on her own family’s decades-long journey through the adoption and the foster care system, Linda shared her insight for individuals and couples considering foster care.

“Caring for a child is never easy and it is crucial that people understand the responsibilities that the role of a foster parent entails,” said Linda. “Many children that come into the foster care system have unique sets of needs relating to physical health, mental health, behavioral issues, and other challenges and it is important to be truly honest with yourself about the level of support that you and your family can provide for a child.”

Although each of Linda’s children have come into her life under varying circumstances, the strong bonds they have formed with one another are so tangible that they redefine what it means to be a part of a “traditional family.” Today, Linda and her four children have celebrated countless holidays, achieved monumental milestones, and have learned to overcome obstacles together as one family.

“What you look like or where you come from isn’t what makes you a family,” said Linda. “How much you love one another, your commitment to each other, and showing up for those you love is what makes you a family. The best part of being a parent is the reciprocity of love that you give to your children and the love that you receive from them in return.”

For more information on Family Place and other child and family services provided by The Salvation Army, visit syracuseny.salvationarmy.org or call 2-1-1.