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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Event focuses on foster care and adoption in LGBTQ community
by Melissa Wasserman
2016-07-11

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Let it Be Us focused on finding foster and adoptive families within Chicago's LGBTQ community with its program "Call to Action! Foster and Adopt Our Children" July 9 at University of Illinois at Chicago's Student Center.

"Call to Action! Foster and Adopt Our Children" was the first event of its kind. Let it Be Us hosted the town-hall style event with Forever Finding Families. Over 150 people were in attendance. The event featured agencies from around the Chicagoland area. Each had a booth with information to offer.

The collaborating agencies for the event were Aunt Martha's, ChildServ, Hephzibah Children's Association, Illinois Center for Adoption and Permanency, Kaleidoscope, Inc., Lakeside Community Committee, Lawrence Hall, Little City Foster Care and Adoption Program, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, National Youth Advocate Program, SOS Children's Villages of Illinois, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ( DCFS ), Pride Action Tank, user Youth Exploring Spirituality and Windy City Times.

Let it Be Us' mission statement said it "envisions a future in which our most vulnerable children have the opportunities and resources they need which can best be met by belonging in a family."

"It's a very historical event," said founder and director of Let it Be Us Susan McConnell. "It's the first time that we've done this in Chicago. It's the biggest adoption/adoptive recruitment event that's ever taken place in Illinois and it's the first time we've had agencies collaborate. They usually are competitors."

"We're thrilled to be a co-sponsor because this is something that we wanted to do, even before Pride Action Tank was formed last year, because we know we need to do whatever can be done to stem the flow of young people, LGBTQ youth, in particular, who are on the streets," said Kim Hunt, Pride Action Tank's executive director. "We've always looked at increasing the number of LGBTQ foster parents and focusing on adopting LGBTQ older youth as one preventive method for homelessness."

Pride Action Tank released a video in time for the event, promoting an increase in LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents, for LGBTQ and other youth. The video is part of an ongoing effort in the LGBTQ community. See www.youtube.com/watch .

McConnell said the July 9 event was to introduce people to the foster/adoption process. She explained the mission for the entire event is to get the children in Illinois into foster and adoptive homes.

"We love that we can reach out to that [LGBTQ] community and really let them know there's no discrimination for them to come in and adopt because most agencies do not discriminate against it, meaning private agencies, so we love that we can help have them become more aware because a lot of that LGBTQ community was not aware that they weren't discriminated against," said Jennifer McAndrews, board chair president of Let it Be Us. "So, I think this is huge for that community, as well, to understand there's a need for kids that also may be gay in foster care that can be placed with them. I think it is just so eye-opening for everybody."

The event began with a meet-and-greet and video. Then speakers were invited to take the podium.

Illinois DCFS Director George Sheldon spoke on the topic of diligent recruitment in Illinois; director of strategic initiatives at Lawrence Hall Renee Lehocky spoke about the history and mission of the "Call to Action! Foster and Adopt Our Children" collaborative; Mark Wilson spoke about his and his partner Bryan Northup's experience as foster parents to four children ranging from 15 months-old to young adults and each of their experiences; Victoria and Gaege [last names withheld due to privacy] shared their own stories of being youth unable to get into foster homes and living in residential care ( group homes ); Mariah Brandon, a social worker with Little City and Pleshette Hamb, a social worker with ChildServ, spoke about the historical need for supportive services and current supports; and Hunt spoke about the call to action. McConnell made opening and closing remarks.

"I think for people who want to help, there's always something you can do," said Wilson. "I don't think I can speak highly enough of what the rewards have been of being a foster family, but it's less about that and more about how many children we're talking about. How many kids on the street just need a safe place to be and need people who are in that safe space to not be antagonizing them."

Wilson and Northup's son, Christopher Lense, who identifies as gay, added his perspective, telling Windy City Times that before he came into the loving family he has now, he was passed along through family members, which degraded his self-worth and he would try to find his worth in other men.

"So when they [Wilson and Northup] came into my life, they gave me that worth," said Lense. "I am worthy to have good things, I'm worthy of being truly loved, I'm worthy of having a family that cares about me. To be able to be in a home to concentrate on my health, as well as a safe place for me to live was very beneficial. To have that level of support and love, to have them say 'you are worth it' just really helped. For myself, it was a saving grace."

"It really says a lot about the diversity within the community, but also that folks should not be afraid of the prospect of LGBTQ people raising children," said Hunt of the event, adding it shows another side of the LGBTQ community, particularly following soon after the last weekend of Pride month and its different vibe. "Hearing these stories today just made me so hopeful and so thrilled. So, I'm so glad we were a part of it."

For more information, visit: letitbeus.org .

For details on the Pride Action Tank LGBTQ adult and youth recruitment effort, email prideactiontank@aidschicago.org or see www.prideactiontank.org .


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