Fostering children can be tough.
Fostering Connections, founded by Frontenac resident Lacy Nickelson, was created to help these families connect through special events, such as bowling nights, moms coffees and crafting events to give foster families an opportunity to come together to share their experiences.
Nickelson had visited and hosted many parties as a Mary Kay director, where she met women and families who were fostering children.  
"We have caring, loving families in Crawford County that are fostering simply because they believe it is their God-given calling to care for those in need and for orphans,” Nickelson said. “Many of them have adopted children they have had in foster care.
“They are in it for the right reasons.”
After speaking to these families she came to the realization that, at times, they felt lonely.
“I have seen the quality of these families and heard unfortunately how sometimes they felt like they are on an island without a supportive network,” Nickelson said.
And so Fostering Connections began.
The organization serves foster families through faith-based support, mentoring, VIP boxes, free family fun nights and kids’ nights out. Fostering Connections also honor “quality foster families” twice a year and connect families who wish to be foster or respite families.
“We just want to bless them, sometimes that looks like events and sometimes it looks like a VIP boxe, and sometimes it’s a free event at the bowling alley that they don’t have to pay for,” Nickelson said.
Pittsburg resident Christina Hess, went to one of the Fostering Connections craft events for foster moms in January. She visited with other foster moms while crafting wooden signs which they took home for free to hang on their walls.
“My favorite part about it is at least once a month I get a break from being a mom for a little bit,” she said. “It’s hard having five kids and one in the foster system.
“It’s fun to hang out with other moms and see what going on, and get a break and feel like I’m not alone.”
Two years later the ministry is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving foster families across Crawford County. In the near future, Nickelson said she would like to expand to Cherokee County.
“These families should be supported and wrapped around and encouraged,” Nickelson said. “It’s a tough gig, raising your own children is really challenging and then you throw another two or three who have had traumatic experiences in their background to the mix of raising your own is really tough.
“It’s such an honorable thing to do.”
Although agencies are working to provide the services the children and foster families need, there may be a few gaps which Fostering Connections may be able to fill, Nickelson said.
“They are working hard making sure children have places to go,” she said.
Children often leave the home with nothing.
Nickelson and her husband Tom learned this first-hand after becoming a Police Protective Custody family, a “safe home” where children can go between the time they are pulled from the home by police, to the time they are placed in foster care.
Typically, it’s a short-term three to six-day stay.
“Having extras in our home ... has been one of the hardest at times, but most rewarding, life-changing things we have ever done,” Nickelson said. “We all know how tough parenting your own biological kids can be sometimes. Imagine adding to that.
“That is why these foster families that are doing it long-term need our support.”
Through Fostering Connections, Nickelson began creating and collecting VIP boxes. The boxes are filled with age-appropriate essential items and a few extra items which the child might enjoy.
The boxes are then taken to local agencies, Kansas Department for Children and Families, KVC Health Systems, TFI Family Services and the police department.
“When the child comes into care they can immediately have something to entertain them and have something that is theirs — it’s their belongings,” Nickelson said. “Although the VIP Boxes and the family and mom’s day out events may help families, it is the foster families who really help the children get through the traumatic experience of being taken away from their family.
“Certainly, some children adapt and adjust quicker than others, but no doubt, being taken from your family is trauma.
“When a foster family is able to wrap around them, and love them and encourage them and treat them as one as their own and give them fun activities and provide a healthy environment, healing can begin much quicker.”
Nickelson’s family are of Christian faith and believe it is their calling to help foster children and orphans.
“It’s not just their responsibility to help hurting children, but as Christians, it’s all of ours,” Nickelson said. “Fostering is hard, but our God is powerful.
“The more people that get involved, the more children’s lives are being changed. Hearts are healing, futures are brightening."
People can learn more about Fostering Connections by contacting Lacy Nickelson at 620-704-4736 or fosteringconnectionsks@gmail.com.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.