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Sweet Gathering in the Sunshine

Mentors, foster children and other youth learn about bees; county needs more foster families, mentors.

Dan Price of Reston, founder of Sweet Virginia Honey with Dante, a young man who is being mentored by volunteers with Fairfax Families4Kids.

Dan Price of Reston, founder of Sweet Virginia Honey with Dante, a young man who is being mentored by volunteers with Fairfax Families4Kids. Photo by Joan Brady

Get Involved: Become a Foster Parent

There is a shortage of foster parents in Fairfax County, and as a result, about 40 percent of the 300 or so children are placed in foster care too far away to stay in the same schools and maintain their existing connections.

Fairfax County holds a monthly orientation session to find out more about being a foster parent; the next meeting is Nov. 18.

To find out more, call 703-324-7639, TTY: 703-222-9452, or attend an orientation meeting. See visit http://www.fairfa...

Several foster children in Fairfax County are waiting, hoping to be adopted. You can see photos and descriptions at http://www.fairfa...

Get Involved: Become a Mentor

Fairfax Families4Kids coordinates group and individual mentoring for young people 12 to 21, many currently living in foster care. Opportunities to spend quality time in the community engaged in regularly scheduled, structured group activities and community service projects. Fairfax Families4Kids gives individual adults and groups an important role to play in helping youth and teens find permanent families, and lasting connections with caring, supportive adults. There are many upcoming events. Call coordinator Beverly J. Howard, Ph.D., at 703-324-7518 or e-mail at beverly.howard@fa...

Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia is a Reston nonprofit founded by Dan Price that advocates for honey bees, and provides students a hands-on experiences in world of honey bees and the art and science of beekeeping and honey bee sustainability.

In addition to providing educational opportunities to groups like Fairfax Families4Kids, Sweet Virginia is partnering with George Mason University’s New Century College to address the collapsing honey bee population through education and by establishing apiaries. GMU’s recent course on beekeeping and sustainability was full and had a waiting list of more than 100. Sweet Virginia is raising money through indie-gogo at indiegogo.com/projects/hivestarter to build more apiaries, expand bee sustainability curriculum into public schools and expand George Mason’s university level training to develop more professional beekeepers.

Sweet Virginia Foundation, 1760 Reston Pkwy, Reston, VA 20190. www.sweetvirginia...

On a beautiful day in late summer, a group of young people of varied backgrounds, including some youth in foster care, gathered with their adult mentors under the ongoing auspices of Fairfax Families4Kids on a field trip into the countryside.

Their destination was a farm that is home to bee hives and sunflower fields owned by Dan Price.

Price first got involved with Fairfax Families4Kids several years ago when he contacted advocate Joan Brady of Great Falls after reading about the potential demise of the program due to budget cuts.

Price offered to donate money to help keep the program that matches older foster children with adult mentors going. He funded a trip for the group to go to New York to see the Lion King a few years ago, and has kept in touch since. He was impressed with the program and the long-term connections it created for young people who, by definition, had been through some very tough times.

Several weeks ago, the group visited his farm to see how honey is made.

"It’s a very nice program, the mentors are very kind hearted," Price said. "The kids are just terrific, teenagers, they were all just very nice people."

ON AVERAGE there are about 300 foster children in Fairfax County during any given month, about one-third of them between 12 and 17.

Because of a shortage of foster families in Fairfax County, about 40 percent of foster children are placed outside of the county, some as far away as Richmond and beyond. This makes it even more difficult for them to maintain any sense of community, and makes it impossible for them to continue in the same schools.

Even within Fairfax County, there aren’t enough foster families to ensure that children won’t be living an hour away from their homes and schools because the county is so large.

"Removing a child from the home is used as a last resort – whenever possible we try to provide services that allow children to remain with their families or at least to be placed with relatives," said Amy Carlini, communications director for Fairfax County Department of Family Services. "Events leading up to removal are often traumatic, as is being placed with a family the child doesn’t know. If the foster family lives far away from the child’s original home, it can compound the disruption, making it challenging to remain in contact with friends and relatives, continue with after-school activities and more."

Foster children who reach the age of 18 without being adopted or reunited with relatives is another crisis of foster care in Fairfax County. Last year, 49 foster children in Fairfax County "aged out" of foster care at age 18 because they were not able to return to their families or be placed with relatives, and the county was not able to find adoptive families for them.

The stakes are high. A 2010 study at the University of Chicago found that only about 6 percent of former foster children aged 23 or 24 had graduated from college with either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. Several surveys in other parts of the country show that between 18 and 40 percent of former foster children have been incarcerated for at least one night as adults.

IT’S CRITICAL to increase quality foster care where children and youth can stay connected to support communities, to have long-term mentors for foster youth and to find adoptive families for the children and youth waiting to be adopted.

Mentors can provide a window for foster children and youth to a life beyond foster care.

"They need a connection with a caring adult," said Beverly Howard, coordinator of Fairfax Families4Kids and also an adoptive parent. The organization sets twice monthly up group activities for mentors, prospective mentors and foster children, including sports, visits to places like the Sweet Virginia apiary, community service projects like assembling back packs for school children in Haiti and many others. This group mentoring gives adult volunteers and foster children a chance to get to know each other. This arrangement has led to many long-term mentoring relationships and also quite a few adoptions.