About 350 foster and adopted children converged at a South Hill church Saturday afternoon to celebrate Christmas and meet their favorite Star Wars characters.
The party, held at Bethany Baptist Church, was sponsored by Youth for Christ’s Foster Program, with hundreds of hours of volunteer labor donated by members of Puyallup’s Whitewater Church.
It is the second consecutive year the local church sponsored the event.
The Whitewater congregation took advantage of last week’s release of the most recent “Star Wars” movie. The children were greeted by storm troopers, Darth Vader, R2D2, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca. Decorations in the church focused on the movie’s theme, while the guests had a wide variety of entertainment options. The children could shoot at images of storm troopers using Nerf toys, have their hair styled and get a temporary tattoo at the “R2DS Hair Do and Tattoo” boutique. Other games were available, including a ring toss, a bean bag toss, and an area to play with toy light sabers.
But that was not all that captured the children’s attention. Snow was brought in by volunteers, and partygoers could sled down a short hill in the church’s parking lot. The guests were also able to greet firefighters from Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, play on a couple of bouncy toys, hang out in a teen room designed to look like the Star Wars’ cantina, eat a wide variety of food and snacks, and say hello to Santa Claus. Those needing some quiet time could draw, color, or watch cartoons in a “Sensory Room,” away from the loud noises and busyness of the rest of the party.
The point of the Christmas party was to make sure the children knew they were special, organizers said.
“I want to see the foster and adopted children leave this party feeling like they are loved,” Whitewater Pastor George Bedlion told the volunteers minutes before the party started. “Our job is to make them feel special.”
It is a very real tangible way to say, ‘We understand you are in a difficult place or have gone through some difficult things.’
Jeff Clare, the church’s Foster Care director, said the Christmas season can be very difficult for foster children.
“It is a family time,” he said. “It reminds them that they are not with their family. This party in particular is really important because it demonstrates to them in a real tangible way the support of people around them, that people love them and care for them.
“It is a very real tangible way to say, ‘We understand you are in a difficult place or have gone through some difficult things. We are behind you. We support you’.”
Whitewater volunteer Kat Lawton said it was an important event.
“I love being part of a community that extends its hands out to those in need,” she said. “I want an opportunity to see the kiddos connect with people who love them despite never meeting them. What makes this event special is the care and selflessness people show. I want to see the kids overwhelmingly loved.”
Preparations for the event started months ago and culminated in a gift-wrapping and decorating party Friday night. The volunteers munched on 60 pizzas while they wrapped more than 3,000 donated gifts and prepared the church for the estimated 600 guests. In addition to the presents, the church collected diapers, toddler drinking cups, clothing, gift cards, and other materials to help YFC provide supplies to foster families for the coming year.
Gifts not distributed at the party will be used in other YFC ministries.
The church also provided pajamas and diapers to the foster families at the close of the party.
The event concluded with a program that culminated in a mass opening of gifts purchased specifically for each individual child.
Nine-year-old Kaitlyn, who has now attended her eighth party, became a foster child when she was 2 years old. A couple of years later she was adopted by a Bonney Lake family that has taken care of more than 60 foster children.
She is a big fan of the Christmas parties, and especially enjoys the bouncy toys and seeing the many friends she made while in foster care.
“I like adventures,” she said with a twinkle in her eye while pointing to the cast on her left arm.
She loves her adopted family, but was able to remember the time with her natural mother.
“My (natural) mom didn’t really have somewhere to live,” she explained, “so when she had me my dad left us. She did not have much money and she went to jail a lot.”
Kaitlyn, who participates in grief counseling to help her work through the losses she has suffered over the years, said she has not met her father, but hopes to as she gets older. She is able to visit with her natural mother once a year.
She speaks fondly of the YFC staff and organization.
“They put me into an awesome family,” the fourth-grader said. “I have a lot of memories meeting with my (birth) mom here (at the YFC Tacoma facility). I remember the room we had our visits in.”
Kaitlyn has a 4-year-old sister who was adopted by a different family. The younger sister stayed with Kaitlyn and her adopted family for the first year of her life.
Jeremiah, 11, and Markus, 14, were both adopted about a year ago by Carlos Rivera, a Lakewood Army veteran who served three tours in the Middle East. The boys told similar stories about their birth parents, although their state foster care experiences differ.
Youth For Christ’s mission is to provide faith-based holistic services to children and families through foster care.
“My house was super nasty,” Jeremiah recalled. “I had an infection called MRSA. The house was full of garbage everywhere.”
“My parents were also drug addicts,” the sixth-grader added, “and my mom was an alcoholic.”
Markus, who was adopted in October 2014, said he was confused when the police took him away from his house.
“My mom was doing drugs and I wouldn’t go to school often,” the ninth-grader said. “The police came to take me away and I did not know what I did wrong.”
He said his father is in jail, and his mom “occasionally” is in jail.
Markus said he felt abandoned in foster care.
“I felt like I wasn’t wanted,” he explained, “cause I kept moving. Every month I lived in a different house.”
However, Jeremiah, who was adopted last January, said he did not mind foster care because it at least gave him a clean house in which to live.
According to the organization’s website, the Youth For Christ’s mission is to provide faith-based holistic services to children and families through foster care. The YFC program recruits, trains, certifies, and supports Christian foster families.