Darlene was a foster parent earlier in her life. She had a son, but always felt like she had more to give.
We asked her what her foster care experience would have been like if she’d had a group of Love Box volunteers supporting her. Her response without hesitation: “amazing. Amazing - I was totally lost.”
The first placement - brothers - came from a household with addiction and neglect. The boys were so insecure about food that when she would go to say goodnight, Darlene would find pillows stuffed with food. It took a long time for them to learn that food would be there tomorrow.
They lived on five acres in a real country setting - they rode motorbikes, explored, and had a real childhood when they were with Darlene. Eventually, those boys went back to live with their mother. But Darlene would still get panicked phone calls “mom’s doing it again - can you come get us?”
Their time with Darlene was so powerful and pivotal, that when one of the boys was in his late 30s, he showed up at their house (where Darlene’s son now lives) hoping to reconnect with her family.
Darlene also served as a Guardian ad Litem for girls who had experienced sexual abuse in Snohomish County. It was excruciating at times, but it allowed her to advocate for kids in a whole new way as they navigated the foster care system and their trauma.
Sarah was an 11-year-old girl that Darlene worked with until she aged out of foster care. Sarah went through many foster homes, case workers, and would call Darlene at 2am after she’d run away again. Darlene was always there for her.
Twenty years later, Sarah tracked her down three states away and went to visit Darlene. And then again after Darlene had moved back to Washington. By then Sarah had a daughter and invited Darlene to her 6th birthday celebration. At this party, a woman approached Darlene and explained that she was Sarah’s best friend - they’d both been in foster care and had bonded. Every time the friend would tell Sarah a rough story from her childhood, Sarah would say “I just wish you could have had a Darlene in your life.”
Darlene was Sarah’s person - at times, the only person that was there for her. And that can make all the difference for a child. Knowing this is Darlene’s motivation now.
As a Love Box Leader, she wants to support caregivers so they aren’t overwhelmed and can be a child’s “someone” just like she has had the opportunity to be.
Consistent support from volunteers like Darlene keeps caregivers from becoming overwhelmed. A stable household means kids can stay in their community - their school, with their friends, near their parks, and all that is familiar.
Darlene’s Love Box group is currently matched with grandparents providing kinship care for two little girls. The couple had been retired and on a set income. They absolutely love the girls, but it’s been a struggle. The Love Box group has helped with projects around the house to make their lives easier and the environment safer for the kids.
Last month they coordinated a huge cleanup of the family’s property (after it had been overrun and trashed by squatters). The volunteers worked side-by-side with the family for hours, and a huge trailer hauled the debris away.
Darlene knew how much the dirty old carpets bothered the family - especially with the baby starting to crawl. Grandma Cathy didn’t want to put her down on that floor. Darlene took it upon herself to reach out to the flooring manager at Home Depot in Sequim.
“I told her that I am a volunteer from Olympic Angels and I explained that in this area we need foster homes and our goal as volunteers is to support families so they don’t feel overwhelmed and they stay foster homes. Because many foster kids get sent out of the area and then they’ve lost connections and school and friends and children’s lives being uprooted is really sad. I asked for a discount, but for some reason, what I said hit her really strongly, and she said ‘we’ll do better than that - how many square feet do they need?’”
Home Depot DONATED the flooring so the family and that baby girl have a clean, safe surface to live on.
Darlene says she volunteers for selfish reasons - that giving feels better to her than any gratitude the recipient feels.
Just like Sarah says - we wish all children, youth, and families experiencing foster care could have a Darlene in their lives.