Gracious Heart Resource Family Agency opened its doors in 2020 to meet the demand for youth requiring foster homes in the San Gorgonio Pass area, Hemet Valley, and the western Low Desert. Based in Banning, the organization has a small staff and works to connect with families in the region, keeping children in local homes.

Gracious Heart places children needing temporary and permanent homes, working to ensure they thrive, have stability and get to be children. This starts with giving families all the resources they need including access to an agency social worker 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The agency also provides advocacy and ongoing education for families including monthly in-home training. Families that need additional support to help their foster youth are connected to resources including The Heart Matters Mental Health Center. The agency also throws memorable events for their children when funding allows.

“We want our youth to have more than the minimum,” Lia Andrews, Gracious Heart’s administrator said. “We want them to know that they are special even in foster care.”

Gracious Heart strives to provide experiences above and beyond what they are expected to have in a foster home, Andrews said. The agency takes foster youth to sporting events and theme parks as well as provides age-appropriate activities for teens and transitional-aged youth.

Foster youth often do not have a collection of memorable events and pivotal moments in their lives that they can look back on as adults, according to Andrews and agency helps to create these. The agency encourages families to create “life books” for their children, adding photos of events and special moments like their first trip to the dentist or their first pony ride. The goal is to make sure the children make these memories and fill up their books.

Gracious Heart receives funding for a baseline level of care for children, but everything extra comes out of the agency’s budget. The organization is always looking for grants, donors and community partnerships to help their kids experience an enriched childhood. Recently, Gracious Heart received a Community Impact Fund Grant through the Inland Empire Community Foundation and continues to seek support for their work.

The agency is always looking for more families who are willing to embrace a child that needs a home and make them a part of their family. Foster families who request information through the organization’s website are contacted by staff who explain more about the program. If the family remains interested, they are given an orientation to learn about the process of getting approved and the expectations of fostering. Once the family has finished the evaluation process and training, then their application is submitted to the county for approval. Gracious Heart places children with the families that are the best match for them.

“There are kids every night sleeping in welcome centers,” Andrews said. “One more available bed is one less night a child has to sleep in an office.”

Children often form life-long connections with their foster families even when they return to their biological homes, according to Andrews. The organization has one foster mother who was made the godmother of the child once the family was reunited. When children cannot be reunited with their biological families, it is not uncommon for their foster parents to become their legal guardians or adopt them. Gracious Heart tries to create relationships that support youth for a lifetime.

“Call us and find out how you can help,” Andrews said. “No matter how many times we certify a parent and get them approved there are still 20 more kids that need a bed.”

More information: https://www.graciousheartrfa.org/ or 951-344-5240

This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, September 2022.

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