Raising money for foster children is in fashion

KINGSTON — It all started with the finding of a "wild-printed" rain coat.

In the years since the raincoat was found, thousands of dollars in proceeds raised by the Kitsap Style Fashion Show have been donated to the Kitsap Foster Care Association's (KFCA) D.R.E.A.M. program.

Four years ago Kingston residents Susan Rogers and Sally Heacock were shopping at Lucky Star Clothing. Heacock stumbled upon the catalyst coat prompting Rogers to turn to Lucky Star owner Stacy Patrick with a declaration.

"Susan turned to me and said, 'I want to do a fashion show with you,' and we decided it needed to benefit somebody," Patrick recalled. "Sally had gone through training to be a foster parent and explained how much the organization needed help, so we decided that was our fundraiser."

The fourth annual Kitsap Style Fashion Show is at 2 p.m. May 3 at Kingston High School. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults and may be purchased at Lucky Start.

This year the Kingston High Key Club and the Bremerton High School Fashion Marketing class are partnering to put on the show and raise money for KFCA.

Students from the two high schools will be modeling the outfits which align with the show's themes: adventure, express yourself, looking forward (business/career attire) and last dream.

Last year the Kitsap Style Fashion Show raised approximately $3,000 for D.R.E.A.M.; this year's goal is $5,000.

D.R.E.A.M. — Dreams become a Reality for Every child Allowing great Memories — is a program that grants "little wishes" to foster children throughout Kitsap. Once a year foster children can submit a D.R.E.A.M. request for a dollar amount up to $75. Requests can range from tuition for summer camp, swimming lessons, music lessons, sports team fees/equipment, bicycles, new clothing, graduation costs or prom expenses.

Some 350 to 450 children are in foster care throughout the county at any given time, and for these kids, receiving D.R.E.A.M. funding for a little treat is just like purchasing a winning lottery ticket.

"D.R.E.A.M. provides an opportunity to help normalize experiences for the kids by providing access to broader experiences and developing new skills," said Barb Geiger, area administrator with the Bremerton Division of Child and Family Services. "The fashion show is such a great thing they do."

Debra Converse is president of KFCA and has been a foster care parent for nine years. She's adopted two foster children and has helped several others — she stopped counting after 35.

Converse does it because she's always had a love for children and she knows there's a need. But it's not easy and both foster children and parents need support.

Converse has helped children who couldn't sleep through the night, who were fearful of bathing because of traumatic or abuse experiences that occurred while in the bathroom or who didn't like to have a diaper changed because they'd been hurt while being changed.

"You love them to death and you're sad when they leave," Converse said.

Converse said foster parents receive a minimal financial allotment to care for the children, which doesn't leave much for life's simple pleasures. She said sometimes the allotment is barely enough to cover diapers. Children only receive a $100 to $200 clothing voucher each year, and sometimes it's just one voucher, total.

"Often they come with nothing," Converse said, sharing a story about one child who only had a pair of shorts, slippers and a T-shirt. "... "No warm jacket and sometimes no speciality items — a blankie or a stuffed animal. Sometimes their shoes are a size too big or too small and that's what they have to wear."

The money raised by the fashion show helps immensely.

"Things like that really do help," Converse said. "It means a lot."

Aside from daily living support, Geiger said a major need in Kitsap's foster care system is more licensed homes and more resources. Homes throughout the county are needed, allowing children to be placed in a nearby neighborhood so they can still have access to coaches, teachers or friends.

"We need homes or families where siblings can be placed together. Frequently we end of separating siblings because of our resources," Geiger said. "Having those resources throughout the county is so critical. There have been four new applications for foster home licensing since the beginning of the year in Kitsap County. The limited availability of foster homes means that children may sometimes need to be placed out of our county."

For more information on the Kitsap Style Fashion show call (360) 297-6721.

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