City Without Orphans
By Jordan Venema
Children are our future, but as valuable as they are, they are also vulnerable, and none more so than the orphans, those children without an advocate. So in February 2011, a Fresno couple began dreaming about what their city might look like if every child had a home.
“Nobody was doing the work that we saw was needed, and that’s why we started our organization. There was a gap,” says Whitney Bunker, director of City Without Orphans. “There were many gaps in our system.”
A Fresno Pacific University graduate with a degree in social work, Bunker first discovered those gaps while working with foster care agencies in the Central Valley, so she and husband Daniel founded the nonprofit “to bridge the gap between the foster care system, our local churches and the government.”
“We really focus on four areas that have the most need,” says Bunker, which she calls awareness, education, mobilization and support.
Most people, Bunker suggests, just aren’t aware that in Fresno there are 2,000 children in the foster care system, with another 900 in Tulare County. There’s also a misperception that kids are in the system because of bad behavior, “but really it’s no fault of their own.”
It’s a simple first step, but City is attempting to bring awareness to these children’s stories by speaking at churches, planning events and becoming an information resource.
The next step, says Bunker, is education. “Our communities are in dire need of good quality foster care families, and while about a third of families contemplate adoption, only 2 percent take action.”
To help interested families through an unfamiliar process, City began offering free, pre-orientation seminars on weekends. Call it an adoption workshop, to which the nonprofit also invites agencies to set up booths and connect with families.
In 2012, City held an adoption workshop at Radiant Church in Visalia, which had 65 people sign up.
“It was the biggest seminar we ever had at that point,” says Bunker. “About seven or eight families from that seminar have already fostered or are currently in the process of adopting.”
Bringing awareness and education to the community is but a primer to City’s more practical efforts to build bridges between families and resources.
Mobilization, as Bunker calls it, is City’s attempt to serve as liaison between government agencies and a community made up of families and businesses. That means organizing toy drives and clothing drives, events that complement the work of government agencies.
It’s about accessing the resources that others have and are willing to offer, says Bunker. They’ve had professional photographers “gift” their services to provide portraits to families.
Ultimately, though, Bunker says, “it’s not enough for us to recruit families for foster care and adoption. We have to invest in supporting those families.”
City organizes and offers “post-placement support,” which can range from post-adoption instruction courses to organized babysitting.
“We teach a nine-week course called the Power to Connect, which trains and gives extra tools to help parents with kids from trauma and hard backgrounds,” explains Bunker. “We also offer a free babysitting night for families.”
Thanks to a grant through Junior League, City can now provide babysitting bi-monthly instead of quarterly, which they rotate between regional churches. “The church will babysit their kids for three hours so they can go on a date, or just get some R&R. It’s helpful for their marriage and emotional wellbeing, and it’s just nice to give them a break,” says Bunker. “Plus, the kids have fun.”
For the Bunkers, City Without Orphans isn’t just a professional calling. The couple adopted their 5-year-old daughter in 2013, and fostered another child in 2015. The experience of becoming adoptive parents, says Bunker, “has allowed me to be better at serving these families that we work with.” And the work is important, Bunker says, because “this is our future generation.”
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