Jennie and Lynn Owens
Hi! Thanks for visiting Foreverhomes.org. I’m Lynn Owens, one of the Founder’s of Forever Homes. Jennie is frenetically working on her book, Dancing with a Porcupine (which interestingly has had about 6 titles in the years Forever Homes has existed), so it is my pleasure to let you know a little bit about the history of Forever Homes.
Let’s start from the very beginning
I suppose the history of Forever Homes really starts as the history of us. We each had defining moments through our lives which combined with increasing needs in the world along with a scarcity of services available which all collided together to create – Forever Homes. If you’d like to skip the childhood reminiscing, skip ahead to the next session, otherwise let’s pull put the photo album and get to work.
I can point to two non-earth shattering moments in my childhood that either shaped my thinking, or revealed a passion God had put in my heart when he made me. In my teen years I worked for and was mentored by Conward and Bernadean Farris. I was at their house one summer day hanging out with them in their back yard. Bernadean had recently returned from a birthday celebration for her father. I know it must have been a big celebration – for a ripe age, because I thought she was old at the time and was shocked when I learned she still had parents kicking around the planet. In this big celebration her son, Michael Farris had written a birthday letter to his grandfather that she let me read. In the letter Michael honored his grandfather for his investment in the lives of his many children. He talked of how his Grandfather, through solid, consistent parenting, had raised children of character. Through his words of affirmation I was both moved and convinced that one of the greatest things I would do with my life would be to become a father. I fell in love with the idea investing my life in the lives of children.
On to my college years for seemingly inconsequential moment number 2. Ray Badgero was my sociology professor. It was a short summer course. 3 weeks long, but some of his words changed my life. He told stories of the 7 or 8 kids he had adopted. They came to his family in a variety of ways, birth, foster, and international adoption. I don’t remember the stories but I remember EXACTLY what he said, “We keep our foster license up to date, because we never know when God is going to bring a child in need to our attention and we want to be able to act on it right away.” That resonated in my should. I knew, right then, that I wanted to be someone who would be able to help children who were victims, unable to help themselves and in need of someone who cared.
Jennie, on the other hand, was just born wanting to help orphans. She didn’t dream of growing up to be a princess or a ballerina. Her mother tells us that she dreamed of growing up to run an orphanage.
Honing The Passion
There are infinite ways to help kids. Jennie and I tried many of them. Although we would not meet for many years, our second jobs out of college were both in group care. Jennie worked with and invested in young girls at Miller Home in Lynchburg, VA, while I lived with and invested in teen boys at Rawhide Boys Ranch in Wisconsin for 5 years. Occasionally we’d try something new. We were both on staff in youth ministry and children’s ministry. Jennie even spent a few years working at Life Promotions supporting their work in speaking to youth in schools around the world and putting on the Midwest’s BEST Christian music festivals. But we could not pursue raising children as part of our family because we had not yet met each other.
Finally when we were both 32, we met. I fell in love our second date (which she still thinks was our first date, but I sort of tricked her into the first date, so from her perspective….maybe it was). Anyway, she took a little longer, but not much, because 3 months after we met we were engaged and 6 months after that we were married.
Being both passionately committed to mentoring children and youth, we decided to invite every kid we had ever worked with to our wedding. We were 32, we had waited for each other, and we wanted to share the beauty of our love and faithfulness to each other as a model of hope to all those kids we had loved. A lot of them took us up on the deal because there were 800 of them and their families at our wedding.
These years were awesome. We loved being a part of mentoring all the kids that were a part of our lives. But we felt something still missing. The kids in residential care did well while in care, but upon returning to challenging circumstances almost always regressed in progress. The kids in the churches mostly had pretty good families and it was easy to believe that they would have done well with or without our input.
After being married for just one year the itch to return to residential care was strong. We moved from Wisconsin to Florida to assist with the opening of a new emergency shelter. It was part of a small campus of group homes. In a very short time we learned a ton from the really amazing house parents and therapists there. It was in the shelter that our eyes opened to the real plight of abused and neglected kids. We comforted children with scars from bike chains on their backs, and bruises from domestic violence on their minds. Our hearts were crushed. We were happy to be a temporary safe place for our kids, but we wanted to do more. We witnessed many of these kids return to unsafe situations when the state was out of options. We witnessed children being placed for adoption, only to have them return to group care when the pre-adoptive parents could not handle the behavior of their confused, angry and hurting children.
We wanted a better solution for these kids than long term group care and failed adoptions. We knew that if they aged out before finding a permanent family that their prognosis was grim. We figured that if parents were better prepared and better supported that not only would they be willing to adopt and not give up, but they would be willing to do it over and over. We knew the best hope these kids had was knowledgable, well supported parents who would be committed to them long after their 18th birthday.
We started by example. The second boy to come live in our shelter, and his sister who lived in a group home across the street became our first two children through adoption. We left the shelter and moved our kids to Washington to be near my family, the largest support network we had.
We spent months – full time – researching the problem and formulating the solution. I am pretty sure that Jennie read every research article regarding the subject and we consumed every book ever written regarding foster care, adoption and trauma. We were heavily influenced by the Hope Meadows project and had initially hoped to replicate that model in Washington. While we prepared for a campus of homes to help kids, we founded Forever Homes and quickly started a support group for adoptive parents. We spent time learning the resources of our new hometown.
We also spent a significant amount of time helping our children heal and attach. 6 months after bringing them home we adopted a third child — a 10 year old boy. We thought we were ready for anything. With a decade of child and youth work behind us and the library of congress stuffed into our brains we were sure we would kick butt and take names (not literally, please don’t call CPS, we don’t want to be investigated – again). We were wrong. It was still exhausting work. Moving from group care in a well supported environment with days off to three older children adopted from foster care about the same time is tantamount to ski jumping from a helicopter after training for a morning on the bunny hill.
We moved from academic research into real-life-i-am-drowning-won’t-someone-please-come-and-help-us-do-this-good-thing research. The training provided during the adoption process was underwhelming and the agencies helping families like ours were no help at all. Therapists or doctors who understood how to help – nope. Respite providers – nope.
Eventually over the course of a few years, we trained our own respite providers and we drove 2 hours each way for a therapist that was finally a help. Our real life research showed us that there were four GREAT needs in our area to help adoptive families be successful.
- Better Training
- Therapists who are experts in this field
- Respite services
- People who understand me and think I am not crazy.
Yeah they were angels
We began training at local adoption conferences and DSHS foster care giver conferences. I tried to find therapists who would get special training and encouraged students to specialize without great luck, so I went to Graduate School and got my license to practice. I spend a couple years of that time studying with Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the most respected researches on helping children with complex trauma, and veteran therapist and author Deborah Gray. I’ve since gathered other mental heath professionals together to help the foster adopt community and founded a clinic, Canyon Lakes Family Counseling Center, to help foster and adoptive families. This joint venture between Canyon Lakes Family Counseling and Forever Homes has allowed hundreds of kids who would not have otherwise had access to high quality specialty care to receive mental health services. Forever Homes provided the funds and supervision for training and certifications, while Canyon Lakes agrees to see children at reduced or no cost. Foster and adopt families often pay nothing for their services.
Jennie trains foster parents in the state mandated training courses now. She also speaks and trains while coaching mom’s on parenting and self care issues. She also leads the local adoption support group along with some amazing moms. The proceeds from her book, Dancing with a Porcupine go directly to supporting the work we do through Forever Homes.
Our most exciting growth starting in 2015 has been with Rejuvenate Retreat. Jennie and an amazing group of moms have been traveling across the country putting on Retreats to pamper and nurture exhausted moms – to give them the energy to keep going on in their challenging task. These are not just weekend retreats. They start with months before during registration where we connect moms in social networks to get them talking about their exciting weekend away together. Then they bond together by spending a weekend with the first people they’ve met since having children who think they are not crazy or horrible moms. They then stay connected and support each other in their communities and online.
While there are many great training options for adoptive and foster parents these days (if you haven’t already tried them check our favorites out – Empowered to Connect – Confessions of an Adoptive Parent – The Refresh Conference ) we have created Potty Break, a bit of an irreverent 3 minute training and encouragement video designed for your toilet time.
We have done this amazing work in South East Washington as an entirely volunteer organization. That right, no one has ever taken a salary.
Forever Homes is morphing from a local organization to a National one as we have learned of many regions that lack the resources that we can provide. Here are our future goals:
- Increase the number of Rejuvenate Retreat Locations. Our strategy is to create supportive groups of moms across the world. We will launch a Rejuvenate retreat in any community where there is a small group of mom’s willing to join us in the task. As these mom’s bind together, we identify the local resources available to adoptive and foster parents so that we can target growth area for our next goal:
- Increase partnerships with or start mental health clinics with an adoption specialty in every community that lacks one. That is a big goal, but a necessary one. When we travel the country we hear, more often than not, that our lack of community expertise is not at all rare. We aim to change that. We are currently working to refine a reproducible training and supervision model that is fiscally sound.
If you’d like to join with us in our lofty goals, we welcome your partnership. you can:
- Request a Rejuvenate Retreat in your area. We need boots on the ground in the region before we will commit to a region. If that is you, lets talk
- Request training or certification for yourself, as a medical provider or mental health professional, and we will assist you in getting started in this area of specialty.
- Donate to the Rejuvenate Retreat Scholarship fund so that every mom can attend this rejuvenating experience.
- Donate to our general fund so that we can continue to train new providers, provide needed low cost mental health services to children, and expand our clinical reach to every community.
Jennie and Lynn Owens