Online Arizona foster, adoption group makes first face-to-face meeting in Gilbert memorable - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Online Arizona foster, adoption group makes first face-to-face meeting in Gilbert memorable

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 8:03 am

When Gilbert resident Erin Brown brought her 7-year-old foster son to a pool party with other foster and adoptive families this summer, his response surprised her.

“He said on the way home it was really cool to see there were other kids like him,” Brown said. “It had never occurred to me that some of these kids don’t recognize they’re not the only ones.”

Through daily connections online, the nearly 500 members of the Arizona Foster and Adoptive Moms group lean on each other through social media for support and answers to difficult questions that arise daily. But many had not met in person.

Gilbert resident Brittany Hagensen said she started the online group nearly two years ago after she and her husband adopted their first child.

“I felt the need to connect with adoptive moms. I have a lot of friends who are moms, but none had adopted. ... I went onto Facebook looking for a group, something local so we could have events and stay connected. I could not find one. I thought maybe I should start one and I did,” she said this week.

It was Hagensen’s group that Queen Creek resident Tracy Werner discovered when she needed advice on how to parent one of her foster children.

“I was never part of a support group. I never had time to do that. I’m a single mom with 10 kids. There’s never time to go for coffee. … Someone added me to this group and the information shared was amazing,” Werner said.

Moms share information about how to help children sleep and ideas to help adopted children feel more connected in the family, Werner said. Members offer up cribs or car seats and even share the names of good therapists and counselors.

“I really got involved with the group, where I was logging on 10 times a day to get involved. I thought all these people are my friends. We talk every day. Some of us talk two to three times a day virtually,” she said.

Like Hagensen, Werner saw the need and the importance of connecting with her fellow moms.

So one day she threw out the idea of a pool party. Werner put the effort together, inviting hundreds of families to get together for one, big, face-to-face meeting the first week of August. More than 200 people showed up at Gilbert’s Mesquite Aquatic Center.

Chandler resident Shari Blomquist, who is now fostering an infant, brought her former foster son and his brothers.

“It was so much fun. It was a contained space to let the kids just be free and play with other kids they didn’t know. It was wonderful to get to meet some of the moms face to face,” she said.

Blomquist, who has been doing foster care for more than two years, said she discovered the group less than a year ago, and said the virtual support is appreciated by all.

“This kind of thing with Facebook allows us to bounce ideas off each other, to, for lack of a better word, commiserate when you’re going through a rough day. They’re going to understand … there’s always going to be somebody you can lean on, get advice from, you can get strollers from, the tangible and the intangible,” she said. “I would say in the last eight months, I’ve learned far more than in the previous two years combined.”

Debi Rice drove from the West Valley with her four adopted children and the 7-month-old twins in her care right now.

Rice has been doing foster care for 14 years, but had never been a part of anything like this, she said.

“I feel like they’re my sisters and I’d never met them,’” she said. “It was so uplifting. … That whole night it was so relaxing. I loved watching the kids play together. I didn’t have any worries. It was so worth the drive. I feel like for the first time in 14 years, I have people in my life who get it, but I didn’t even know that was missing.”

Werner already has plans for another event.

“I think it’s going to be bigger and bigger every year as we continue this trend,” she said.

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