BYU graduate students Hannah Barnes and Katie Hart are reaching out to local foster families through their new Y-serve program, Foster Love. The program, set to launch this fall, will host weekly after-school activities for foster children and children with foster siblings.
“It’s the first program of its kind at BYU,” said Barnes, creator and executive director of Foster Love.
The kids will meet on campus with program directors and BYU-certified volunteers every Wednesday from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Admission to the activities will be granted on a weekly basis.
“We’re making it very flexible for parents to be a part of this program,” Barnes said. Foster parents receiving notifications from the program can choose to sign up for any weeks they want without committing to the entire semester.
Hart said psychiatrists who have studied kids in foster care assisted in designing meaningful activities to help the kids have fun, learn social skills and build connections. As a former foster care child herself, Hart acknowledged the value such activities have for these kids.
“It would have been neat for me in that spot to come somewhere and have a little bit of an outlet,” she said. “My vision of (Foster Love) is giving foster kids a safe place where they can come and build connections and gain relationships with other people that are in similar situation and have an outlet to just have fun and be normal.”
Barnes also has connections to the foster care community. Her parents adopted her from China when she was 13 months old. Though she was adopted into a loving and supportive family, she recognized the hardships present in the foster and adopted community.
“I have a really special place in my heart for children who have been adopted or who are in foster care because I don’t have biological parents that I know,” Barnes said. “I feel like it’s my duty to give back because I’ve been so blessed with the family I have and the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Barnes volunteered with other organizations that advocate for foster kids and at-risk youth, including CASA and Together We Rise. She said her volunteer experiences were positive, but she realized there wasn’t a local organization where foster kids could connect and have fun. Together with Utah Foster Care, Barnes created the program and pitched it to Y-Serve.
After Barnes presented a budget, risk management plan and program details, the Dean of Student Life officially approved Foster Love last winter semester. Barnes connected with Hart on Linkedin while developing the program. Hart, who also has previous experience mentoring at-risk youth, accepted Barnes’s invitation to be a program director for Foster Love.
Barnes said that BYU has a unique community of volunteers and resources, making it the perfect community for Foster Love.
“I would like to increase BYU’s presence in the foster care community and get them more involved,” Barnes said, describing her vision for the program.
Foster Love is currently recruiting foster families to participate in this fall’s activities. As for Barnes and Hart, the two accounting masters students said they want to use their skills and careers to continue advocating for foster care and working with struggling children.