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“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. ”

—Pablo Picasso
 
 
Mountain Foster Agency Seeks Families

Russell and Jill Neumen—the founders of the only foster care agency in the San Bernardino mountain communities—started as teachers in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westchester.

“We’ve always enjoyed working with children,” Russell said.

After the couple had two daughters, Jill became a stay-at-home-mom while Russell ventured into student counseling and administrative positions.

That’s when Russell began to understand the need for group homes to serve young boys who’d run away from home—often to escape abuse.

He and his wife started three group homes for boys ages 14 to 18, and they worked closely with the young people, taking them on trips to the beach, mountains and other locations many of them had never seen.

“We wanted to help them create memories and have a sense of normalcy,” Russell said.

As their daughters grew up, the couple realized they wanted to raise them somewhere besides the bustling streets of Los Angeles so they moved to the tranquil community of Lake Arrowhead.

Russell taught math at Rim of the World High School for a short time before becoming a social worker with the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services. He worked with children who had been removed from their parents’ homes for various reasons, and he also worked with parents to help them work on their issues and get their children back.

“The ultimate goal is always family reunification,” he said.

Some of the children Russell worked with suffered from physical or sexual abuse, but there was a common thread in nearly all of their lives—parents who abused drugs and alcohol.

Russell and Jill began working on forming a local foster agency after Russell realized there wasn’t a local foster agency serving the mountain communities. That meant many mountain children swept into the foster care system ended up in placements off the mountain.

“That can be a bit of a culture shock for a child who’s grown up here,” he said.

The nonprofit Arrowhead Foster Family Agency placed its first foster child in 2001. Today, it serves all of the mountain communities from Cedarpines Park to Big Bear as well as parts of the High Desert.

The agency trains foster parents and evaluates their homes and finances to ensure they are financially capable of supporting a foster child. Some foster parents are couples who can’t have children of their own; others are empty nesters who yearn to have children in their lives again.

“Every community has children that need foster homes, and somebody has to give back and help,” Russell said.

While family reunification is the primary goal for foster children, there are many instances where that’s not possible and the foster parents adopt the child or children placed in their care.

While adoption is good news for the foster children and their adoptive parents, it also reduces the number of foster families the Arrowhead Foster Family Agency can turn to for placement.

“When they adopt, they often stop being foster parents because they want normalcy for the children,” Russell said.

At one time the agency had 15 foster families to turn to in the mountain communities. Today, they have just five.

They recently began a campaign to find more mountain residents willing to become foster parents so mountain foster kids aren’t placed outside of the community they grew up in.

With the help of Brooke Braden—the daughter of a foster family that eventually adopted the children placed in their care—they created a website and Facebook page, and they also hosted a carnival-style event at Lakeside Church to educate residents about the foster care system. Brooke’s father, Mack, is the pastor at the church.

“I’ve already had several families who have respond to the campaign,” Russell said.

Visit www.arrowheadfosterfamilyagency.org or call (909) 336-1416 for more information about the Arrowhead Foster Family Agency.
 
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