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Mar 25, 2024Mar 25, 2024

By: John Kubal, The Brookings Register

Updated: 14 hours ago / Posted Aug 31, 2023

BROOKINGS — Foster families provide a valuable service in South Dakota. Heather Rogers recognizes that. And she also recognizes that often times foster families themselves need support. Enter “Building Our Families,” which started out in Milbank a couple of years before COVID.

“COVID, of course, paused all operations,” Rogers, who now lives in Sioux Falls, explained. “We reignited our board in 2021. I got invited to a board meeting and all of a sudden I was the president,” she said, laughing. “I think there was some ulterior motive there, but it’s been great. We’ve really expanded.

“Our core mission is to really support foster families. We want to keep them refreshed, we want to keep them working as foster families.” Included in that support are: “education of families to meet their physical, emotional, mental amnd spiritual needs.”

A piece of the formula for supporting foster families is spelled out in a concept that includes “Wrap Around Support,” that in action is seen in the acronym WRAP: Words of encouragement; Respite care; Acts of service; and Prayer. While prayer is part of the equation, there is no attachment to any particular church or denomination.

“In Ortonville (Minnesota) I had a family that was my WRAP family and I would make them a meal once a month,” Rogers explained. “We would watch the kids on a weekend if the parents were going out of town. It really helped relieve some pressure off them.”

“That was really the core of what we want to do,” she added. And she would like to see Building Our Families branch out. “There’s a huge need. There are a lot of foster families in Watertown and a lot of foster families in Brookings.” In the past month, Rogers has placed two volunteers with foster families in Brookings.

Rogers has also been active in CASA (court-appointed special advocate) for the past three years. “That really ties into the mission (of Building Our Families),” she explained. “I see all sides, of everything, of why we need to help foster families and the kids. Anybody that can just give those kids a tiny bit of love is huge. That’s mainly what they need, is just the extra attention. (There are) plenty of families we can hook you up with. The need is huge. The possibilities are endless as to what you can help with. There’s no limit on that. ”

Rogers is reaching out to let people know that Building Our Families is here, what it’s doing and to seek volunteers to match with foster families and give them support; the volunteers can in effect become foster parents for awhile themselves, if that is what the foster family they’re supporting wants.

Rogers has also worked for the volunteers in meeting requirement of the South Dakota Department of Social Services. “We go through proper channels. We get it all cleared. They go through a background check. They’re all vetted to be able to do this. It helps that we’ve got that on our side. We are cleared.

“Kids can be watched up to 72 hours; that’s our limit. Date-nights, weekends: No. 1 thing: people need a break.

“It all depends on what your comfort level is. And maybe the more you get to know the family that you’re assigned with, you can grow that relationship over time.”

Building Our Families is headquartered in Milbank. It’s incorporated in the State of South Dakota as a non-profit 501C3. “That will allow us to write some grants,” Rogers said.

At present there are six board members and all live in Milbank. That could change. Rogers would like to see one board member from each of the communities served. “The more we build those relationships in Brookings the more we’re likely to add a board member from Brookings,” she said. “Two foster families in Brookings are now being supported.”

The South Dakota Child Protection Services is the state agency that places children in foster homes; Building Our Families does not.

“We just come in later and say, ‘What do you need?’ Rogers explained, adding “Especially when they get those placements in the middle of the night.

“We’ve had a lot baby placements in our families up north. We have enough money to fund those requests.”

Private donations are presently funding Building Our families. “Valley Queen (Cheese Factory) out of Milbank has been a huge supporter of us as well,” Rogers said. “One of our board members is a foster parent and she works at Valley Queen. And three of our other board members work at Valley Queen. I think that is a cause near and dear to their hearts.”

Volunteers can care for children from birth to 18 years old. “Some of (the children) are brand-new babies that are coming into (our) care.”

When it comes to volunteering, Rogers leads by example. She has two children of her own, 4 and 7 years old. And she recently “took three kids for a weekend while their foster parents were on vacation out of state. I took a 7-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old on top of my own two kids. It was a little crazy.”

When she and her husband take in foster kids, she always ensures three things: “attention, love and usually food. When they come to my house they always get chocolate milk and orange juice, things I think they usually just don’t get, maybe, things they love to have.”

While Rogers can provide volunteers a laundry list of ways to support foster families, she notes one item high on the list are trauma weighted blankets. “We have two volunteers in Milbank who sew us heavy weighted blankets,” Rogers explained. “Scientific evidence has proven that those blankets bring down anxiety. We pay for the materials. And the kids get to keep the blankets — forever.”

Also highly valued are brand-new “Suitcases for Love.” “Often when (kids) come into care, they have a garbage bag; that’s all their belongings. They can put their things in (a suitcase) and feel a little bit more normal.”

Building Our Families also provides training sessions and information: “Every year foster parents have to have 12 hours of training,” Rogers explained.

“I put everything into CASA and (Building Our Families),” Rogers said of what is now a full-time vocation. “I 120-percent believe that I have the ability to help. I am lucky enough that my husband lets me stay home with my kids. So why not fill my time with this?”

Anyone interested in Building Our Families can contact Rogers at: Text@; call 605-590-0285; or email [email protected].

Contact John Kubal at [email protected].

People need a breakLeading by example