Over the past 17 years, 1,319 foster children and teenagers in Montgomery County have found healing through programs offered by local nonprofit Love Fosters Hope.
Love Fosters Hope works to restore trust and hope in local foster children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned through summer camps, mentorship and outreach programs.
Executive Director Cindy Mericle launched the organization in 2001 by offering the Royal Family Kids Camp, a coed summer camp for local foster children ages 7-11, which offers a child-to-adult ratio of 2-1.
“By the time the children come to our camps, many of them are very discouraged, have given up hope and don’t feel like they are valuable,” Mericle said. “At all of our camps, we focus on celebrating every person and encourage them to connect with their dreams. We want them to know they are a precious human being.”
As Love Fosters Hope children grew up, so did the organization’s programming. In 2007, the Teen Reach Adventure Camp launched for boys and girls ages 11-15, and a coed summer camp for foster children ages 16-19, Bridge, began in 2011.
But Love Fosters Hope does not revolve around the school calendar. In addition to summer camps, the organization also offers a program called The Net, which serves as a safe haven for former foster children once they age out of foster care.
“Every negative thing in our society—homelessness, prostitution, drug use, human trafficking, incarceration—our foster care system is just pouring kids into those statistics,” Mericle said. “Our program works with the kids so that they don’t fall through the cracks and become just another negative statistic.”
Although the national average for foster children who graduate high school by age 18 is 50 percent, Love Fosters Hope’s average is 100 percent.
In addition to summer camps and The Net, Love Fosters Hope also offers a mentorship program for foster care youth ages 12-19; an outreach program for children in Residential Treatment Center Outreach—to which foster children are sent for misbehaving; and an Emerging Leaders program, which seeks to empower teens in foster care to help improve the current system.
“I do believe that everybody in our community can do something to help because this is a national problem—this is a crisis for our country,” Mericle said. “Not everybody is equipped to be a foster parent or adopt a child, but there are many other ways to volunteer and get involved.”
Love Fosters Hope also collaborates with organizations, such as Child Protective Services, Court Appointed Special Advocates and Angel Reach, to host child abuse awareness events, holiday parties, high school graduation dinners and fundraising events throughout the year.
Former foster child Joshua White has participated in Love Fosters Hope programs since its inception when he was 6 years old. In one year, White said he was moved 11 times in the foster care system and attended four different high schools.
Now 22, White has started his own construction company, is still deeply involved with the organization and is in the process of getting his own license to become a foster parent.
“I don’t know where I would be without Love Fosters Hope,” White said. “They’re everything—they’re our parents, our insurance policy, our compass, our moral guidance … they’re the very walls inside of our house that keep us safe.”
Mericle said in the future she hopes to continue evolving Love Fosters Hope programming as needs change by replicating all of the camps, expanding the mentorship program and, eventually, having its own emergency rescue center.
“Some of the kids will say to me, ‘Before I came to camp, I didn’t know there was anybody in the world that really cared about me,’—that’s heartbreaking,” Mericle said. “We’re very intentional about them having a wonderful time, creating good memories and really grasping their self-worth. It’s just an incredible privilege to serve these kids.”