Virginia’s newly launched foster-friendly business program aims to solve foster care crisis

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The YMCA is paving the way for more community leaders to become “foster-friendly” in Virginia.

They are partnering with Virginia Fosters and Virginia’s Kids Belong to offer foster families a 50% discount at locations across the commonwealth.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and others joined the launch at the Northside YMCA. 

“The ability to just have a place of rest and have a place of fitness and everything else makes the idea of taking on the undertaking of foster work so much more possible,” said foster parent Mark Earley.

Earley and his wife, Mary, have been fostering in Richmond for about six months. They currently have a four-year-old son and foster an 18-month-old daughter, and got another call today.

“We got a call on the way here that a newborn needs somewhere to go tonight,” said Mary Earley.

Mark and Mary Earley

However, they said those challenges come with even bigger rewards.

“Your natural response is to just give that love that they need and that’s just, even in our short time fostering, been amazing,” she said.

The couple said YMCA becoming “foster-friendly” could help make the decision easier for other families thinking about fostering.

“We weren’t really able to get into this until we were able to see the practical vision of how it would work and see how we could balance real life with this sort of thing,” Mark Earley said. 

The “foster-friendly business” initiative is part of a bigger push for Virginia businesses to get involved in solving what some call a foster care crisis in the commonwealth.

“The government does a lot of good things well, but we can’t do everything, so we need cooperation and collaboration from the business community,” said Gov. Northam.

Virginia’s Kids Belong said there are several ways community leaders can support foster families.

Janet Kelly, president of the non-profit, said business leaders can do this by encouraging their own employees to foster, hiring kids out of foster care, raising awareness through their platforms or by offering an incentive for foster families, like the YMCA.

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