‘How do you do it?” This is a question that foster mothers Shayna Landry and Amy LeJeune—as well as their fellow foster parents throughout Louisiana—receive on a nearly daily basis. How do you care for a stranger’s children? And further, how do you do so knowing they will leave you? For Landry and LeJeune, the answer is simple: with the support of one another.
The pair met in March of 2018 when they were connected through another foster mother. Both were running makeshift donation centers out of their homes with the goal of providing necessities to Livingston Parish’s growing number of foster children and families. Eager to move the clutter out of their homes and dreaming of a much larger operation, the two joined forces to establish The Foster Village, a dedicated donation center in Walker that caters to the needs of foster care.
“There is so much you don’t know when you have a child or multiple children dropped in your lap,” explains LeJeune. “I had never had a baby before, so when a 3-month-old and her brother were placed with me, I was blind to all the things I needed. My friends helped me survive.”
Landry and LeJeune’s goal is to fill the gap and allow families to not just survive, but thrive. By connecting foster parents with items like cribs, bunk beds, clothes and more, The Foster Village aims to allow more children to quickly find their way into safe and loving homes.
“We want to provide parents with anything they could need for that child,” says Landry, who was introduced to the foster world when she took in her now daughter, who was 14 at the time. “The biggest thing is we don’t want parents to have to run out to Walmart the night they are placed with a child. We want them to be at home bonding.”
Since The Foster Village’s opening in April of 2018, just a month after Landry and LeJeune’s initial meeting, it has seen overwhelming support from the community, with donations surpassing the number of volunteers available to sort through them. However, the material aspect of the organization was only the beginning.
“We have seen it become more of a community center,” notes LeJeune. “Kids come to play and parents come to hang out. It allows people to share stories and advice, and kids to know that there are others like them.”
The Foster Village has extended to hosting bimonthly birthday parties for foster children, as well as other innovative events like one to change children’s perception of the local police.
“Many of these kids have negative experiences with first responders,” explains LeJeune. “With the event, kids were able to interact with officers by trying on uniforms and other fun activities. But the best part was at the end when one of the officers revealed that he had been in foster care.”
Making these connections throughout the community is the cornerstone of the two women’s mission. Not only does it allow foster parents to lean on one another in often tough situations, but it also allows children to have life-changing experiences that affect their future for the better.
“Our goal is to break the cycle,” says Landry. “Kids that were in foster care are more likely to have their kids end up in the same situation. It’s our responsibility to step in and change that.”
For Christmas, The Foster Village is teaming up with Empower 225 for a “Christmas Joy Mission.” To make their holiday season extra special for the many local children currently up for adoption, the team asked each child to list three of their ultimate dream gifts. The organizations hope to enlist individuals, families and businesses to bring those dreams to life.
“For kids in foster care, having something of their own can really help to add normalcy to their lives,” explains Landry. “It’s a welcome distraction.”
Landry and LeJeune are also looking for people to give of their time. The Foster Village operates entirely through volunteer work to both sort through donations and keep the building open to shoppers. “There are so many avenues to make an impact on these children’s lives,” says Landry.
“What I always think is that I easily could have ended up in the same place as the biological parents of these foster children,” adds LeJeune. “It’s just someone struggling. Why wouldn’t we help?”
The Foster Village accepts donations at its Walker location every first Saturday of the month. However, in-demand items like beds are always accepted by emailing [email protected].