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Heart Gallery Big Bend is focused on finding forever homes for older foster kids

Dina Ivory

The need for more families willing to give kids from troubled circumstances a better life is growing. That need is especially acute when it comes to older children.
Heart Gallery Big Bend came to be in the summer of 2008. The organization, which seeks to move children from foster care into permanent family settings, is totally run by volunteers. One of these is its Secretary Cassie Branch.

“We try to help kids who have been in the dependency system. They are free and clear for adoption. Their parental rights have been terminated and we work to help get them out in the community to find a forever family for them.”

And Branch isn’t just a volunteer. She takes the issue of adoption seriously and personally.

“My husband and I have adopted 4 kids, one of which was a teenager off of the Heart Gallery. And we are working to adopt our 5th kid who is off of the Heart Gallery and is 4 years old. Three of our kids that we adopted were actually foster placements in our home before we adopted them.”

If you log onto the Heart Gallery Big Bend web site, you’ll see the smiling faces of 25 kids who are presently looking for adoptive families. And you can’t help but notice that, for the most part, these are kids above the age of 10. Some are even of middle and early high school age. Branch said it’s typically these kids who are least likely to be adopted.

“It’s very difficult. A lot of people are looking for (young) kids, babies and these are not the norm. Normally we are seeing kiddos who linger in foster care because a forever family is not found due to the age they are. They then age out of foster care with no forever family.”

It's a sad circumstance that Branch said puts those kids at a severe disadvantage as they face adult life without a caring support system to help them on their way. Branch admits adopting an older child has its challenges, but those who take up the challenge are by no means super-humans.

“And it really doesn’t take anybody special. It takes somebody who can take a child into their home, meet their needs on every level, and can create a connection with them and love them for the rest of their life. And just create a support system for them as well as though they’re your child.”

It is a big commitment. But Branch said the program needs other kinds of help as well.

“You can volunteer with the Heart Gallery to be a board member, or you can volunteer at functions. We have different committees so you can choose what you’re interested in. If you want to work one-on-one with the kids, we have a photography committee and do events with them. We have fund-raising and then we have advocacy, So that way we can advocate for the kids on the Heart Gallery.”

There’s lots to be done and Cassie Branch said it’s easy to learn more.

“If you’re interested in volunteering, or finding out more about the Heart Gallery, go to our web site: heartgallerybigbend.org.”

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories. here.