AUGUSTA — For two hours on Saturday, William R. Bradford II sat in a conference room at Penney Memorial Unity Baptist Church and learned how to be a volunteer to support promoting foster care in Maine.

“When you’ve lived it, there’s a whole different side of the story,” Bradford said. “You’ve got two different options every day when you wake up in the morning. You can pity yourself and go down that dark rabbit hole, or you can stand up and say, ‘I’ve lived it. I’ve got my experience. Now how can I go help?'”

At a training jointly sponsored by A Family for Me and Project Sparrow, Bradford joined about a dozen other people — some already foster parents — to learn how to help recruit people willing and able to serve as foster parents in Maine.

And to highlight National Foster Care Month, which takes place in May, volunteers were slated to place about 1,900 pinwheels on the church property as a visual reminder of the number of children in foster care in Maine.

Becky Beal, program supervisor of a Family for Me, said as of two months ago, the number of children in foster care in Maine went from about 1,600 to about 1,800, and the number fluctuates.

“It’s our job to recruit foster parents in the state of Maine.” Beal said.

Maine has about 1,400 licensed foster families or homes in the state, she said, but 30 percent of those homes are not taking placements right now.

Foster families that are willing to take infants, or siblings or older children are always needed, she said.

“There’s a real shortage of foster care families,” Scot Story, of Project Sparrow, said.

He and his wife have three children and have adopted four more from foster care. And even though the family is “full up,” in Story’s words, they still get calls to take in foster children.

Project Sparrow is the result of the Storys figuring out what else they could do to support children in foster care by reaching out through church communities. The organization provides support for foster families and foster children in part by providing clothing and supplies.

Project Sparrow also collaborates with A Family for Me in the Heart Gallery project, which produces photo portraits of children who are eligible for adoption.

For Bradford and the others who joined him, Saturday’s session was a chance to learn all the ways in which they could help — distributing and posting materials on how to become a foster parent, staffing tables at informational fairs, answering questions from people interested in foster care and sending them to the right place for more information.

Beals said typically, foster parents need 10 instances of exposure to information about foster care and four invitations before they take a step.

But those aren’t the only volunteers being sought. She said others, such as hairdressers and other service providers or businesses, also can be recruited, as well as people who can offer respite care.

Bradford, who traveled from Lincoln County for the training Saturday, went into foster care when he was 4 and was adopted when he was 6. Five years later, however, it didn’t work out and he bounced around a lot.

“It’s important for people in the mainstream community to know that kids in the foster care system need that permanent connection beyond age 18 to establish themselves and a good relationship for future generations of kids in the foster care system. Anything we can do to get the word out and spread that word is very beneficial.”

Bradford said he eventually established a relationship with people he now considers family, a foster family he knew before he went to college, and they are his permanent connection.

If Bradford needs to speak about his own experience, or offer comfort to someone in the system or to a parent, he’s willing to do that.

He said he’ll take it day by day and see how he can apply his skills apply.

“I’ve seen it all,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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