By Jimmie Ferguson
Killeen Daily Herald
They stood solemnly Thursday as one black balloon sailed into the air, symbolizing the death of a local child in foster care the past year.
Shortly afterward, the more than 60 foster parents and Child Protective Services caseworkers responded with roaring applause as 500 blue balloons, representing each living foster child in Bell and Coryell counties, were released outside the Killeen Community Center.
The ceremony concluded the third annual Foster/Adopt Balloon Release, which paid tribute to foster parents and remembered the children in foster care who need safe and loving permanent homes.
"And they are our children," said David Woodberry, president of the Bell County Child Welfare Board. "Parents are responsible for creating our children, but we are responsible for helping them to be successful, because they will run society after we become old and no longer in charge. They will become the board members, running the schools, running the government and doing all those things that we presently do."
Woodberry recognized the local agencies that take care of children, including the Bell County Court Appointed Special Advocate, the CPS staff, Family Outreach, Guardian ad Litem, the Child Placement agencies, the Children's Advocacy Center, Community In Schools and foster families.
He introduced Judge Charles Van Orden of the Bell County Family Court, which evaluates the CPS cases, and Killeen Mayor Maureen Jouett.
Jouett and Van Orden praised the people who become foster parents.
"Other countries have it so much worse than our people have it, because of the willingness of those that I call are in the gates of hell a lot of times," said Jouett, noting at one time that she was a foster parent.
"That's because it's you who are in the foster care system. It's you who are our agencies that support the foster care system and bring the kids through the process ... really making everything different for those children," she said.
Van Orden said he feels humble when he sees people who deal with foster care children on a day-to-day basis and who devote their lives and energy to these children.
"I'm buoyed up by the spirit and love that I see in my court from the workers, from CASA, from this audience and from the Child Placement agencies. God bless you. They are such a dedicated groups of people," he said.
Chris Johnson, the Department of Family Protective Services Program director of foster and adopted children, had words of inspiration for the foster parents.
"Thank you for taking the time for recognizing the more than 19,000 children in the foster care system in Texas and the amazing people who care for them, the foster parents," Johnson said. "When children come to CPS, they are battered. They are abused. They are abandoned, and they are forgotten.
"This is ultimately the most traumatic point of their lives ... ," Johnson said. "So, when these children come to us, where do we take them to be mended and nurtured. Who else will open their doors and wait until that child gets there? Who are these people, and why should you be listening? Are they sane? Are they heroes? Are they lifesavers? They are simply people who want to make a positive difference in a child's life. They are foster parents."
Woodberry recognized Keith and Mercedes Brown of Killeen as the Foster Family of the Year.
The balloons are symbolic of the Blue Ribbon Child Abuse Prevention Campaign that began following the death of a very young child, said Melinda B. Greer, a faith-based recruiter for foster and adopted children.
In spring 1989, Bonnie Finney, a Virginia grandmother, received the devastating news that her grandson had died of injuries inflicted by his parents.
Finney "tied a blue ribbon to the antenna of her van as a way to remember the bruised and battered body of her grandson and to alert her community to the tragedy of child abuse," Greer said.
Her simple idea – to wear or display a blue ribbon to show support for child abuse prevention – was picked up by grassroots organizations across the county.
"The act of one grandmother thousands of miles away leads us to this day," Greer said. "Just think what could happen if each one of us helped to spread the word to a few of the people that we come in contact with each day.
"The groundswell of support that would follow just might be enough to move us toward the day when our homes and communities are completely safe," Greer said. "During the month of April and May, we ask that you wear a blue ribbon pin to show your support of child abuse prevention."
Contact Jimmie Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org