The city of Acworth recently has made significant strides in becoming certified as a foster-friendly community. With a growing number of children needing loving homes, city officials have recognized the importance of supporting and encouraging foster families. Through various business partnerships, officials have taken concrete steps to make it easier for these families to access the resources they need to thrive.
Georgia Kids Belong (GKB) is credited with expanding foster-friendly initiatives in Acworth. The nonprofit’s mission is to ensure every foster family in Georgia has a safe and supportive foster-friendly community.
When GKB State Manager Rebecca Radicchi reached out to Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood about the city’s foster initiatives, he immediately responded with a pledge to make Acworth a Foster Friendly City.
“We have a reputation to be a loving and caring city,” Allegood said. “It was never about the certification; it was always about being a Foster Friendly City. This is who we are!”
GKB supports Acworth’s foster families by providing special offers through its Foster Friendly app, which rewards families with discounts for salons, service stations, recreational activities, restaurants, groceries and more.
Currently, 13 businesses in Acworth — including Acworth Parks and Recreation, Christian Brothers Automotive, Tanner Blake Salon, Pearl’s Spa, Red Top Brewhouse, KAMS Auto Service Center, Hotworx, Stretch Zone and Wells Fargo Advisors — offer discounts on the app as part of the city’s initiative.
City officials work with many community organizations, including a local church that hosts monthly birthday parties for children in foster care. GKB continues working with Allegood and asks all businesses to consider how they can help the foster community.
“Foster Friendly communities have businesses, faith communities and civic groups that say ‘yes’ to supporting their amazing friends and neighbors who provide kinship and foster care,” Radicchi said.
In the future, Radicchi hopes schools will become trauma-informed, lawyers will offer legal services to families dealing with the court system, and more day care centers, pediatricians and therapists will be willing to accept the state’s Childcare and Parent Services funding. GKB also wants businesses to become financial partners with nonprofits and car dealerships to offer discounts on larger vehicles for the increased family size.
“Mayor Allegood desires to serve the needs of all of Acworth’s populations across demographics,” Radicchi said. “Our foster care community is one that he felt was underserved.”
Certifying a city as foster-friendly enhances the well-being of children in foster care and raises the chances of families continuing to foster. Nearly half of foster parents stop within the first year, many citing a “lack of social support” as the reason, Radicchi said.
Allegood said partnering with GKB has opened the door for other cities in Georgia to get certified as Foster Friendly. As more cities become Foster Friendly, Radicchi expects to see increased retention and recruitment of foster parents.
The support in Acworth has significantly enhanced the experience of being a foster parent for Kellie Espino, who said she feels blessed and entirely supported by her community.
In 2016, Espino moved to Acworth from California and knew foster care and adoption was something she and her husband, Luis, wanted to consider. After having their first biological child, the couple set out to educate themselves on fostering and adopting children and quickly began training through the Cobb County Division of Family and Children Services to become certified foster parents. Then they received a call about twins who desperately needed an adoptive home.
“It was a whirlwind, but we made our way to Sacramento a week from that day to be there for the birth of our baby boys,” Espino said. “From there, our hearts only grew for those in need of a family.”
Seven years later, Espino said they have stepped into the good, bad and ugly of the foster care system. During this time, she and her husband have had 14 kids in both short- and long-term placement, and they adopted their daughter, Zuri, out of foster care in 2018.
While being a foster parent can come with many challenges, Espino said she’s had more rewarding experiences than she can count. One unforgettable experience occurred when she cared for a medically fragile little girl who was heavily exposed to drugs and was readmitted to the neonatal intensive care unit after being placed. She was with Espino’s family for six months and now is thriving in a beautiful home.
“Georgia Kids Belong and all that they do for foster families — from education to gifts, and now the Foster Friendly app blowing up all over the place — has been blessing us richly,” Espino said.
“And now our very own community of Acworth has chosen to wrap us in and become foster-friendly at the root.”
The organization bases its Foster Friendly certification on specific criteria — the percentage of businesses that offer family discounts, the recognition of foster families as local missionaries by local churches and the willingness of nonprofits and civic groups to serve foster families.
– Claire Becknell is a third-year journalism and emerging media student at Kennesaw State University.