Angels' Arms is a 2007, 2010, 2017, 2019, and 2020 SOS Grantee which has locations in St. Louis and St. Charles. They are dedicated to providing and supporting loving homes for foster children by keeping brothers and sisters together within a nurturing family until a forever home is found. We interviewed Bess Wilfong, founder and executive director of Angels’ Arms, to learn more about how the organization continues to grow and evolve and serve the community with the help of our grants. We hope you are as inspired by Ms. Wilfong’s words as we are.
(Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.)
How would you describe your organization’s mission, in one or a few sentences?
Angels’ Arms is dedicated to providing and supporting loving homes for foster children by keeping brothers and sisters together within a nurturing family until their forever home is found.
We do this by providing no-cost homes and maintenance to qualified, experienced and caring foster parents, along with a myriad of other support.
Briefly discuss your organization’s history in the community.
In 2000, I saw a tremendous void in a foster care system that was using stopgap measures to place children in homes. As a foster parent myself, I relied on tremendous support from the community.
From there, our organization continued to expand, with growing support through individual and corporate donations, including donations of actual homes and financing for them. Today, Angels’ Arms has 13 homes throughout St. Louis County, St. Louis City, and St. Charles County. I wanted to replicate this for other foster parents, but on a much wider level. The first Angels’ Arms house opened in 2003, hosting four siblings and other children who called Angels’ Arms their family for several years.
What changes or new developments are in store for the coming year?
Angels’ Arms is exploring new areas of growth such as acquiring additional homes, going wider and deeper with our support, and/or expanding the Life Launch program that prepares foster youth for independence. This exploratory process will inform our next phase of growth set to begin in January 2020.
What are your current goals as an organization and/or in what areas would you like to grow?
More and more children are entering foster care. Angels’ Arms aims to open a 14th foster home in 2020, and strives to provide even more resources and opportunities to support this growing population in a nurturing family setting.
SOS funds are being used to support our Life Launch program and transitional living apartment, the Launch Pad. This includes support for our staffing costs, much needed renovations to the Launch Pad, and direct assistance to youth in our homes and those living independently.How will/has SOS funding assisted you in serving the community?
The Life Launch Program prepares foster youth for a successful transition to adulthood, through mentoring, life skills training, individualized support and community-building. Life Launch currently helps 30 individuals, ages 13 to 22, who are aging out of the foster system.
In 2017, Angels’ Arms also opened the Launch Pad, an apartment that can accommodate up to three young adults in need of transitional housing and support to prepare them for independence.
To date, Life Launch has served 36 youth and two young adults in the Launch Pad, providing increasingly customized services: one-on-one visits, life goals planning, career exploration, college visits, mentoring and living expenses and more.
What has changed for your organization since you first received SOS funding?
Since our first round of funding from SOS in 2007, when we had just three homes, Angels’ Arms has grown by ten homes!
Now, more than 550 children and youth can call Angels’ Arms family. Our staff has grown to six full-time positions, and our Life Launch program is in full swing preparing youth for independence.
Give us an example of someone who has been personally touched by your organization, perhaps in a life-changing way.
With no family and many needs, she was at a crossroads. Angels’ Arms stepped in to help, and the Launch Pad became her new home. Our organization made sure she had all the support she needed with volunteers, therapy, transportation, adaptive devices, specialized counseling and more.In 2018, a female foster youth who had been living in an Angels’ Arms home for almost five years was involved in a traumatic car accident. She was unable to return to college due to the nature of her injuries and the need for around-the-clock care and support.
She has since recovered, is working and is re-enrolled in school to become a nurse. She is still living in the Launch Pad and working toward her goals with her Angels’ Arms family alongside her.
Tell us something about your organization and the work you do that might surprise us.
We do not receive any state, federal or United Way funding. The majority of our funds are generated through private individual donations, fundraising events, corporate sponsorships and grants, such as the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.
Also, our philosophy is unique in that we do not take costs into consideration when deciding what is best for each child. We operate on the premise that every single child needs to be celebrated and loved – whatever that takes.
We are constantly asking ourselves how we can better help foster parents, down to the “smallest” requests.What makes your organization different from others?
Do you need help with dinner, with groceries, with activities and hobbies? Do you need a bunk bed, diapers or pull-ups? Do you need added care to have some alone time? Do you want to take your family of nine out for dinner and a movie? Do you want to have a birthday celebration?
Foster parents face intense challenges and need all the back-up support they can get. That’s where Angels’ Arms comes in.
What makes the work you do so important to the people you serve?
While not everyone has a calling to be a foster parent, we can all do something to help.
From making and delivering home cooked meals to a foster family, to adopting a family for the holidays, the community can help alleviate the financial and emotional burden our foster parents endure so that they can truly focus on the well being of the children in their care.
A special thanks to Bess Wilfong for participating in this Q & A.
Profile prepared by Jennifer Mann of 618 Creative. Photos via Angels’ Arms.