Focusing on the Ties that Bind
“My experience working with endowment funds was zero when I first met with YouthBridge, but I was fairly certain they weren’t your typical advisor,” says Steve Awtrey, Executive Director of Christian Family Services (CFS). Awtrey, who oversees the nearly 50-year-old child placing and counseling agency, says he felt an immediate trust in YouthBridge when deciding to start an endowment fund in 2019.
“They’re a nonprofit like us – with a history of providing homes for children; it seemed a perfect fit. I also was encouraged by how they became immediate cheerleaders for us and were excited to spread awareness of CFS within the financial community,” he says, adding that he looks forward to building on the YouthBridge endowment fund to drive some important initiatives around fortifying the family bond.
Family has been at the center of CFS since its start in 1973 as a foster care/adoption agency. Over the years, the focus of CFS has shifted to family reunification and finding ways to keep the family unit together whenever possible. “There aren’t many agencies that will work in such a preventative way, but people struggle with issues that may be temporary, families change and we believe they deserve second chances and hope for the future,” says Awtrey.
To that end, counseling is provided to help strengthen marriage and family relationships as well as for individuals dealing with depression, crisis, trauma and other issues impacting their ability to parent. In some circumstances, CFS Connect Care families (licensed foster families) will open their homes to children on a temporary basis while a social worker helps parents in solving the problems that necessitated placement – be it financial, health, emotional – all the while preparing the children for the day when they will return to their natural or adoptive parents.
In one such case, a Connect Care family was able to care for a one-year-old boy while mom worked to obtain employment and financial stability. She continues to receive counseling to change unhealthy cycles and find healing from strained family relationships. “It’s been exciting to work with this mom and see all of her hard work and courageous steps to stabilize the practical and emotional needs of her family,” says Awtrey. “Families need to be together and we work to reunite them as soon as possible.”
Of course, there are many children in the St. Louis area that don’t have a good place to call home, as well as single mothers and young parents that feel they can’t provide a good home, so CFS actively seeks adoptive parents and guides them through the adoption process, placing between five and eight children each year. While all CFS adoptive and foster families share the Christian faith, Awtrey says services are provided to everyone, without regard to religion, race, income or other factor.
“We pass no judgment,” he says. “For example, if an expectant mother chooses to parent, we will walk with her throughout her pregnancy – offering counseling, parenting classes and other supports – and if she chooses adoption, we’ll work with her on her own unique adoption plan. There’s no pressure either way; our job is to minister to her no matter her decision.”
During COVID-19, Awtrey says the organization has seen needs increase across the board – from pregnancy and parenting support services to counseling for many people struggling emotionally. CFS had to quickly shift to provide counseling sessions virtually, and while face-to-face has always been the preferred method, he says there have been some unexpected benefits. “If time or distance were barriers before, neither gets in the way now and we have been able to do more therapy sessions. It’s been one really positive change that we plan to continue to offer post-pandemic.”
If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.