Thanks to Carney Lake resident Marie Woods-Weaver, foster kids in the Key Peninsula (and surrounding area) can now join the YMCA in Gig Harbor for free.
Woods-Weaver, 68, has been a foster parent since January 2013.
When she retired from the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) in 2012, she realized that she just couldn’t live without kids.
“They’re just part of my makeup,”she said.
So she applied to become a foster parent, and in January 2013 she was licensed to care for kids between 6-18 years of age.
Since then she and her husband Dennis Weaver have given temporary shelter to more than 30 youngsters.
“We’re a receiving home,”Woods-Weaver said. “We usually only have the kids with us for about 30 days, but we have one kid who has been with us since last September.
She said the majority of these kids come from homes that are in total, complete chaos –– completely broken.
“Law enforcement comes and pulls them out of a home so they can be in protective custody through DCFS. Then DCFS puts them in a receiving home until they can figure out what they’re going to do with them.
“We usually have three kids with us at a time and I want them to have a good, stable environment after they come out of chaos,”she said.
Woods-Weaver is also a long-time Y member and regularly participates in Silver Sneakers activities at Gig Harbor’s Tom Taylor Family YMCA.
It frustrated her that she couldn’t afford to take her foster kids with her to the Y.
“It would cost me $20 per person to bring these kids with me on weekends or during school breaks. I’m on fixed income and I just can’t afford that.
“But we want these kids to be able to go swimming or walk with me or play basketball, or go to some of the really good classes they have for youngsters at the Y,” she said.
During a visit to urgent care with a sick kid, Woods-Weaver spoke with Dr. Jessica Schlicher, whom she had met at a health care symposium.
“We got to talking about the health care symposium and me being a foster parent and how frustrated I was not being able to take the kids to the Y with me. Let’s face it ––three kids at $20 each is $60 every time we want to go.
“The kids enjoy going there and shooting hoops and things, and I was just frustrated that I couldn’t take them with me,” she said.
Schlicher, who is the medical director for the Key Peninsula Free Clinic and also works at the urgent care in Port Orchard, had recently been appointed to the advisory council for the Gig Harbor-based YMCA.
“It is very common that we care for foster children and their families at the Key Free Clinic and the urgent care,”Schlicher said.
“I learned about the unique challenges that many foster children face ––isolation from peer groups, loss of relationships and often fewer opportunities for social and physical development. It makes it very difficult for them to find their way as young people,”she said.
Schlicher also learned that foster parents make heroic efforts to give their children everything they can and that they really wanted them to have access to the Y.
“They know how good it would be for their kids,”Schlicher said, adding that activities like the Y’s teen late-night program, dance and ballet programs, swimming lessons, rock climbing, youth and government programs and 12-week personal training programs can be especially valuable to foster kids.
During her conversation with Woods-Weaver, Schlicher had an idea. “The impetus for the idea definitely came from Maria,”she said.
“I asked her if her family uses the YMCA. She said she’d love to take them, but the cost was prohibitive.
“I told her I’d make a proposal to the Y’s advisory council and push for free foster child memberships because that is definitely in keeping with the Y’s mission to being accessible for everyone and to serve under-resourced communities and families,”she said.
Schlicher’s suggestion to give free memberships to foster kids “got complete support from all levels of the organization,”she added.
The new policy went into effect in March of this year and now more than 2,000 foster children in Pierce and Kitsap counties are eligible to go to the Y for free.
“They have access to everything in our YMCA ––art classes, dance classes, swimming classes, everything,”said Kaeley Triller-Hayer, the Tom Taylor Family Y communications director.
“The Y is really committed to embracing these children. It’s the right place for kids to be, and we have a tremendous potential for changing their lives.
“They will learn that people really care about them and that the Y is more than just a gym. This is the kind of thing we’re passionate about,” Triller-Hayer said.
So now, thanks to Marie Woods-Weaver, all those foster kids on the Key Peninsula and throughout Pierce and Kitsap Counties can go to the Y anytime they want. And it won’t cost them or their foster parents a dime.
For more information, visit ymcapkc.org/tom-taylor-family-ymca.