District 27A Child Welfare brings HOPE higher than flood waters for local foster family
Oklahoma Human Services’ (OKDHS) employees build hope every day by creating pathways for customers, even when the original pathways are flooded. This was the case recently for a Cherokee County foster family when their local child welfare team stepped in to offer help and hope when their home and belongings were overtaken by flood waters.
The relationship between foster families and Child Welfare Specialists (CWS) is critical to achieving permanency goals for children in foster care. When a foster family is in need, CWS and resource specialists often do whatever it takes to accommodate them. If they need a car seat, crib or transportation, CWS will go out of their way to help. Sometimes, though, a foster family’s needs are greater than their requests, and what they really need are heroes. In May, when Christie and Steve Gruber’s house flooded, CWS heroes were exactly what they got.
The Grubers have been fostering for about four years in Cherokee County, which is in District 27A (D27A). Lesley Nix, the District Director of D27A, describes the Grubers as one of those families who truly just want to foster.
“They are willing to take on foster children of any gender or age and are never scared of what the circumstances may be,” said Nix. “They can be called at one or two in the morning for a placement. They are willing to take on kids in the most difficult of circumstances. They just want to get the children stabilized so they can move on to their permanent homes.”
One child they took in had been moved 27 times before he came to their home. They helped him get the counseling and resources he needed and were integral in finding him a family that eventually adopted him. He has been with his family for over two years now.
Nix says, “The Grubers are truly advocates for their foster children. They don’t see the children’s behaviors as issues. They ask themselves, ‘how are we going to tackle this?’”
In May, Cherokee County received a few straight days of heavy rain. The Grubers woke up around 5 a.m. on May 5 with several inches of water throughout their entire house. In a few hours, the water rose to about six or seven inches. Every room was flooded.
They had eight children in the house with them at the time, four of whom were children in foster care, ranging in age from an 11-month-old who is medically fragile all the way up to a 16-year-old. Their own children are 9, 11, 13, and 16. They were able to get everyone safely out of their house and relocated to Mr. Gruber’s parents’ house on the same property, whose home had been spared from the flooding. The Grubers’ driveway was also flooded, so even getting out of their house was difficult.
Ashley Craig has been the Grubers’ resource worker since 2018. Due to the severe weather, she gave them a call to check on them. They let her know everyone was fine and they had temporarily relocated, but their house was badly damaged. The carpet, baseboards and drywall were ruined, and there was mud on the floors. The damage estimate was roughly between $18,000 and $20,000. They let Craig know they were making arrangements to ensure all the kids were still getting to their doctors’ appointments and counseling sessions. The Grubers explained the greatest help they needed was cleaning up the house so they could get their family back to normal, and that’s when Craig and her team of heroes got to work.
Craig filled-in Moses Emujakporue, CWS IV, on the situation and they decided they would get a group together from the office and go help.
“This was a no-brainer,” said Emujakporue. “We knew we had to do something to help. They are the kind of family that’s helped us so many times, so this was our chance to help them.”
Nix describes her staff as “helpers.” She continued, “When they see a need, they want to meet it. Even our new staff will do things like get car seats and bedding, socks and clothes.”
Emujakporue was able to quickly mobilize CWS from D27A. He sent out an email asking for volunteers. By the next day, Daniel Anele, CWS III, Jennifer Perryman, CWS III and Mellissa Billy, CWS I, who has only been with OKDHS for a few months, joined Emujakporue. Not everyone in the office was able to go, but Nix said even the ones who couldn’t wanted to help in some capacity and offered up their pressure cleaner, loaned out shovels and garbage bags and did whatever they could to also contribute. It was really an all-hands-on-deck project.
The following day, they arrived at the Grubers’ house. When asked about the volunteers, Emujakporue said, “They were happy to do it. Everybody brought something to the table. It was all about teamwork and everyone stepped up.”
Craig expressed her gratitude and said, “This team coming together to help the Grubers truly meant a lot to me. In a time where we don’t typically see each other anymore due to us working from home nowadays, it truly means a lot. I know OKDHS staff all have crazy schedules, so for this team to block out a few hours to help the Grubers is so meaningful.”
A few weeks had passed since the initial flood. This gave time for the water to recede and the driveway to become accessible again.
When the D27A team arrived, Steve Gruber said it was such a relief to see these four adults coming to help. They spent about four or five hours there and worked on every room in the house.
“Walking into the home, I already felt overwhelmed,” said Billy. “I could only imagine how the family felt. If I had to wake up to find the house flooded, I would just want to give up, demolish the home and start all over. So, I can imagine any help the family received was very much appreciated because it was difficult for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially when it’s only you and the kiddos doing the work. Don’t get me wrong, the kids are great help, but having adults take the lead must have been refreshing.”
Perryman and Billy swept and mopped the girls’ room that was caked with mud while Emujakporue and Anele worked on the boys’ rooms. They moved furniture around, removed carpet, scraped mud off the concrete floors, removed damaged drywall and took down damaged baseboards.
Craig said, “Not once did I hear the comment, ‘that is not my job.’ This team came together and helped this family out in a time of need.”
Mr. Gruber noticed this was unlike any OKDHS visit he had ever experienced. It wasn’t the typical worker’s visit or family meeting.
“It was such a lift for us, physically and emotionally, to have these adults show up to help,” said Steve Gruber. “They came out with true concern, wanting to help and were so giving of themselves. Because of them, we were able to move back into the house quicker than if it would have just been us.”
For the OKDHS staff, it meant so much to be able to offer help to those who show up every day for the children who need them.
Anele said, “I really wish we had more opportunities like this to show our foster parents we appreciate them and let them know how special they are.”
“Foster parents are part of our team so when they need help, we will be there,” said Emujakporue.
Mr. Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Nix uses this quote to describe her team. She explained how, without hesitation, they came together to serve.
“I am beyond proud and humbled by their willingness to see a need and meet it,” Nix continued. “D27A is filled with heroes. I am so incredibly proud of them and their hearts. It was truly a collective effort of the entire staff. It was such a team-building experience.”
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