Join Connecticut’s 5th annual weekend of prayer for children in foster care.
Faith communities will pledge to remember Connecticut’s foster children and youth who wait for adoptive families.
Will yours be one of them?
There are children waiting. They are part of the Heart Gallery of Connecticut. It is for them we ring the bells, this year 22 times. It is for them we ask you to bring awareness to your family and community. These children need permanent homes and forever families.
Every year, on the first weekend in November, faith communities across Connecticut join together to raise their voices in prayer and ring church bells for Connecticut’s foster children waiting for permanent homes.
Foster and adoptive families are invited to participate in their hometowns.
We need individual faith community members or groups to take the lead and coordinate this event in their local communities.
Faith communities are invited to participate by doing any combination of the following:
a) include the waiting children in prayer during services all weekend.
b) agreeing to ring church bells on the first Sunday in November at 6 P.M. (Many faith communities invite an adoptive family to act as honorary bell-ringers.)
c) arrange for a candlelight vigil on a town green or other suitable venue.
d) host a service during the weekend to pray for the needs of the children and foster and adoptive families everywhere. Often, with advance notice, speakers can be made available to a congregation at no cost.
e) Invite foster and adoptive families to participate.
f) Invite the press to cover your event.
by Deb Kelleher
by Deb Kelleher
Justin* is the inspiration for an annual Connecticut event, Bells of Hope: Ringing in a Brighter Tomorrow for CT’s Waiting Children, now in its fifth year. During the weekend of November 1-3th, faith communities will once again offer prayers and ring bells to raise awareness of the need for adoptive homes for children and youth in Connecticut. Last year close to 200 faith communities across CT agreed to offer prayer and/or ring their bells to bring attention to the children in the CT foster care system waiting for permanent homes.
The idea for this event began germinating in 2009. National Adoption Month (November) was approaching and my mind returned again and again to thoughts of my son’s brother, now 22, who had never been adopted. For purposes of confidentiality I call him Justin.
Justin is one of my son’s biological older brothers. I am the adoptive mom of three boys, all of whom were adopted through the CT foster care system, and one biological son. I had tried to adopt Justin, but, as a single parent of four boys, I was not considered an appropriate resource for him. He needed more than social workers felt I could give to another special needs child. Truth be told, I secretly shared their fears, and although I did come forward and offer to be a resource for him I knew their decision was the right one for my family and for Justin.
I met Justin when he was 9. He was a handsome young man living in a group setting. I would often bring my son, his brother, to visit him. And we also frequently had him to our home for the day. Our whole family came to love him and consider him a member of our extended family.
At one point when Justin was hospitalized, a social worker called me from the hospital. You see, Justin had told her that I was to be his adoptive mom soon. He had our phone number memorized, which made it easy for her to believe him. That situation nearly broke my heart. Here he was in the hospital, vulnerable and lonely and reaching out to me. This kind and understanding hospital social worker and I had many long talks about Justin’s future. She counseled me to continue as his “beloved aunt” because, she said, he needs a consistently loving adult in his life and if I were to ignore the wise advice of the social workers he could end up with no one — a disrupted adoption and feelings on both sides that might not heal well enough for our relationship to continue.
Well, Justin was never adopted. He moved from placement to placement for 10 long and lonely years. When he turned 19, his worker found an aunt to care for him temporarily while the state looked for a transitional life-skills program for him to attend and reside at. After having lived in congregate care for so many years he would need some help navigating the world. Unlike typical children, he had never had an allowance; his own room; regular chores to learn from; increasing responsibility and freedom to explore the world from a safe place; the ability to make mistakes and learn while being loved by a family. So, he was vulnerable to making mistakes once released into the world.
Justin did not stay with his aunt for very long. He found family rules confusing and stressful. For instance, he could not figure out why his aunt was angry when he ran up a cell phone bill of over $150 for ring tones! So, he ran away and joined a gang. He called them his new family. He claimed they accepted and valued him. From time to time he would return to his aunt’s home for brief stays but each time he would return to the streets where he felt more comfortable.
Our family spent time with Justin during the 2008 Christmas season. He spent a week with us. While doing his laundry during the visit, razor blades fell out of his pockets into my washer. He said he needed them for protection on the streets. My heart broke. Shortly after his visit he went back to the streets where he continued to live for over a year. No job. No education. No hope.
This past year, he was once again arrested. When faced with the uncertainty of a trial, he accepted a plea deal from the state’s attorney. We have tried to maintain contact but it has been very difficult. Justin will be incarcerated for the next few years.
I hope he’s okay. I think about him all the time. His little brother misses him and worries about his safety. We hope he will find someone to help him find a better life for himself — one he can be proud of.
The truth is: far too many teens in foster care age out of the system. Nationally about 25-30,000 youth “age out” of foster care every year. “Teens who are emancipated from foster care have higher rates of incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, and dependence on public assistance than non-foster youth. In fact, one in four will be incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care; one in five will become homeless at some point after age 18. Moreover, many studies have documented a bleak outlook in education as well: only 58 percent of foster youth who aged out of the system had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87 percent of non-foster youth; and less than 3 percent of emancipated foster youth over the age of 25 earned college degrees, compared to 28 percent of the general population.” **
In fact, some studies show that approximately 50% of all youth who have been in foster care will become homeless at some time in their lives. I do not want to think of someone I love as one of these statistics. And I do not want to think of all of the other youth who age out of foster care continuing to make up these statistics. That is how Bells of Hope came to be.
The idea for “Bells” was shamelessly stolen from the Special Olympics. Back in 1995 the Worldwide Special Olympics Games were held in New Haven. My adopted son, a Special Olympian himself, was asked to do the honor of ringing the bells in our church to mark the Opening of the Games. He was thrilled and it was exciting for the whole family! Church bells rang all over Connecticut as the Games opened. What a beautiful sound! And we felt proud to be a part of something larger than ourselves.
My son was honored to be asked to ring those bells. So I thought why can’t the bells be rung for foster kids? Surely this is a worthy cause. And wouldn’t adopted kids get a kick out of being the “bell ringers?” So the seeds of Bells of Hope were born. Others have helped to tweak the idea and bring it to fruition.
In past years some town councils issued proclamations declaring the day the official Bells of Hope Day. Congregations held candlelight vigils while the bells rang. Others simply rang the bells. But everyone heard them. My goal was and is simply to get folks to think about the kids — and hopefully a few will come forward to adopt or become foster parents — because these kids are our kids — our Connecticut kids — and at the very least they deserve a few minutes of our time on a Sunday in November.
As we did the past three years, we will post a listing of the 2013 bells ringing in your community on the www.bellsofhope.org website and the Bells of Hope Facebook page. As we receive word from churches and other faith communities, they will be added to the list. On or around October 26, we will post the official number of times the bells should ring – once for each child waiting. Faith communities that can, will ring the designated number of times at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Churches that have less control over their bells may choose to ring at a different time, a different number of times or if they have no bells they can participate by asking for prayers from their congregants during services the first weekend in November.
Want to help? Contact us through the Bells of Hope website or call Jackie at 203-641-5710 or Caryl at 860-243-1806 and you will be referred to one of our regional organizers so you can volunteer or sign up your faith community. If everyone does just a little, fewer kids will wait in foster care who just need a place to call home.
* To protect the identity of this young man his name has been changed . All other details are factual.
**Taken from Youth Aging Out of Foster Care by Sharon Landvoy
Church of St. Ann, Avon
St Mary’s Ukrainian Church, New Britain
Church of the Holy Spirit, Newington
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Shelton
Simsbury United Methodist Church, Simsbury
Avon Congregational Church, Avon
Berlin Congregational Church, Berlin
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
First Church of Bethlehem, Bethlehem
United Methodist Church of Branford, Branford
East End Tabernacle, Bridgeport
New Hope Missionary Baptist, Bridgeport
Bristol Baptist Church, Bristol
First Congregational Church, Bristol
North Canaan Congregational Church, Canaan
St. Joseph Church, Canaan
Calvary Life Family Worship Center, Cheshire
Cheshire Lutheran Church, Cheshire
Church of the Epiphany, Cheshire
Cornerstone Church, Cheshire
First Congregational Church of Cheshire, Cheshire
Saint Bridget Church, Cheshire
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Cheshire
Collinsville Congregational Church, Collinsville
St. Mary Church, Coventry
First Congregational Church of Danbury, Danbury
The First Congregational Church, Derby
St. Patrick’s RC Church, East Hampton
First Congregational Church, Essex
Falls Village Congregational Church, Falls Village
St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Goshen
North Guilford Congregational Church, Guilford
First Congregational Church, Haddam
Spring Glen Church, Hamden
Church of the Good Shepherd, Hartford
First Calvary Baptist, Hartford
Holy Trinity RC Church, Hartford
Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, Hartford
New Antioch Baptist Church, Hartford
Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Hartford
Sacred Heart Church, Hartford
St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Hartford
University of Saint Joseph , Hartford
Founders Congregational Church, Harwinton
Harwinton Congregational Church, Harwinton
Ledyard Congregational Church, Ledyard
North Madison Congregational Church, Madison
First Baptist Church of Manchester, Manchester
Mt. Hebron Baptist Church, Meriden
Nehemiah Baptist Church, Middletown
Zion First Baptist Church, Middletown
Congregational Church of Naugatuck, Naugatuck
Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, New Britain
Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection, New Britain
Church of St. Mary, New Haven
First Calvary Baptist Church, New Haven
New Freedom Baptist Church, New Haven,
Shiloh Baptist Church, New London
Zion Episcopal Church, North Branford
North Haven Congregational Church, North Haven
St. John’s Episcopal Church, North Haven
Saint James Missionary Baptist Church, Norwalk
Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, Pleasant Valley
Bethel Baptist Church, Prospect
St. Anthony Church, Prospect
St. Elizabeth Seton Church, Rocky Hill
First United Methodist Church of Shelton, Shelton
Huntington Congregational Church, Shelton
Calvary Chapel Church of Southbury, Southbury
Sacred Heart Church, Southbury
The United Church of Christ, Southbury
Friendship Baptist Church, Stamford
Terryville Congregational Church, Terryville
First Congregational Church, Thomaston
Center Congregational Church, Torrington
First United Methodist Church, Torrington
Sacred Heart Church, Torrington
St. Francis of Assisi Church, Torrington
St. Mary Church, Torrington
St. Peter Church, Torrington
St. Mary Star of the Sea, Unionville
First Congregational Church of Wallingford, Wallingford
First Assembly of God Church, Waterbury
First Congregational Church of Waterbury, Waterbury
Mill Plain Union Church, Waterbury
Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Waterbury
St. John’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford
NewLife Christian Fellowship, Wethersfield
St Mary Parish, Willimantic
Winchester Center Congregational Church, Winchester
First Church in Windsor, Windsor
Kingdom Community Church, Windsor
St Gabriel’s Church & Rectory, Windsor
First Church of Winsted, Winsted
Wolcott Congregational Church, Wolcott
Woodbury United Methodist Church, Woodbury
East Woodstock Congregational Church, Woodstock
In addition to the listing above, Bells of Hope would like to acknowledge the faith communities that participated but are not mentioned by name. Due to Storm Alfred, communication has been challenging. Every prayer offered for a child in foster care is a powerful expression of your love and support. If you would like a missing faith community to be added to this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for the blessings of your caring communities.
Press Coverage and Media Packets
Press Coverage and Media Packets
Bells of Hope is one of Connecticut’s statewide National Adoption Month initiatives.
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Bells of Hope is a statewide National Adoption Month initiative dedicated to raising awareness of the continued need for adoptive homes for children in foster care. Through the offering of prayer and intentions for these children throughout the first weekend in November, faith communities will support adoptive families and children waiting. Additionally, bells throughout Connecticut will ring at 6 pm on Sunday for children ready and waiting for permanent homes. In Connecticut, there is an ongoing need for more families for waiting children and youth, as either foster or adoptive resources. Every year in Connecticut, between 400 and 600 adoptions from foster care are finalized. Please pray that these children find permanent, loving homes and that the families who come forward to meet their needs receive the love and support from their communities necessary to successfully parent all the children in their homes. For more information on how you can become a foster or adoptive parent, please contact us through the Bells of Hope website: www.BellsOfHope.org or call 1-888-KID-HERO
General Gifts - Bells of Hope Project
Memorial Gifts - In Memory of Phyllis Abelson
The Caring Gift of Adoption Is Celebrated
11/24/2010 by Litchfield County Times
The initiative, called Bells of Hope, in its second year, was considered widely successful according to its founder, Deb Kelleher, regional coordinator for regional coordinator for Foster Adoptive Mission, a foster care and adoption community collaborative serving northern and central Connecticut. “Awareness all over Connecticut was raised on Sunday,” Ms. Kelleher said in a press release. “People have been touched by Bells of Hope. I’ve already received phone calls and inquiries about the children because folks have been moved by the plight of these kids. I feel so blessed that the event has blossomed to include the support of agencies like Covenant to Care; the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents; Hearts, Hands, and Homes; and the Department of Children and Families....” Read More >>ng>
10/4/2011 - Justin's Story and Bells of Hope by Deb Kelleher
Bells Of Hope Exceeds Founder’s Expectations by John Rook
Bells of Hope Event featured on on WTNH CT Style 10/22/10
09/19/2010 - Governor Rell: State Earns $520,809 Federal Award For Progress Made in Child Adoptions
10/17/2009 - Cheshire Herald
11/4/2009 - TimesUnion.com
11/1/2009 - Governor Rell’s Press Release
10/20/2009 - Hartford Courant
10/29/2009 - Greenwich Time
We’d like to hear from you!
We’d like to hear from you!
Contact us through the form provided,
or call Jackie: 203-641-5710
or David: 860-243-1806
General Gifts - Bells of Hope Project
Memorial Gifts - In Memory of Phyllis Abelson