Gloria West-Lawson, Founder and Volunteer Executive Director of Fostering Hope Florida, is the recipient of a 2023 Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and a $10,000 grant.
Gloria was inspired to begin Fostering Hope in 2004 while working at a crisis intervention shelter. “The state kept dropping off children in foster care that had nowhere to go,” shared Gloria. Children stayed for weeks and sometimes months, allowing Gloria to build relationships and hear their stories. “Everything I know about child welfare, I learned from youth,” added Gloria.
Many of the children Gloria met shared stories about the pain and heartache of being separated from their siblings. Fostering Hope began to help keep families together by creating Hope Houses that could accommodate sibling groups.
The Hope House gives foster children the structure they need to succeed and offers a place where siblings can stay together while living in a safe home with loving caregivers. To date, 186 children have stayed in the warm and welcoming home.
Shortly after Fostering Hope began, Gloria attended a fundraising event promoting adoption. “The speaker was a young man who touched my heart forever,” recalled Gloria. “He said, ‘I’m 16 years old, but I still want to get adopted. I play football and I don’t have anybody in the stands cheering for me.’” At that moment, Gloria knew she was being called to recruit families to foster and foster children in her own home as well.
Gloria’s mission is to partner with the community to create a compassionate foster care system that honors and protects children’s rights. “I love doing this work, and I only wish I could do more,” said Gloria. “That’s where prayer and networking come in.” Gloria partners with other organizations in west/central Florida to provide wraparound services to foster families.
Gloria serves in a full-time volunteer position. She manages grant writing, fundraising, attending community meetings, advocacy, and works in the Kidz Closets.
For immediate needs, Fostering Hope offers two Kidz Closets that provide free clothing, diapers, toys, and baby furniture for foster families. The closets operate solely on donations from generous community members. “We are surviving on a prayer,” shared Gloria. “The Lord is always at the helm!”
Fostering Hope will use their Nation of Neighbors grant as start-up funds to open a Hope Host Home for girls and young women who have aged out of foster care. “Many children in the foster care system are not ready for adulthood when they turn 18,” shared Gloria. “The new Hope Host Home will house up to six young women as they grow into functioning adults.”
“Every day, I have an opportunity to support people doing God’s work,” said Gloria. “I’m grateful I can serve in this way.”
In addition to their work in the community, Gloria and her husband, Jerry, have fostered sixteen children and adopted four teenage boys out of foster care. “All children deserve a loving family,” said Gloria. “There is so much we can do for children in foster care with faith and love.”