Christmas came early for children and their families attending a celebration at St. Thomas More Parish on the feast day of St. Nicholas.
The Dec. 8 event in Glendale featured a well-rounded afternoon of games, lunch, music, gifts and the opportunity to tell Santa about a coveted toy.
Children of all ages and backgrounds laughed, danced and crafted to their hearts’ content.
By all accounts there was never a way to distinguish the foster children from their foster families — they just belonged.
Wade McFall, coordinator of adult education at the parish, partnered with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials to sponsor the party, now in its third year.
“We constantly talk about ways to put our faith into action,” McFall said, “but it’s not just language. We’re called to share our faith and evangelize.”
McFall reached out to help Catholic Charities Community Services through its Foster Care and Community Adoption Services.
In addition to the Christmas party, McFall and his Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the children’s equivalent class has hosted a spring picnic for foster families the past 12 years.
Jan Sellner, 48, and her children paused together in prayer prior to lunch being served at the Christmas party.
The oldest children helped the younger ones and the boys came in pairs to ask permission to get in the food line. They all smiled and introduced themselves with a handshake.
The family of five — soon to be six — adopted children, five foster children, a biological daughter and granddaughter, took their seats alongside their mother for a warm meal.
Sellner has been a foster parent for 21 years, getting involved after being inspired by a radio advertisement about fostering in the state of Arizona.
“I was satisfied having one of my own and soon my focus turned to the other children who didn’t have anyone,” Sellner said. “They experience so much hardship when they leave — they have no clothing, no friends and no parents. I have a desire to make them feel loved and give them hope even though their family is torn apart.”
Nearly 18,000 children are in need of a home in Arizona, a number that includes unaccompanied minors.
Nationally, Arizona has the second highest number of children entering foster care because “as funding is cut and there’s a decrease in services, more kids languish in foster care,” said Debbie DiCarlo, director of parish and community engagement for Catholic Charities.
“As a state we haven’t necessarily put children and families as a priority. I think people of faith need to become aware of the implications of how they vote,” she said. “As Catholics we believe in families. It’s the root of who we are — it’s the primary cell of society.”
The ultimate goal is to unify foster children with their biological family, but sometimes that can’t happen due to abuse or neglect.
Catholic Charities’ foster care program helps match children with families, and places an emphasis on keeping siblings together.
They also facilitate adoption for children currently in foster care, with licensing and training and help set up special homes for children with medical needs as well as homes for unaccompanied minors.
Program manager Shelley Moore said families seek to foster or adopt from Catholic Charities because of its Catholic identity, but they work with all religions.
“It’s because of the standards and values that we put forward. Our foundation is based on our Catholic social teaching,” Moore said.
Sellner isn’t Catholic but she embraces the Church’s message of love, dignity and respect. About 80 children have walked through her door over the past two decades.
From the moment a foster child enters her home they are part of the family, even earning a handmade plaque on the “wall of honor,” and a seat in the 15-passenger van.
Her biological daughter, Courtney Adams, along with Courtney’s husband Bryan, are first-time parents. The couple is considering fostering because of Courtney’s positive experience growing up with foster children.
In addition to St. Thomas More, Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott and St. Andrew Parish in Chandler also sponsored Christmas parties for CCCS foster families.