Southern Utah mom finds new ways to ‘bring a little more peace’ to foster families

ST. GEORGE — When a foster care volunteer dared to shatter the limits of ordinary assistance, she discovered new ways to help Utah families.  

Jennica Woodbury's children help out at the farmers market where 50% of the proceeds go toward buying meals for foster families, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News
Jennica Woodbury’s children help out at a farmers market where 50% of the proceeds go toward buying meals for foster families, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News

“I have loved being a volunteer for Utah Foster Care,” Jennica Woodbury, volunteer coordinator with Utah Foster Care, told St. George News. “The families that we’re able to serve — it’s so meaningful. They have stepped up and sacrificed a lot to help these kids.”

Woodbury has been with Utah Foster Care for about a year, inspired by a close friend who fostered children to join the program. As the volunteer coordinator, she organizes babysitting services, craft events and meal arrangements. 

Woodbury, a mother of four, said she always envisioned having a family of five or six children. However, when she faced challenges in getting pregnant again, she realized the family she already had was complete.

“I had a really special moment with God,” she said. “I knew I didn’t need to have any more kids, that they were all here, but I would continue to mother in different ways.”

Jennica Woodbury and three volunteers come together to clean a foster family's home, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News
Jennica Woodbury and three volunteers come together to clean a foster family’s home, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News

Recognizing the need within the foster care program, she contemplated becoming a foster parent herself. However, she soon realized it wasn’t the right time for her family. Observing the mental and emotional exhaustion of foster parents, she instead felt a strong desire to help alleviate their burden.

She started volunteering with Utah Foster Care in 2020, using her creative spark to support those in the foster care system. Her innovative ideas and passion led to a paid position three years later. Besides her regular duties like organizing babysitting and meal assistance, she brainstormed a plethora of new initiatives.

One of her first ideas was to surprise foster parents with birthday gifts. She then compiled a list of local businesses and reached out for discounts and free items to benefit foster families.

One standout business was Beehive Meals, a fast-growing company based in Layton, she said. They specialize in family-sized freezer meals that are sent directly to homes in insulated bags and are perfect for crockpot cooking.

After she reached out, Beehive Meals agreed to get involved and provided meals for 10 families. She said the foster parents were thrilled with the delicious and convenient meals and noted their incredible generosity. Last year alone, she said they donated $37,000 worth of products. This contribution allowed meal sets of five to be sent to 300 foster families.

Volunteers assist with various volunteer events, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News
Volunteers assist with various volunteer events, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News

Inspired by the positive impact and her love for farmers markets, she decided to get more involved and signed up for the St. George Downtown Farmers Market, where she now offers homemade yogurt parfaits and iced Roma, a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Made from roasted grains like barley, chicory and rye, it’s then sweetened with agave to create a twist on traditional iced coffee. Additionally, she brews an iced mint tea using mint grown in her own backyard.

She said she believed participating in the farmers market would be more meaningful if it had a purpose behind it. As a result, she decided that 50% of the proceeds would go toward purchasing more Beehive Meals for foster families.

Her charity booth operates independently from Utah Foster Care, as a personal initiative she hopes will make a difference. In four markets, she said she raised about $630 to support foster families. She plans to continue her booth at the farmers market until at least August. Beyond fundraising, she cherishes the opportunity to educate the public about the foster care system and its needs.

“I have this passion to bring a little bit more peace to these families that are sacrificing a lot and just give them a little leg up,” she said. 

A growing need

Ben Ashcraft, lead foster-adoptive consultant for Utah Foster Care, has been with the organization for 10 years. He highlighted that the greatest need is for more foster parents.

When he first joined, there were about 2,800 children in foster care. Today, that number has decreased to around 1,700. While it’s encouraging that fewer children are in foster care, the number of foster families has also declined, presenting a new challenge, as the decrease in foster children is due to the system’s emphasis on keeping children in their homes and providing in-home services, rather than placing them into foster care, he said.

Volunteer Coordinator Jennica Woodbury and Lead Foster-Adoptive Consultant Ben Ashcraft smile for the camera outside of the Utah Foster Care office in St. George, Utah, May 29, 2024 | Photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News
Volunteer Coordinator Jennica Woodbury and Lead Foster-Adoptive Consultant Ben Ashcraft smile for the camera outside of the Utah Foster Care office in St. George, Utah, May 29, 2024 | Photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

“Right now in Southern Utah, we have a huge need for foster families,” he said. “We’re over the nine counties in Southern Utah and we have a huge need for people who are willing to step up and take in any child.”

Once children enter foster care, the primary goal is reunification with their biological parents. On average, children stay with foster families for about a year while their parents participate in programs, such as drug court. In 40-50% of cases, children successfully return home, Ashcraft said. If reunification is not possible, permanent guardianship or adoption may be pursued.

Ashcraft noted that while families interested in foster care often prefer infants or young children due to perceived behavioral challenges, there’s a growing need for those outside of that range.

“Our greatest need is for foster families that are willing to take in children that are older, like teenagers,” Ashcraft said. “We have a hard time finding appropriate placements for them.”

There is also a strong preference for families capable of accepting larger sibling groups, ensuring siblings can stay together instead of being separated.

Becoming a foster parent involves several steps to ensure both the prospective parent and the child are well-prepared for the journey ahead. It begins with an initial consultation where individuals receive comprehensive education about the process and are encouraged to assess their motivations.

Ben Ashcraft mans the booth at the Lake to Lake Relay, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ben Ashcraft, St. George News
Ben Ashcraft mans the booth at the Lake to Lake Relay, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ben Ashcraft, St. George News

Following this, parents undergo 24 hours of classroom training, now available online. Background checks, CPR and first-aid certifications, as well as a physical examination, are mandatory components. Subsequently, a thorough home study is conducted. Once completed, most foster parents receive their licenses within a week or two and are available to foster.

“I love that families step up and take these children because we can’t do it alone, without the families and the community,” Ashcraft said. “See what great people we have in this community that open their heart and their homes who have been in difficult circumstances.”

Throughout this process, foster parents have the opportunity to articulate their preferences regarding the type of child they believe would be the best fit for their family. Ashcraft emphasized the diversity among foster parents, highlighting that the spectrum includes couples with multiple children, individuals without children, single parents, empty nesters and same-sex couples. He said all

Jennica Woodbury and three volunteers come together to clean a foster family's home, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News
Jennica Woodbury (pictured in purple) and three volunteers come together to clean a foster family’s home, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennica Woodbury, St. George News

are warmly welcomed and actively encouraged to participate in the foster care program.

For those who are unable to foster, support is still needed. Woodbury said there are 10 ways people can assist foster families:

  • Sign up to deliver a meal to a family, ideally monthly or quarterly. A questionnaire helps match the volunteer with a family, creating a rewarding experience for both the giver and the recipient.
  • Hold a gift card drive. Foster parents love taking their family out to dinner or activities. Ask friends if they have extra gift cards, and retention specialists will distribute them.
  • Help babysit at a “Kid’s Night Out” event. This allows foster parents to take a break while the kids eat pizza and play games with volunteers and other kids.
  • Volunteer to clean or organize for an hour at a family’s home. 
  • Own a business? Give a discount or product to foster families.
  • Have photography experience? Offer to take family photos.
  • Create useful items such as weighted sensory lap blankets, backpacks with school supplies, connection kits and weighted stuffed animals.
  • Get certified to become an overnight respite provider. A longer break can help parents overcome that “burnout” feeling.
  • Help set up a Saturday service project for a family.
  • Be a listening and caring ear to families.

“For families that aren’t able to actually foster, they can still be involved,” Ashcraft said. “They can still be community support for them and lighten the load of those that are doing foster care. And I love that component.”

Catch Woodbury’s booth at the St. George Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, June 22. Visit @southernutahgoodstuff on Instagram to stay updated. For more information on being a foster parent or volunteer opportunities, visit utahfostercare.org.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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