Help Us Welcome Our Newest Board Member, Cody McCommas

Cody McCommas

We would like to introduce you to Cody McCommas, one of the two new additions to our Board of Directors. Cody is the Executive Pastor at Christ Community Church of Denton. He met his beautiful wife, Karen, in college at the University of North Texas. When describing their relationship, Cody says, “She lets me do most of the talking, but she’s smarter than me.” Cody and his wife Karen are adoptive parents, foster parents, trauma-informed parents and LOVE to share what they know about foster care and adoption. They have two daughters, a 5-year-old and 18-month-old. Cody loves to cook and owns a crawfish catering company that serves people all over the metroplex. We feel honored he chose to serve his time on our Board and are so grateful to have him. Take a moment to read on to learn a little more about why he decided to join the board and what he wants you to know about foster care and adoption.

Interviewer: When did you first get involved with foster care and adoption? What is one thing that has surprised you the most after your involvement?

Cody McCommas: My wife, Karen, has had a yearning for adoption since she was in high school. We officially entered that world around 2011 when started looking for resources to help us navigate the adoption process. We didn’t realize how much we didn’t know at the time, and we’ve been learning ever since. It was obvious, though, that there was common language, in tv and movies, among friends, and in the culture at large, that was adoption/foster unfriendly. It was damaging. A big part of our role in the adoption and foster world is to help teach others the impact of particular language and to normalize orphan care by intentionally talking about it.

Interviewer: What would you like others to know about foster care and adoption? 

Cody McCommas: I’d like people to know SO MANY things about foster care and adoption!! Maybe primarily, I think if more people understood the impact of trauma on the human mind and body, they would be much more patient and caring with kids from hard places. They would better understand their struggles and be able to come alongside them to heal and move forward together. And if more people understood how our brains can rewire themselves to heal after trauma, especially through close personal relationships, they would see that there is so much hope, even in the most difficult of struggles.

Most importantly, I want people to know that you don’t have to be a superhero to be a part of the foster and adoption world. I’m not special, I’m not extraordinary. I’m a guy whose heart has been renewed by Jesus, who learns a little more each day, and who has been called, like all of us, to help set the lonely in families. If people knew their obedience is so much more glorious than their fear, they’d be freed to take their next step in serving kids and young adults.” 

Interviewer: What made you want to join the board of directors for Zoie’s Place?

Cody McCommas: “I love what Zoie’s is doing and the void they are helping to fill. I know how instrumental a loving family has been for me, especially when I transitioned into adulthood. Everybody needs that kind of love, trust, and support. The young adult population is so often forgotten or unseen in the foster care and adoption world. Zoie’s Place’s sights are set squarely on this particular population and am thrilled for that.

Interviewer: What are you looking forward to most in this new role?

Cody McCommas: “I’m most looking forward to seeing lives transformed, seeing young adults grow and prepare for a rich future. I look forward to dreaming about what Zoie’s Place can become in the future and helping us figure out how to get there.” 

 

Help Us Welcome Our Newest Board Member, Darren Thompson

darren thompson

We would like to introduce you to Darren Thompson, one of the two new additions to our Board of Directors. Darren and his wife Dayna came to know the Lord in their early twenties and were discipled by some people who were pivotal in their life. He has been married to his beautiful wife, Dayna, for 20 years and they have four children: two biological and two adopted. Darren works as an IT Manager at a local health care company, specializing in application development. Darren and his wife Dayna lead the foster and adoption ministry at Denton Bible Church. We feel honored he chose to serve his time on our Board and are so grateful to have him. Take a moment to read on to learn a little more about why he decided to join the board and what he wants you to know about foster care and adoption.

Interviewer: When did you first get involved with foster care and adoption? What is one thing that has surprised you the most after your involvement?

Darren Thompson: “We started the adoption process in 2006. We knew some families who had already adopted so we felt very comfortable adopting but it’s still a roller coaster at times. What we didn’t expect was to see God’s provision throughout the process. It was really encouraging.”

Interviewer: What would you like others to know about foster care and adoption? 

Darren Thompson: “Some people have a hard time understanding how you could love someone’s else’s child, but when you realize they are totally dependent on you that parental gene kicks in and you do what you have to do to take care of them and be the best parent possible.”

Interviewer: What made you want to join the board of directors for Zoie’s Place?

Darren Thompson: “My wife and I lead the foster and adoption ministry at our church, but we seem to focus on the 10 and under children. Zoie’s Place exemplifies a commitment to those who are technically adults but still need help in some of life’s biggest decisions in those young adult years.”

Interviewer: What are you looking forward to most in this new role?

Darren Thompson: “I would love to see the local church really get involved in helping ministries like Zoie’s Place. There are so many resources within the church that would be accessible if the right people are involved. I plan on bridging the gap with these two organizations where possible.”

 

 

Dear Foster Parent…

Dear Foster Parent

Dear Foster Parents,

Before your foster children move in, consider these 5 bits of a wisdom from a former foster youth:

1.Make sure to be understanding and listen to whatever they say.

They look up to you for guidance. They might not feel comfortable talking at first but once they do, listen and be understanding.

2. RELAX!

They are just as nervous as you. Remember to be yourselves around them so they know the real you.

3. Take classes in order to prepare yourself for the children who will be living with you.

They have more than likely been through a lot and may need some accommodations.

4. Make sure the children feel welcomed.

Have their names decorated on their bedroom doors, have a welcome sign by the door. This helps them feel like home.

5. Be sensitive to bio family visits

If their biological parents have parental rights and the children are comfortable around them, be supportive of the family visits. Try to work together with the biological parents as well, since they can probable give you tips on caring for their own. This can help the children trust you guys more.

One positive memory I have are my foster parents keeping my siblings and I all together. This was the best thing they can possibly do. If it’s possible, please try to keep all siblings together. It helps make them feel safe and loved. As long as you’re mindful to the children, they’ll love you as their own parents. It’ll take some time for them to be used to you, so please be patient!

Even though the beginning might be a little tough, the children will start to love you more because of your efforts. Thank you for taking in these children and opening your home to them.

~ Zolena

Social Worker Spotlight – Sarah Matteson, LMSW

Sarah Matteson

Interviewer: What personal experiences would you say most equipped you to be a Social Worker?

Sarah Matteson, LMSW: “At the age of 12, I was removed from my mother’s care and placed in foster care in the State of California. The CPS caseworkers assigned to my case were awful. They were not social workers, I think some of them did not even have degrees in a helping profession. One of them was a retired forest ranger, who had no business working in child welfare. At the age of 12, I decided to become a Social Worker so I could do a better job working with the children who are removed from their homes. I knew that vulnerable children deserve more than retired forest rangers and awful case workers. As I grew older, especially after I became a mom, I realized that it wasn’t just the children who needed a great social worker, it was the families. While working at CPS, I realized how difficult it is to lose such a huge part of yourself (being a parent), while still being forced to make huge changes to your lifestyle. Some of the parents lost their financial security when their children were removed (social security, food stamps, housing assistance, etc.). They are then court ordered services, required to maintain secure housing, and visit their children weekly all while maintain a job. I realized that it was the families that needed the most assistance. If we could stabilize and support the families enough to reunify, we could better serve the children.”

“Being able to look back at my childhood and understand how my own mother was never set up to successfully get her children returned to her care helped me to realize how much we are failing families, which made me work harder with the families I work with.”

Interviewer: What led you to choose your particular job field?

Sarah Matteson, LMSW: “The day after I turned 18, I was dropped off on my college campus and left alone. I had to make special arrangements with my school to be able to move in 3 days early. Thankfully my birthday is in August and freshman could move in a week prior to classes. I’m not sure where I would have spent my summer if my birthday was in June or July.

“I was alone and had no one to call for an emergency, no one to answer questions about life or school, no one to visit during holidays. There was a time between my freshman and sophomore year where I was homeless; couch surfing for a month.”

I made bad academic and financial decisions. I made bad life decisions. It was a hard time. But then I met my husband and his family. I moved to Texas. I started school at TWU and met their incredibly supportive Social Work department and I realized the impact a great social worker could have on a college student. Sometimes foster kids slip through the cracks, they graduate and go on to college without support. But a well-placed support at a university/college could mean the difference between failing and graduating. TWU provided me with that support and I want to be able to provide other students with that same support.”

Interviewer: What issues are most important to you in the population you work with?

Sarah Matteson, LMSW: “Some of the biggest issues I face are related to differing policies depending on how you exited foster care. We need policies that streamline the resources for all students who experienced foster care, not just ones who exited in certain ways. Students should be provided with all resources available to them; ETV, tuition waiver, Medicaid, SIL, etc. Students who experienced foster care, regardless of the outcome, need the support and financial backing. They need more time to complete their education and we need to have policies and practices that allow that. Another issue is leaving care/adoptive homes without a support system. If CPS cannot provide that support system, we need to ensure it is still there. Who else could we look at? Is 16/17 old enough to start reconnecting with birth family to build a support system? Too often I see students reach back out to family members once they start college and it can negatively impact their education. Could we offer that connection earlier, while they are still in a protective environment?”

Interviewer: If there was one thing you could change to better assist the individuals you work with, what would that be? 

Sarah Matteson, LMSW: “I would put more money towards prevention and education. If we can get into a home prior to abuse/neglect occurring and provide resources and education, we could eliminate the trauma of removal while strengthening the family. If we can continue to engage with those family’s long term, work with getting the kids into universities or trade programs when they are older, that can lead to generational changes.”

Interviewer: What is your favorite thing about being a Social Worker?

Sarah Matteson, LMSW:

“My favorite thing about being a Social Worker is seeing a person’s life change when they realize they are in charge and they have the resources they need to be successful.”

“When a person is in a place to take responsibility and act, when I am no longer needed as a Social worker, that is my favorite. It is like when a toddler is learning to walk, the adult cannot walk for them, but we can offer toys that help them stand, toys that help them walk, a hand to hold, and finally, a voice to cheer from the sides. Social work is about offering the toys/tools to help a client walk, a hand to hold when they are almost ready for that independent first step, and then a voice cheering from the sidelines when they start toddling independently, and if they stumble, we are there to help them back up. But they are the ones learning to walk. And when they succeed, it is amazing.”

Interviewer: What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a career as a Social Worker?

Sarah Matteson, LMSW: “Social work is something that is a part of who you are, it is not just a job you do. I don’t stop being a Social Worker because it is 5:00, it is always a part of me. I am a Social Worker because I can’t look at a person addicted to drugs and not see the spiral of despair that led to that addiction. I am a Social Worker because I cannot look at a student failing a class and not see the underlying emotional stress of feeling alone on campus…If you want to be a Social Worker, my advice is to practice a lot of self-reflection. We are all raised with judgements and preconceived notions about others, what are yours? Can you overcome them? Can you name a type of person you could never work with, but still find the good in them to work with them anyways?”

Social Worker Spotlight McKenna Johnson

McKenna Johnson

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What personal experiences would you say has most equipped you to be a Social Worker?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “God has put me through many different challenges to prepare me to become a Social Worker. I was married and had my first child by age 20, I lost my father suddenly at 22, and I became a divorced single mom by 23. I’ve struggled with health issues, finances, and legal issues (child support issues) the entirety of my 20’s. The more I struggle, the more I feel equipped to be a Social Worker because I can teach from my own experiences. Because of my struggles, I know how to apply for food stamps, I know where to go for certain financial and legal situations, I know how to be successful in the face of adversity.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What led you to choose your particular job field?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “It began with a passion for working with children. I volunteered at day care centers and looked into becoming a teacher. I was in my final semester at Collin County Community College… and had been accepted to UNT to begin my path to become an art teacher when my government class assigned us to complete 20 hours of service learning. My professor provided a list of suggested agencies and one of them was Friends of the Family in Corinth. They needed people to work in the day care. I went to orientation training and I fell in love. I heard about everything the agency did, everyone they helped, how they helped, etc. I asked the girl running the orientation what she got her degree in because I wanted to do work like this. Orientation at UNT was a few weeks later and I changed my major DURING orientation. When they called out the social work majors to go to a certain room, that’s where I went. Taking intro to social work at UNT just solidified my passion for social work.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What issues are most important to you in the population you work with?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “80% of people who are rescued from human trafficking were once in foster care. Providing the support, I can to prevent this from happening is the most important thing I can do working with this population.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): If there was one thing you could change to better assist the individuals you work with, what would that be? 

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “Decreasing the amount of employee turnover in the foster care system to provide more stable services to the clients they serve.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): Why should clients want to work with you?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “God has given me the spiritual gift of mercy and because of that, I have the ability to identify with and comfort those who are in distress. I am a loving person and I pour love into those around me.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What is your favorite thing about being a Social Worker?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “Seeing the resiliency of my clients. Some of my clients have shared their stories with me and I am always blown away with how much they have had to overcome. They are an inspiration and have the power to move mountains.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What challenges have you faced in your field?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “I have a big heart that I keep unguarded. This is something I struggle with in my personal life too. But through God, I am learning how to put up loving boundaries.”

Anastasia Price (Interviewer): What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a career as a Social Worker?

McKenna Johnson, LBSW: “Volunteer in as many different agencies as you can and get involved in your community. [By volunteering] You get to practice working with different populations and learn new perspectives on issues in the community. Social work is a networking career and the sooner you start building relationships with agencies you will someday refer clients to, the better!”