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Program creates foster 'village' for kids

SOS comprised of five foster families on two acres

When "Jane" talks about her foster children, she sounds like the consummate proud mother, sharing success stories from more than 10 years of fostering abused, neglected or needy children at the SOS Children's Village in Surrey.

The walls of the 3,000-plus square foot home she shares with three foster children as well as her teenage niece are adorned with dozens upon dozens of smiling images of children of all ages.

"Sometimes it's really hard to let go," she said, as she smiles, running her fingers gently on some of the photographs. "Some kids go back to bad parents and the lucky ones go back to good parents."

Over the decade, Jane has fostered more than 64 children, ranging from newborns to teenagers and sometimes beyond.

"I've had two children of my own. I also raised my sister after our parents died, and her kids as well," said Jane, adding her sister is 18 years her junior.

The 62-year-old widow said she "absolutely fell in love with fostering children."

Jane's situation is unique in British Columbia. As part of the SOS Children's Village BC family - the only one of its kind in Canada and one of only a handful across North America - she is part of a village-type setting, comprised of five large homes headed by foster parents with four to five children in each home.

The "village" sits on nearly two acres, with a multi-sports court, playground equipment, colourful picnic tables and an enormous lawn backing onto a forest that is shared by all who live here.

There's also a separate clubhouse/cultural centre with a kitchen, living room, music room with drums, four guitars, electric keyboard and other instruments, and a room for art and the homework club.

"We have private school teachers who volunteer their time for the homework club," said Corina Carroll, program director at the village. "The kids can also use the room to read, play games or do puzzles.

"Every foster parent has a key to this facility."

The inspiration behind the village is Richmond's Lois Bouchard.

The longtime Richmond resident founded SOS Children's Village BC in 1986. More than 26 years ago, her son introduced her to his new girlfriend Julie, who had been shuffled in and out of foster homes for much of her life.

When the News interviewed Bouchard back in 2009, she said, "Julie was one of five children spread out across Canada, not only was she in the welfare system, but she was separated from her siblings as well. We saw her move to three different foster homes before her 16th birthday. Watching her move through the system was incredibly hard."

Appalled that families were torn apart and that Julie had no family life to speak of, Bouchard decided she couldn't sit still and do nothing. Enlisting friends and family, she began a journey to help save children from being bounced around from one home to another.

"In 1999, we opened our first home in Surrey with no government funds, except for a grant from SOS Children's Village International," Bouchard said.

The emphasis at the village is on providing as structured a home life as possible, offering a stable environment for every foster child.

"The foster parents pay rent on the homes and we provide a number of programs for the families," says Bouchard.

One of the biggest advantages that appealed to Jane was that in a crisis situation, she has other adults she can count on to help her.

"If something happens at night, I can go to any of my neighbours and I know there's a safe place for the baby," she added, saying her foster children range from a seven-month-old girl to 17.

Carroll said there are many programs and safety nets in place to support the foster parents here. SOS Village provides a family continuance program that focuses on providing extra support such as: therapy, social and learning skills, literacy assistance, arts and recreation, foster parent relief and house repairs and maintenance for foster parents living in the SOS village site.

Carroll is on site five days a week and is available anytime by phone. Mark Thomas, a therapist and clinical supervisor, is there three days a week.

"Mark works one-on-one with the kids and with the foster parents," said Carroll, adding most foster parents at SOS are female, between the ages of 40 to 65, with more than 15 years of fostering under their belt. "Under SOS, we also have a budget to help with tutoring costs, camp and recreation fees.

"Right now we are working with our corporate sponsors and donors to help pay for a couple of the boys who want to play hockey."

But more than that, they provide a real community, complete with summer barbecues, year-end school celebrations and Easter and Christmas parties.

"Last year, we had a children's party with Santa, lots of food and presents and a separate teenagers party, who along with youth workers, went by limo bus out for dinner," said Carroll. "Then, the foster moms and I went to the Keg in White Rock- all on the same night."

The village cannot survive without fundraising efforts and the sponsorship of many corporations and individuals.

On Saturday, June 30, the 4th Annual SOS Children's Village BC Walk & Run happens at the Richmond Olympic Oval Plaza.

"Last year's run raised around $14,000 and in three years we've raised more than $45,000," said Bouchard, who is also the walk/run coordinator. "We'd love to do at least $20,000 this year.

"The money raised goes into whatever program is needed in the village, at the discretion of the executive director."

Bouchard also said that Richmond's Olympian Alexa Loo is this year's honourary chairperson, and she will be there to welcome everyone.

"Our honourary patrons, former Olympians Dr. Doug and Diane Clement, to whom this event owes so much since inception, will be in Calgary to see their protégée and colleague Charmaine Crooks inducted into the Athletics Canada Hall of Fame. They'll be missed."

For more information about the walk, call 6045742964 ext. 228 or visit www., and register for either the 10k, 5k or 2k family walk. Registration is $20.