Foster children's breakfast offers holiday cheer

About 60 children gathered in McDonough for an event geared toward making their Christmas brighter than it might otherwise be.

The ninth annual Foster Children's Breakfast was held recently, at the Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant, located at 1856 Jonesboro Road. Youngsters in attendance were treated to Christmas carols, holiday stories, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Elizabeth Shannon, the president of the Henry County Foster Care and Adoption Association, which sponsored the event, said the breakfast is a way to meet the holiday needs of children, many of whom come from difficult environments.

"They normally do not have Christmas, so we [tell them], ‘We absolutely think you're worthy,'" said Shannon. "Foster children are put in care because of neglect, or because of drugs ... or because they're just not wanted. So ... I bring them together for one day, and I tell them that we think they are awesome and wonderful," she added.

"Foster care is about a bridge," she said. "We're actually trying to re-teach parenting all over again. That's what foster care does. It acts as a bridge from a parent to a foster home ... The foster parents are actually helping them re-bridge back into parenting. Foster care is just a moment in time for whatever is necessary."

State Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) came to the breakfast, both as an elected official and a man who has been affected personally adoption and foster care. Douglas' daughter, Katherine, along with his brother, Jim, and sister, Mary, are all adopted, the legislator said.

"I'm a huge advocate for adoption," said Douglas. "Every child deserves a chance, and every child deserves a home. Anytime we can help out with this is just wonderful."

Members of the Henry County fire and police departments were also on hand for the occasion, to reach out to the children. Shannon said the breakfast enables the kids to see public-safety personnel — and police officers in particular — in a positive light.

"[Police] are the people removing [the kids] from their homes," she said. "So, the police department has the opportunity to have comfort with them, as opposed to removing them from where they want to be."

Henry County Police Officer Andrew Craig visited with numerous foster children, during the annual breakfast. Craig said he wanted to serve as an example for the youngsters to follow, as they get older.

"Children are basically the future," he said. "When you and I are not able to run the country, they will be, hopefully. If we don't show them the experience of everybody working together in different ways, we can't expect them to do anything good ... because they don't know how to do it well."

Kids at the breakfast were treated to numerous holiday tunes sung members of Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church. Billy Lord, worship pastor at the church, said when Shannon approached him about singing to the children, he and other church members jumped at the chance to "share the love of Jesus" with the children.

"Especially at Christmas, family is so important," Lord said. "For kids that have had a rough family experience, your heart breaks for them. So, any way that we can add a little love to their lives — even if it's just with a smile and singing a Christmas song — that's something that's very important to us."

The Henry Players acting group also lent support to the adoption association performing "The Night Before Christmas" for the children.

"Anything that involves Henry County and the community, is important to the Henry Players," said Tammy Kirby, a Henry Players board member. "A lot of these kids ... because they're in foster homes, they might not be excited about Christmas. That's one of the things ... they want to spark in the kids — the excitement about Santa Claus coming."

The band at Henry County High School also performed. Band director, Thetheus White, said the occasion served both as a way to brighten the lives of young children, and a way to educate his band members.

"We try to teach our students to support the community, and we try to use the band program as a ... tool to help the community," White said.

Donna Mercer, of McDonough, brought her three foster kids to the event, which she has attended for the last five years. She said the breakfast gives foster children a change from what they might be used to. "We try to provide for them, and bring them to a place that's exciting — things that they might have never been around before," Mercer said.

Walt Walker, of Locust Grove, brought his 7-month-old foster child to the breakfast, which he attended for the first time Saturday. Walker said he appreciates the support of county leaders, as he strives to help a child in need.

"Without the help of the county, the commissioners and the state, we wouldn't be able to take care of these children," he said.