Adoption Swaption, an organization that provides clothing, toys, diapers, and baby equipment for foster and adoptive families, was launched Feb. 2018 with the goal of helping 10 foster/adoptive families. Its outreach has expanded. In just the first year, it served 20 families. So far this year, 100 families have been assisted.

The organization was founded by two friends who are also foster moms; one from the Lebanon area, Billie Johnson, and one from Douglassville, Charissa Bjorgen. The two were both foster parents for Berks County and both served on the board for Berks County Resource Parent Association. “We were helping foster and adoptive families in a different way,” Johnson explained, “As our kids outgrew things, we passed them along to our foster families.”

They realized there was a need to be filled. “As a foster parent, you may have time to gather some items for kids, but sometimes people such as grandparents are thrust into foster care without much notice,” Johnson said, “Foster placements can happen at all hours—late at night or early morning; times when stores aren’t open. Sometimes the kids only have the clothes on their back, so it’s little things like a toothbrush or a stuffed animal as well as things like clothes and shoes that foster parents may need.”

They started Adoption Swaption as a foster closet with a goal of providing items of necessity quickly for new foster placements, as well as be a place of ongoing support to the whole family. “It took off faster than we had imagined, but things fell into place,” Bjorgen said.

“For us this is God’s calling. My husband Alan and I met with our pastor about the idea and then I talked to Charissa about it,” she said.

Both women have biological children as well as adopted children. Bjorgen and her husband Tim have one biological child and three adopted children. They range in age from 5 to 11 years-old. Johnson has two biological children, four adopted children, and two children that she and her husband have custody of. They range in age from 11 months to 18-years-old.

Initially Adoption Swaption’s foster closet was housed in one and then two trucking trailers with a shed for donations at Open Door Baptist Church, Lebanon. It moved in January 2019 to its current location – an indoor facility at Lighthouse Baptist Fellowship, 155 Lickdale Rd., Jonestown. The donation shed was moved to this site. Gently used items for children and teens in good condition are accepted.

The organization has a group of volunteers that include foster and adoptive moms, grandparents and community members. Even family members become involved. Johnson said her dad helped hook up a washer and dryer. “We do a lot of laundry. We make sure any clothing and bedding that’s donated is clean before we put it in our foster closet, so having a washer and dryer is really important,” she explained.

One key item for new foster parents of younger children is a car seat. Other key items include cribs, playpens, strollers, walkers and high chairs. “The community has been very supportive. We’ve received both donated items and monetary donations,” Johnson explained, “We use some of the funds to purchase gift cards to stores like Boscov’s and Wal-Mart. When teens come in we may not have their size clothing or clothing they like. We know it helps their self-esteem if they can pick what they wear, so we can offer a gift card so they and their new foster parent can go shopping.”

Community volunteers also help out in other ways. Volunteers from High Point Baptist Chapel, Douglassville, have assembled “Ready Bags” for Adoption Swaption. Bjorgen explained that the bags contain some essential items such as toothpaste, toothbrush as well as an item such as a book or stuffed animal. Adoption Swaption has ready bags for girls and for boys as well as for different age groups. “When the kids are removed from their homes, they don’t get to bring a lot of things with them. Our Ready Bags have some basics, and a stuffed animal or a book is that little extra. Our parents know we’re on call in case of emergencies and can respond,” Johnson said.

But Adoption Swaption ministers to more than just physical needs. “We focus on how we can help the adoptive and foster families as a whole, so we’re also a support system,” Bjorgen said.

Adoption Swaption periodically hosts Mom Nights where foster and adoptive parents can gather to share experiences and give one another advice. “New foster parents are very overloaded; there’s an adjustment period for both the foster parents and the kids.” Johnson explained, “Sharing experiences can be helpful for everyone, especially for new foster moms; they realize they’re not alone.”

And one foster family is selected each month to receive a $50 gift card. “We want the foster parents to go out for a ‘date night,” she said, “My teenagers even volunteer to babysit so parents can have a night for themselves and not worry about the kids.”

The organization also hosts an annual picnic and a holiday party for its families. The holiday party features a traditional holiday meal and all the trimmings as well as a Santa Shop. Unfortunately the summer picnic was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson said she and Bjorgen are hoping the holiday party can be held.

She also said the foster closet was closed for about three months in response to the pandemic. Since it reopened in mid-June a few of the policies have changed to ensure the health and safety of both volunteers and shoppers. Johnson said normally children come along to shop, but now it’s limited to parents. And they’re asked to wear face coverings and not to visit if they’re feeling ill.

The duo is also working on obtaining 501(c)(3) status for Adoption Swaption as a charitable organization. It’s currently under the umbrella of Open Door Baptist Church. “It’s the next step in our growth,” Johnson said.

In the meantime, they and volunteers are busy making the seasonal change for clothing in the foster closet. For those wishing to donate to Adoption Swaption, a wish list has been set up on Amazon.com, and there’s a Fall Fundraiser via PayPal.

Information about these and other activities is available on Adoption Swaption’s Facebook page. Additional information about the organization is also available at www.adoptionswaption.com.


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Rochelle Shenk

Rochelle A. Shenk is a writer with over two decades experience. Her work appears in regional business publications and lifestyle magazines as well as area newspapers. She writes about business and municipal sectors as well as arts and entertainment, human interest features, and travel and tourism. Rochelle...

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