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Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Us a Match

Featured Photo from Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Us a Match

Matching foster teens with willing parents is tricky, but the results can be equal parts fun and fulfilling

When Chas first met her foster mother three years ago, she immediately felt a connection. Sitting across from Chas at their initial meeting, Shyrene Hamzehloui saw the person she wanted to bring into her home.

“We both said yes!” smiles Shyrene. “You get a feeling for people. She had a good spirit and a good heart. Not rude, just a normal, shy 15-year-old.”

“I thought she was really nice,” says Chas.

It was a perfect match, not merely by the hands of fate, but more so from the behind-the-scenes work of Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBCCF). On any given day, CBCCF staff are searching to match a Chas with a Shyrene dozens of times over.

“We are actively seeking 100 foster families,” says Danielle Abbey, communications manager for CBCCF. Danielle says the agency serves 3,000 kids daily through its many programs and services – including adoptions, transition services for those aging out of the system, and diversion programs to prevent the need for an at-risk child to enter the foster-care system in the first place.

Shyrene, who hails from Sanford and works for her family’s furniture design gallery, says she reached a point in her life when she yearned to share her home and successes with others.

“I started collecting information on fostering and then took classes,” she says. “Before I knew it, I was licensed.”

Today, Shyrene and Chas live together on two acres in Seminole County with cats, rabbits, deer, frogs, and the occasional bear. They travel together and learn life lessons from one another, and Shyrene and Chas wouldn’t have it any other way. Shyrene, who earned her undergraduate degree from UCF and a master’s from the University of South Florida, credits her CBCCF trainer for bringing Chas into her life.
“In Seminole County, the training and placement is conducted by the same person,” Shyrene explains. “They evaluate you and the kids to find a good match. My initial goal was to foster an elementary- or middle-school student. But as you go through the process, you find out the biggest needs are newborns, infants, and teenagers.”

Danielle adds that criteria for a good match include minimizing the child’s transition into a new life. Although Chas was living in a Kissimmee group home, she was originally from Sanford.

This year, Chas, now 18, graduated from a local parochial school. In the fall, she starts a new chapter at Seminole State College to study nursing. 

“I like helping people,” says Chas, who amassed more than 2,000 volunteer hours working with kids in Sanford during high school. “When my grandmother had cancer, I helped her, and I have also worked with an autistic child.”

Teen Years and Beyond

Given the fact that foster teens can be the hardest to place, Danielle says the sight of such a match blossoming makes all the hard work worth the effort.

“Chas loves her foster mom, who is with Chas every step of the way,” says Danielle. “They have an amazing relationship.” 

One misconception about foster care is that once a child turns 18, they age out of the system. While the young adults are free to move on, many, like Chas, do not and are entered into extended foster care. Although funding runs out at age 21, older foster children are able to receive nonfinancial support (like help finding housing or navigating higher education) until they turn 23. However, most of the CBCCF staff forms relationships with these young men and women and offers informal assistance long after they age out.

Danielle admits that these older children may need some extra TLC from foster parents, but they are simply seeking the same love and acceptance as any other child.

“There is a lot to fostering a kid,” says Shyrene. “But I really enjoy being a foster mom. Chas has definitely kept my life interesting.”

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