In 1996, Celeste and Jeff Bodner bought an old house in Seaside, Oregon, and hired a crew to renovate it. One day, two young boys arrived at the house to visit their mother’s boyfriend, who happened to be on the construction team. When the boys began appearing day after day, the Bodners started inviting them into the house for some snacks. When the construction ended, the boys, ages 10 and 12, kept coming to the house.
Soon the couple realized why the boys were around so often: they weren’t leaving. They had been sneaking into a shed behind the house to sleep. There, they had no change of clothes, no basic necessities, no food. For weeks, their mother had been neglecting them, leaving the boys to fend for themselves.
Horrified, the Bodners contacted child services who stepped in to bring the boys into the foster care system. There was one catch: The boys faced being separated. Hysterical and heartbroken, the boys begged their social worker to ask the Bodners if they could stay with them while their mother got help. The couple said yes.
The Bodners went through all of the training required for foster parents — background checks, classroom hours — and also contacted other experienced foster care couples to gain insight. They realized quickly, though, the boys didn’t have any resources to support them through this transition. Though the Bodners had a wealth of information to help them through the process, the boys had nothing to prepare them for what would be happening.
The Bodners decided to change that — for their foster boys and others in the foster care system. In 2000, Celeste started FosterClub as an online support group for foster children. The club allows those in foster care to reach out to other foster children; it also gives advice and information on what to expect when they are in child services. Celeste did this with no funding, but a will of iron. Within a year, the website became a popular place for children in the foster care system to come for support.
“The children and youth who became members were able to connect with peers, share their experiences with others (confidentially), read inspiring stories about famous former foster kids, and find answers to their questions using the first 24-hour, seven-days-a-week resource built specifically for them,” the FosterClub website states.
According to the website, FosterClub has almost 45,000 members. However, it has expanded from support group to other initiatives, including the All Stars Program, a 12-month internship for 24 teens in social services to gain leadership skills and help improve the foster care system.