Pubdate: Sat, 22 Oct 2005
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2005 Statesman Journal
Author: Hank Arends
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


The gauntlet for the need of foster homes for children who are 
victims of meth families has been thrown down before the Salem-Keizer 
faith community.

At a breakfast meeting Thursday, 230 religious leaders heard 
government officials proclaim the need, and a self-identified 
"used-car salesman" challenged them to respond.

The growing number of children needing foster care is because of the 
community responding to "Hurricane Meth" in fighting the 
methamphetamine problem. The kids have been swept up as "The 
Unintended Consequence," which was the title given the meeting and 
the goal of increasing foster homes.

Police agencies are taking the correct step in removing children from 
dangerous home conditions nearly 100 percent of the time, said Pamela 
Abernathy, a Marion County Juvenile Court judge.

"Meth brings with it a level of degradation that few of us get," she said.

Jason Walling, the Marion County Child Welfare Program manager, 
described how during the past four years, the number of children in 
foster care in the community had risen from more than 800 children to 
more than 1,200 children. At the same time, available foster homes 
have increased only to 200.

Bryan Johnston, the interim director of the Oregon Department of 
Human Services, told how meth users try to stay high for as long as 
they can. When they eventually crash, they can sleep for days with 
children left to fend for themselves.

In challenging religious leaders to help solve the problem, Johnston 
said: "Government can't do this. We frankly need help. You have to step up."

Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said, "Meth is a weapon 
of mass destruction in our community. The greatest casualty is our children."

Beglau's deputy, Sarah Morris, is the drug-endangered-children 
prosecutor. She said the meth squalor that is the norm for the homes 
and the neglect faced by the children are horrible. She told of five 
kids who had been removed from such circumstances.

Wil Evarts, who has been a foster-care provider for more than 30 
years, told how other church members 20 years ago used to look down 
on the service as something getting in the way of other ministry.

Evarts said: "After a while, the church began to recognize foster 
parenting as a ministry. Taking care of foster children is the Great 
Commission in action."

The "used-car salesman," Dick Withnell of Withnell Dodge, hosted the 
meeting and told his own story. He was an alcoholic with a shaky 
marriage in 1980 but was rescued with the help of religious leaders, 
he said. Now, the lack of homes is a community problem that needs resolving.

"The faith community can come together and make a difference," 
Withnell said. "We need foster homes today. We are the faith 
community, and faith equals hope."

He illustrated his point with the story of the good Samaritan helping 
the man on the road who was ignored by others.

"Are we going to be good Samaritans? The goody, goody people went to 
the other side, and the used-car salesman met the need. If you can't 
see the need, God help us."

The goal is to add 75 foster homes by the end of the year. More than 
that number signed pledges at the meeting to either become foster 
parents or help recruit others. Those seeking information may contact 
the Marion County Child Welfare Program at (503) 378-6800, Ext. 2215.

Food for funds

A fine meal, musical entertainment and an auction to support 
theological education is Oct. 30.

It is the first fundraising event by the Northwest House of 
Theological Studies in Salem. It will be from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 
30 at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 790 Marion St. NE, Salem.

With a goal of $25,000, the proceeds will help Northwest House 
continue to offer seminary classes at a reduced rate and other 
training open to all.

The $30 admission includes a dinner catered by the Amadeus Cafe. The 
auction items range from home-food items to one-week stays in exotic locations.

Performers include bagpiper Cameron Cruscial, the First Presbyterian 
Church Chorale youth choir, vocalist Sheree Ross (who also works for 
the Northwest House), the Collection Plates, a men's a cappella group 
from the First United Methodist Church, and organist Don Frueh of the 
First Congregational Church.

Reservations are sought by Monday to (503) 588-4344, via e-mail at  or at the Web site 

Hank Arends is a retired religion/ community events writer of the 
Statesman Journal who now writes a weekly column on religion in this space.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman