Meet Claudia and Mike Mercier, founders of Contra Costa Foster Friends (CCFF). CCFF provides critical and ongoing support for foster kids and their caregivers including a Resource Center that provides essential items to foster families at no charge to them. At any given time, there are 800 kids in care in Contra Costa County plus many more foster-adopted children. The Merciers have been a licensed foster home through Contra Costa County for 18 years. In that time, they have fostered 14 children from infants on up. They have adopted two of them to join their five biological kids. “I really felt like it was a calling, I just had a deep sense that I was called to bring children into the home,” Claudia says.
Fostering can be extremely stressful. According to Claudia, nationally, 50% of foster families quit after their first placement, and 80% after their second placement. “For the first ten years of our fostering, we really fostered in isolation,” Claudia says. After 10 years they began connecting with a few families that could assist them when needed. “It was a game change to have that backup.”
That was the initial motivation for creating our Contra Costa Foster Friends. It all started in January 2018 with two other families with an online forum, and within a few years, it grew to 350 families.
It became a nonprofit entity and now effectively serves the entire Contra Costa County foster care population. “We wanted to flood foster families with so much support that they could keep their foster doors open.”
They spent years building a comprehensive menu of support including social events, support groups, and an online forum for families to post real-time questions and needs. They were also sourcing tangible goods for essential needs such as car seats, strollers, clothes, and toys, etc. but with no place to store these items.
Marin Foster Care Resource Center knew that CCFF wanted to bring a resource center to Contra Costa County and graciously funded its launch. They bought all the racks and shelves and the hangers, etc. and gifted the first six months of rent, (which ended in May of this year.) The Resource Center is open at 367 Civic Drive, Suite #7 in Pleasant Hill. Anyone Fostering a child in Contra Costa County can shop there for free. All items in the resource center have been donated by the community.
“We are a brick-and-mortar shop for foster children, full of essential items at no charge for foster children in Contra Costa County. We have a special room dedicated to foster teens because 50% of children in care are teenagers.”
Now with rent to pay, they are actively pursuing grants and private donations to fund its operations.
“My husband is the treasurer and the grant writer. We have close to 60 grant letters of inquiry or applications out, but grants take time to process.”
Some grants are just starting to trickle in. Private community donations will help until the bigger grants come. Unfortunately, many grants require a minimum two-year nonprofit status. With CCFF at the 15-month mark, it will need to skimp to survive until next August to hit the two-years as a nonprofit mark.
Nancy Bennett, a Keller Williams Realtor, who has fostered 26 kids in the past 16 years says CCFF has changed her life. “I got into fostering because I really wanted to have kids in my life, and I was not able to have children, so I started learning more about fostering and all the trials, tribulations, joy, pain…and opportunity — not only for myself, but more importantly, for the kids to be able to provide a stable environment, and obviously a lot of love. My realtor life provides me with a lot of flexibility (with time).
“CCFF Resource Center is phenomenal. Claudia has created a sense of community where you meet other foster parents and are able to talk about some of the stuff that regular people don’t understand. Before the Resource Center, I was over at Walmart buying clothing, getting pajamas, diapers and sometimes food. With the Resource Center, I can have that availability of stuff without having to spend $300. I can see Claudia at either her Monday night workshops or at the Resource Center to say, ‘Can I just tell you about this?’ Or ‘I need a car seat and I need three bottles.’
“Sometimes, the kids are out of control, and we as foster parents, have to stabilize them, hold them, and let them have these big feelings. But what do we do with all of that stuff that we have taken on? Having this community and finding support after enduring a hard week is just beautiful. We can’t post this stuff on Facebook. This community is important!”
Others can help. CCFF is hosting a social media fundraiser throughout November in honor of its one-year anniversary. On December 7, they will celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Resource Center for all to see.
Go to Facebook and Instagram, Contra Costa Foster Friends. Or go to the website, www.ccfosterfriends.org.
“There is a touch of Christian in Claudia,” Bennett says. “This is going to continue to grow, and that helps foster parents not only stay foster parents, but potentially attract new foster parents, which is what we need at this point in time. There is a lot of need for kids right now to go to local foster homes.”