The Heart Gallery—A Different Kind of Valentine
by Michael McAllister
Valentine’s Day: Hearts, flowers, chocolates, and romance. But love, we know, takes many forms and fulfills many needs. A display currently hosted by Grinnell’s Drake Community Library reminds us that those deserving of love do not always receive it, but there are steps people can take to help.
Called the Iowa Heart Gallery, the display is an outreach effort of Iowa KidsNet, an organization that seeks to secure permanent homes for Iowa children in need by working with families. The exhibit consists of portraits of children currently in foster care and eligible for adoption.
Professional photographers have donated their time and talents to produce the portraits. According to Iowa KidsNet, the portraits “significantly increase the chance of children finding an adoptive home.”
At the Drake Community Library, portraits are arranged to the right as one walks east down the central corridor.
Iowa KidsNet is not a placement agency, but the organization works closely with the Iowa Department of Human Services to, in the words of its mission statement, “recruit and retain stable, nurturing, and diverse foster and adoptive families to keep children safe from further trauma and assist them in their transition to permanency.”
The goal of foster care is to provide a loving home for a child until that child can be united with his or her birth family. In some cases, however, the court system may determine that parental rights must be terminated, and at that point the child is eligible for adoption.
Every effort is made to keep siblings together whether fostered or adopted.
Statistics available from 2015 report that 2,550 children were referred to foster care in Iowa that year. Three-quarters of the children were 12 years old or younger. In general, 57% of foster children return to their family situations. The Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region, of which Grinnell is a part, ranks fourth in the state as to the greatest need for foster care.
Other agencies partnering with Iowa Kid’s Net include Children’s Square USA, Lutheran Services of Iowa, and Four Oaks, the entity serving Grinnell. The contact person at Four Oaks is recruiter and licensing specialist Vivian Willemsen, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extensive information about foster care and adoption opportunities is available at www.iowakidsnet.com. In addition, other ways of supporting the program are detailed—such as downloading church bulletin inserts or materials for presentations to service organizations or community groups. Iowa KidsNet especially encourages pastors, community leaders, school administrators, teachers, and coaches to become involved.
Flowers wither and die. Chocolates are consumed. Even the Heart Gallery is temporary, as it will leave the library on February 19. But Iowa’s need for foster and adoptive families will remain.