SHERIDAN — When Chuck and Nicki Burgess became licensed foster care parents three years ago, they didn’t know for certain what it would entail.
The ensuing 36 months have felt like a blur. During that time, the Burgesses have welcomed more than a dozen foster children into their home. The kids have ranged in age from newborn to 10 years old and have stayed with them for as little as 24 hours or as long as 18 months.
To help increase awareness about foster care and raise funds for local organizations, the Burgesses recently partnered with local businesses to sell apparel for the next few months. The clothing went on sale May 1, the beginning of National Foster Care Month.
Various shirts with different phrases — including “Love above all else,” “Walk humbly” and “I am loved” — are available online and will be sold at Real Deals and Bighorn Design in the near future.
Proceeds from the sales will go toward three Sheridan County entities that aid foster care: Hope Pages, Compass Center for Families and the Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange.
Other shirts say “We Are The Village,” signifying that it takes more than a family to raise and support a child. Kids also need guidance from teachers, coaches, peers, mentors and coworkers. The Burgesses understand that being a foster parent isn’t for everyone, but they hope people contribute in whatever capacity they can.
“There are so many ways that people can influence these kids’ lives without being foster parents,” Nicki Burgess said.
The agreement with Bighorn Design came about when the couple asked owner PJ Treide, who quickly agreed. The partnership is the second of Bighorn Design’s “A Garment for Good” program that began last November when the business partnered with Antelope Butte Foundation for about six months.
Alex Mansur, Bighorn Design Studio marketing and account manager, said the agreement helped raise about $8,000 for ABF. Mansur said the foster care apparel will be available online as long as the Burgesses want and clothing will be sold at Bighorn Design from June to August.
The theme of National Foster Care Month this year is “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents.”
Foster care is by its nature temporary, so the theme means parents like the Burgesses act as interim caregivers. In an ideal scenario, foster parents provide short-term support and then the child returns to live with his or her birth family while the foster parents stay in contact.
“There is a satisfaction in seeing them reunited with their families,” Nicki Burgess said.
The Burgesses became licensed foster parents because they wanted to provide another safe option for kids in need.
It has been challenging at times for the parents and their three biological kids — ages 13, 11 and 8 — but they have learned a lot since 2016.
Chuck Burgess said their parenting style has evolved over the years with foster children and the most rewarding part involves seeing kids develop under their care.
“Even though you go through the training, you’re just naturally inclined to parent like you parent your other kids,” Chuck Burgess said. “As you have more (foster children) come through your house, you realize that each kid is unique and they each kind of require a different style of parenting. You figure that out pretty quick.”
Jordan Dempsey, Wyoming Department of Family Services foster care coordinator, said misconceptions about foster care exist, like the incorrect idea that all foster children are poorly behaved or their parents are bad people.
Dempsey also said awareness about foster care could be better in Sheridan County.
“There [are] actually a lot of kids out there that are in the foster care system,” Mansur said. “People just don’t really realize how big of a need it is here in Sheridan.”
Indeed, Chuck and Nicki Burgess grew up in Sheridan but still said it was an eye-opener when they realized how many kids — the number currently stands at about 60 in Sheridan County — who needed foster care.
Nicki Burgess said most people don’t realize when they meet foster children.
“They are very normal kids in very abnormal situations,” Nicki Burgess said.“…They’re the kids sitting next to your kid in class and you just don’t know it.”
Through the fundraising and awareness effort, the Burgesses and local businesses hope to spotlight ongoing foster care efforts in the community.