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For Jennifer Wilke, being a foster parent is a calling — her way to spread what goodness she can into the world.
"Call it a mission or whatever you like," she said.
The Santa Rosa County resident is currently the mother of two biological children and a foster mother for four additional kids.
"I don't think that people realize that being a foster parent is a financial hardship. When we do something with one kid, we have to do it for three or four or five or six kids or whatever," she said. "If you can't afford afterschool or extracurricular activities into the budget, then you just don't do any."
This spring, however, Wilke's children can all join organized sports teams thanks to scholarships provided by a new partnership between Gulf Coast Foster Bridge and the Tiger Point Sports Association.
The two organizations launched a joint fundraising venture in December to ensure that foster children in Santa Rosa County could know what it's like to be part of a sports team.
In recent weeks, the organizations expanded their scholarship opportunities to include not only foster children but also kids from low-income households.
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"We have a large number of kids in our area, foster kids and kids who are not foster, who are not able to afford sports right now," said Chrissy Venable, vice president of Tiger Point Sports Association.
"For kids in both low-income and in foster families, we just believe that sports can be just such an important role in their lives," Venable continued. "You have a strong role model, and it's good for them to work with a team. So we really just wanted to help to find a way to help them afford it."
There are approximately 100 foster kids living with 30 to 40 foster families in Santa Rosa County, according to Becky Slaymaker, executive director of Gulf Coast Foster Bridge and a Tiger Point Sports Association board member.
"I don't have the exact number of foster families, but I know that there aren't enough," Slaymaker said. "I know that many foster families have their own children and four to six other kids in their home at any point in time."
Foster parents receive a monthly stipend from the state of $13 to $15 a day per foster child.
"But it averages out to be about $400 to $450 a month that families are getting from the state," Slaymaker said. "Well, that's supposed to cover everything. Well, uh, haha, good luck with that."
Tiger Point offers baseball, T-ball, softball, flag football and soccer teams for members' children. There is a $45 yearly registration fee to become a member and it costs over $100 for a kid to join any one team.
"But then you have cleats, baseball bats or soccer balls or uniforms, all of those things," Slaymaker said. "It adds up very, very quickly."
The new scholarships will cover the costs of everything for both foster and low-income families who apply for them.
"We are covering the registration fee, all of the sports fees, and we are covering their uniforms and equipment. We've had some donors already step forward, but we want to keep this going. So, of course, we are going to need donations."
Anyone who wishes to apply to receive a scholarship or who would like to donate to the scholarship fund may do so by visiting the Tiger Point Sports Association website at tpsports.net.
As of this week, eight foster families, each with two to six children, were already participating in the new scholarship program. A total of 60 families — 20 foster families and 40 low-income families — have signed up to receive scholarships, according to Phillip Godwin, a Tiger Point Sports Association board member.
"The purpose behind the program is that we believe that foster children deserve the opportunity to play youth sports just like any other child," Godwin said. "I still remember hitting my first homerun and throwing my first pitch in a baseball game.
"I made memories for life. I made friends. I learned how to respect authority figures with coaches, and it had such a big impact on my life. I believe that these children could greatly benefit from it — the structure, the stability."
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8680.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Tiger Point Sports Association helps foster families afford youth sports