Written by Emily Mullins
When Katrina Lorenzo received the letter from Project Visitation seeking the help of First United Protestant Church UCC, she couldn’t help but cry. While the church receives solicitations from all types of social service organizations, the outreach committee chair of the Hilo, Hawaii-based congregation knew this was a cause worth pursuing.
“It was just something I felt we needed to do for the kids,” Lorenzo said.
Project Visitation provides monthly visits and special events for siblings separated by the foster care system. Created by the Hawaii First Circuit Family Court and the Department of Human Services in 2001, the program strives to minimize the trauma of family separation by supporting sibling relationships, and bringing brothers and sisters together in a fun and safe environment. Project Visitation relies on community volunteers, like Lorenzo and the First United Protestant Church UCC, to help organize the visits and provide those safe locations.
The church’s first visit is scheduled for next month. The gatherings will typically occur on Saturdays, especially since the new school year has started, and can last anywhere from 4-6 hours. Lorenzo said the church plans to provide lunch, snacks, toys and games during the children’s visits. While Project Visitation tries to coordinate meeting locations near the foster family homes, First United Protestant Church UCC will also provide transportation to and from visits if needed.
“This gives us a great way to allow these kids to reconnect,” Lorenzo said. “These times of separation can be really scary, especially for the younger children. This gives them some time to bond.”
Lorenzo had hoped to get the visits started sooner, but noted that it’s challenging to coordinate a day when each foster family is able and willing to participate. Project Visitation strives to get all of the siblings reunited in the same place on the same day, which can be difficult, particularly in families where four or five children have been separated. However, Lorenzo notes that the organization does a very good job communicating with families and volunteers, and currently coordinates more than 200 visits a year.
For now, Lorenzo is looking forward to hosting their first gathering. And while she will still read requests from the other organizations, she is glad this particular letter for such a meaningful program made its way into her hands.
“Even if it seems so small – even if it’s just one hour – it would make me so happy to know that my siblings are okay and cared for,” Lorenzo said. “It gives them a sense of security and hope.”