CENTURY 21 Atwood shares the story of Tanya Winter.
"It Is Always Worth It"
Being relentless is a mindset. Tanya Winter, Founder of the Foster Closet Grant County, has just that mindset, and her passion provides life-changing pathways to kiddos and parents in the community.
There are no words to describe what Tanya and the Foster Closet are really doing, but we are going to try! People of all different walks of life need support and togetherness, not judgment. Tanya personifies that every day.
Tanya and her husband Jon live in Hoffman, MN and have 4 kids. Tanya operated a daycare until their youngest child was 5, and then started teaching at Head Start, a federally funded preschool program. It was there that a 3-year-old girl in the Head Start program evoked a new path for Tanya, a transformational journey for so many to come, including her community and her family. That little child, struggling with being bounced around in foster care for many reasons, needed to feel loved and have a sense of security. She was only three and dealing with unthinkable obstacles many of us would never have to experience, ever, at any age. Tanya went home and told her husband that she wanted to foster that child, and so it began.
“If you knew the kiddos backstory and allow that story to put yourself into their shoes… it is always worth it. If you love kids, then you could do it. The hardest kid, the most difficult, is the one that needs you the most.”
Jon and Tanya became foster parents 5.5 years ago, have had over 50 different foster children in their care so far. There were not a lot of foster families in Grant County when they started, so they engaged 4 other families to become fosters throughout this time. Organically a need presented itself – a need for easy access for supplies for kids of all ages.
“One day you need a crib and changing table, or toddler toys and supplies, and two months later you need coats for an 8-year-old and 10-year-old. This was an issue because of upfront costs for the foster families, storage of all of these items when you became a foster parent, and the ability to give that foster child what they needed to feel safe, at home, loved, and secure.”
The Foster Closet was born through a relentless drive to giving kids a chance in possibly the worst moments of their lives. Through the help of others, and because of Tanya’s passion, it happened. A local community member donated space, and Tanya started stocking it with all the things that kiddos of all ages would need. At any time, any foster parent can now go to the Foster Closet and pick up what they need for a child of any age and drop off items too.
“Kids come to you of all different ages and needs, at all different times, including 2am! The Foster Closet gives that foster family access to resources that provide that child security, love, comfort. Which is what they need, and the foster family needs immediate access to these resources to have the best opportunity for their purpose.”
Through Tanya’s efforts, the Foster Closet has grown to other counties in Minnesota and there is now a wish list on Amazon for anyone who wants to donate supplies for the kiddos. In 2020 for Christmas, through the work of the Foster Closet, 26 kids and families each got $2k in gift cards for family support to local retailers, and the kids got $500 in gifts. The community support that Tanya has propelled is beyond amazing. It goes far beyond educating people about the foster system. She is leading a conversation that humanizes people of all different backgrounds, struggles, and needs. Changing conversations away from judgment and into support, acceptance and lifting people up. Not only the kids, but communicating and supporting the parents as well. She still keeps close contact with some past foster kids and their families.
How has this impacted Tanya and Jon’s family of six? Her kids embrace the kiddos that come into their lives. Tanya says her children are “super helpful, and it has opened their eyes to the needs of other families, different obstacles, and real challenges people can face. This experience opened their eyes to acceptance, lifting up, not judging, supporting, helping others.” This type of relentless mindset has now grown in their kids as well, and throughout the community. All four of Tanya and Jon’s children have said they would consider fostering or adopting.
For more information about the Foster Closet, Grant County click here to visit their Facebook page to connect.