It was 1997 when Mark and Karen Ogle made a decision that changed their lives forever.
They became foster parents.
“Karen came home one day and said ‘I think this is something we should do,’” Mark remembers. “It’s been one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done.”
He admits they were a little naive going into it, not really sure what to expect.
“The training was very eye-opening. I was unaware of the need, and of course it’s even greater now,” Ogle said. “You don’t hear about it. It’s an unseen population of children.”
In 1999, they co-founded the Rogers County Foster Care Association.
Over the years, the Ogles have opened their home — and hearts — to 76 children.
“The most we ever had at one time was seven or eight — Karen and I can’t agree which — and all but one was under age 7,” Mark said. “It was only for a week, under special circumstances, but it was wild!”
Although they are not currently active foster parents, with four children of their own at home, Mark says they will consider getting involved again in the future.
Several of their former foster kids still keep in touch, now grown with families of their own.
“It’s not just about providing safety, food and shelter — it’s about giving a child a loving home. Once they are in your home, they’re part of your family,” Ogle said. “ Foster parents aren’t often portrayed in a positive light in TV and movies, but the majority just want to provide good, loving homes.”
And while many people are apprehensive to take on the responsibility, Ogle said the rewards greatly outnumber the challenges.
“It has allowed us to see through their eyes and realize all the things we take for granted. I always thought I had a boring, normal childhood, but when we started doing this, I called my mom and told her thank you,” he said. “You see the results of the worst people, but you also see children’s potential and resiliency.”
Rogers County residents have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children by filling the shortage of local foster homes.
“Within Rogers County there are currently 13 non-relative foster homes, and we have 85 children that have been placed in out-of-home care, which means they were removed for some type of abuse or neglect,” said Jason Cecil with TFI Family Connections.
With the county’s lack of foster homes, children are either placed in a home in Tulsa or in a shelter, Cecil said.
“The entire state of Oklahoma is in dire need of foster parents. There are over 10,500 kids in out-of-home care...and the state only has about 1,650 non-relative foster homes,” he said. “There is a huge problem.”
Cecil and TFI Family Connections want to change that.
Last year, the state privatized its foster care system and contracted TFI to recruit and retain foster parents.
“All kids should be in some type of family setting,” Cecil said. “We want to establish a foster parent base in this area so that any kid removed from a home in Rogers County can be placed in Rogers County. Being removed from their home is traumatic enough, so we don’t like to take them away from their home community too.”
TFI hopes to recruit 8-10 new foster families in the county and plans to eventually have an office in Claremore.
Cecil said that foster parents can be single or married, but must be at least 21 years of age. Parenting experience is not required.
“Anybody that feels like they have a calling to help kids in this area can fill out an application,” he said. “They just need an open heart and home.”
Potential foster parents must complete a 27-hour training class and pass background checks. They will also undergo a home study to ensure the home is safe and suitable for children.
Cecil said a training session in Claremore will begin in mid-February and usually consists of three-hour meetings once a week for nine weeks. The training is free.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent or learning more about process may call 1-866-543-9810 or visit www.tfifamilyconnections.org.
Jason Cecil is also available to give presentations about the need for foster parents to church and civic groups. To schedule a talk, call him at (620) 235-6633.