Introducing The Village Durham: An Interview with Wendy Dingledein
Written by Erika Castiglione
You don’t have to be around Waypoint long to realize we are a church with a heart for vulnerable children and families. We are thankful to be able to provide opportunities to hear about how to serve through fostering, adoption, Safe Families, and now The Village. I was grateful to be able to ask Wendy about her fostering journey as well as the new ministry she is co-launching.
1. How did you get involved in foster care? Is this something you always wanted to do or was there a particular catalyst?
Foster care was honestly not on our radar. It had not been something Stephen and I had ever talked about. We had decided we were done having children after Elsee, 2 girls and 2 boys, we really thought this was what our family was going to look like. I can't remember the first time foster care was put on my heart but I know Elsee was not yet one year old when the topic started to pop up all around me: TV commercials, meeting people randomly who were fostering, news stories. We had become aware of the need, and we knew that our family was gifted to meet this need.
2. How many children have you been able to provide care for and for how long?
Over the past four years, we have had over a dozen children in our home, some for a night, a weekend, a week. We have had two long term placements. Our first was with us almost 6 months, and our sweet little buddy with us now has been here for almost 3 years.
3. What have been some of the biggest challenges of being a foster parent/foster family? What have been some of the biggest blessings?
For me, the biggest challenge is so many unknowns. I like to have a plan in advance and stick to the plan. This is almost comical to say out loud at this point. There is so much out of our control in foster care. With our first long-term placement, I was told to have him packed up and ready to be picked up on 3 different occasions, only to find out late in the day that the judge had continued his case to another day. Daily, I decide what is in my control and give the rest to God. I say daily because I keep trying to pick it all back up again. God has used foster care to show me how to trust He is doing the work that we can't. We cry out to Him and He hears us. He loves our kids more that we could ever, and He knows their entire story when we only know a tiny portion.
There are so many blessings in foster care. It has been a tremendous blessing to see our little love's Mom work so hard for them to be a family again. I won't share their story because it is hers to share but I hope someday she will be able to share it with you. It is a story of redemption and perseverance and we feel so blessed to be a witness to their soon to be reunification. It has taken time for healing and healthiness to occur, and this was a humbling experience for us because we were ready for permanency for our guy with another one of his family members a year ago. We struggled to understand why it all fell apart and he came back to live with us. All the while something miraculous was happening in his mom's life. We knew that the best case scenario would be him and his mom together, but if you had asked us if we thought this was possible we would have told you that it was impossible. As we know, with Christ, nothing is impossible, He is bigger than any circumstance and we had a front row seat in watching him work!
Our little guy has been such a joy to Steve and me and also to our children. Watching our children with each child that has entered our home has been amazing. It hasn't been easy for them each time, but God has gifted them for this role as well and we couldn't be a foster family if we all weren't working together. We will likely be entering into a time of grief and celebration soon as our little guy moves from our home back to his first home he was in as a newborn. Our kids are sad AND happy. This is something they have prayed for with us. Embarrassingly even in the times when my selfish heart would not form those words, I would hear them earnestly asking God to bring our little guy and his mom back together. God is teaching me about faith through their little hearts and I'm asking God to align our hearts with His will even when we don't have all the information or knowledge of the future. He does, and He is in control, and He is a good Father.
4. What exactly is The Village Durham? How do you hope God will use this nonprofit/ministry?
The Village Durham seeks to support family preservation by connecting parents and families in crisis to relationships and organizations in the community. Our goal is to empower and advocate for people in our community by equipping individuals or groups to become Family Advocates and pair them with individual families. We are partnering with existing organizations in our community to help meet the diverse needs of each family. My hope for the Village Durham is that we draw our "family" circles bigger, that there would not be families that are unsupported and feeling alone, that less children will have to enter foster care because families have the support they need.
5. What would you tell someone who is contemplating becoming a foster parent?
Ask a lot of questions, any question you can think of. Prepare to get "too attached," it is what will make you an amazing foster parent. Our kids deserve attachment and unguarded love and care. It hurts if/when they leave, but they are worth that. Be open to building a relationship with the parent and family members, fostering is really about the entire family and not just the child that is living in your home. Know who your support system is and start having conversations with them to prepare and educate them.
6. How would you advise someone who doesn't feel called to foster, but still wants to be involved in caring for families in crisis?
There are so many ways to support families in Durham.
Respite- You can become a respite provider for families already fostering by filling out a simple background check to be approved to watch kids in care for parents to have a night off to rest. (Find a foster family and ask to fill out their respite form)
GAL- Each child in care has a Guardian Ad Litem assigned to them. The program trains community volunteers to advocate for the best interest of the child and make recommendations for the child's permanency plan in court. This is so important for our kids to have a representative in addition to DSS and the parents attorney speaking on behalf of the child/children. https://www.nccourts.gov/programs/guardian-ad-litem
The Village- Our organization will have many opportunities this fall to serve families in crisis in Durham, including our Family Advocate program that will train volunteers to walk alongside families and navigate the local organizations providing services in our area. You can sign up to receive more information as these opportunities to serve become available. thevillagedurham.org
7. How can we be praying for you and this ministry?
You can pray for our family as we transition our little love in the next few months, that we would be able to see God's goodness as we grieve. Pray for our relationship with his mom and that his mom will continue to grow in her walk with God. Pray that little love will know the Lord and walk with Him. (Train up a chid in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 ) You can also pray for wisdom and unity in our family as we decide when to open our home to a new placement.