- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Northern Virginia social services soon will have an additional tool to find homes for hard-to-place foster children.

Hope Village Inc., started by Paul and Lori Thomas of Leesburg, will create a close-knit community of foster families, therapists and “grandparents” — senior citizens who will volunteer to mentor the children.

“The most exciting part is the senior-citizen participation,” Mrs. Thomas said. “It really adds the intergenerational element.”

Hope Village is based upon a 10-year-old pilot program in Illinois called Generations of Hope.

“We have a very positive relationship with Loudoun and Fairfax County social services, and they have encouraged us to move forward,” said Mrs. Thomas, the nonprofit group’s president.

The organization was incorporated in 2001. The first few years were spent fundraising, building a board of directors and researching other successful foster-care programs.

Hope Village’s board includes former social service workers, behavioral therapists, businessmen and Loudoun County Supervisor Stephen J. Snow.

The organization is trying to find suitable land to begin building by next year. The initial plans call for 15 single-family foster homes and 15 senior-citizen houses.

While buildings are being constructed, Hope Village will begin recruiting and training foster and adoptive parents.

“This will be a big task, since they will need to be willing to adopt these children as their own,” Mrs. Thomas said.

Families who are accepted into the program will receive rent-free housing and other benefits.

After two houses are built, the first families will be allowed to move in. Also planned is a community center with administrative offices and tutoring rooms.

“Hope Village will be a wonderful resource in a county that has such terrific growth,” said Ellen Grunewald, associate director of Loudoun County Social Services. “Growth does have an impact. It would be ridiculous to say that isn’t true.”

In the past five years, Loudoun’s population has risen 46 percent, from 169,599 to 247,293. Twenty-one percent are children older than 5.

Children in Loudoun spend an average of 2.1 years in foster care, which is just above the state average, Miss Grunewald said. Last year, 83 children were in foster care in the county.

“All of us at the agency are open for new services to serve [foster] children.” she said. “That can only benefit our county.”

Hope Village will apply for licensing in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

As of 2003, 1,572 children were waiting to be adopted in Virginia, 1,130 children in the District and 2,584 in Maryland, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Almost 120,000 children across the nation are in public foster care and awaiting adoption.

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