Werger donates books to Four Oaks of Iowa

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Shelly and Mariha Werger donated a large assortment of children's books to the Four Oaks Foster & Adoptive Family Connections of Iowa. From left are Shelly and Mariha Werger and Christa Hefel, Recruitment and Engagement Leader for Four Oaks. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Four Oaks Foster & Adoptive Family Connections of Iowa is on a mission to create safe environments for at-risk children to remain in their own communities.

Christa Hefel, Recruitment and Engagement Leader for Four Oaks, told The Press, "When children have been removed from their home because of maltreatment or inadequate care, it is to their advantage to keep them in their own communities." She added, "Providing children with continued support from their teachers, coaches, friends and neighbors can make all the difference to a child that has been removed from their home."  

Foster care is intended to provide safe, temporary, living arrangements, and therapeutic services for children who cannot remain safely at home. The foster care system's ultimate goal is to safely reunify children with their parents. If reunification is not possible, foster care advocates will try to secure another permanent home through adoption. Unfortunately, this goal is not always achieved, especially for older youth and children with special needs. These children often spend many years in foster care or group homes, often having to move many times. 

Hefel reported, "Children in foster care are at an increased risk for emotional, physical, behavioral and academic problems. These problems escalate the farther a child is placed from their parental home." She continued, "Transitioning from community to community miles from home creates a sense of increased insecurity, and presents itself in behavioral problems, academic difficulties and a greater risk for anxiety and depression."

The Werger family

Opening their hearts and home to at risk children is second nature to Shelly and Chad Werger. Shelly grew up in a home whose parents routinely shared their love with those in need, setting an example that she would carry with her into her own home. 

Shelly shared, "My mom and dad had over 30 foster children placements over the years, so becoming a foster family was a pretty natural fit."


Individuals interested in becoming a foster parent can visit www.iowafosterandadoption.org,  fill out an online inquiry, complete an orientation, or contact Four Oaks Foster and Adoptive Family Connections at any of their four service areas. Once the paperwork is completed classes can begin. 

Shelly noted, "Classes are typically three hours long, one night a week, for about 10 weeks. It equals 30 hours of training to be compliant with The Iowa Code."

Once classes are completed a caseworker will visit the home and perform a home study. The results are submitted to the Department of Human Services for their approval. "Once you have completed these requirements you are licensed. You can choose to be a foster family, adoptive family or both," Shelly added.

Mariha's journey

Mariha, the Werger's adopted daughter, shared her story with The Press on what was coincidentally National Adoption Day. 

Mariha and Shelly chose a large selection of children's books that centered on children facing the challenge of foster care, and recently gifted them to Four Oaks service center in Northeast Iowa.  

Mariha shared, "I wanted to pick out books that would help other children understand that what they were going through is not their fault. I remember how scared I was when we had to leave our home." 

Mariha, her older brother and younger sister were removed to foster care and relocated to different homes 13 times, ten of them occurring in the same year. 

Shelly compassionately shared, "I will never forget the looks on the children's faces when they walked into our home. It was the evening before Thanksgiving five years ago. Their small frames and sad faces spoke volumes of the rejection and disappointment that they had endured. They were so defeated."

Mariha commented, "I remember thinking – here we go again. I guess this is where we're sleeping tonight."

School was getting increasingly more difficult for the three small children. "I was basically flunking out of school. I was in so many different school systems across the state. I couldn't keep up. The challenge of making new friends and trying to fit in with another new family was too much," she commented. 

Mariha remembered, "I know after a long time they talked about keeping us, and once they told us it was official it was the happiest day ever, knowing that I had a place to stay forever."

The Wergers explained. "If we would not have adopted the kids, they would have been separated. That was definitely a deciding factor in our final decision." 

Each and every day the Werger family takes time for an expression of gratitude. "Each evening before supper we take turns expressing gratitude for our experiences that day. If Chad and I get busy with meal preparation the kids will start without us," Shelly said with a smile. Hefel noted, "When children are removed, the goal is always to attempt reunification if possible.  Some people don't want to get involved in foster care because they are afraid they would get too attached, but you learn in the foster care classes that you want what is best for the children, and that would be reunification with the family."

Christa and Shelly both decided to become foster mothers when they could no longer have children of their own. They expressed, "It is wonderful to experience a child, who has built up walls around themselves out of necessity, because of lack of security and trust, start to allow those walls to come down, opening their heart up to love again." 

The Hefel family

Christa has fostered for over ten years. She and her husband, Ricky, have fostered and adopted several children into the Hefel family, seven to be exact. Christa shared, “Children all deserve a good experience in life; as a foster parent I get to help children go back with the family they were removed from and grieve with those who didn’t. I have never had a more humbling experience. I am very passionate about finding good homes to help these children in need, and I know we have many in Clayton County.” 

She stressed, “As a foster parent in Clayton County you may not get frequent calls looking for a home for children, but when you do, that child needs to stay within their community, not go two counties away.”

Clayton Ridge School

Both women agreed, “Clayton Ridge goes above and beyond, and are leading the pack in giving their teachers and para-educators informed training.  The teachers consider the whole student, and take into account past trauma that may affect coping mechanisms, when attempting to understand behavioral issues.” 

Shelly commented, “I can’t say enough about Shane Wahls as a principal and superintendent. He is always eager to listen to the children and their parents and is willing to make you part of the decision making process.” 

Mariha added,  “There is always someone to help. If I need to talk to my counselor or go to her office, I know I can.” She continued, “The Eagles program is excellent! I receive help, and I get to help the younger kids with schoolwork. They call us smalls and bigs. It’s a lot of fun!” 

For additional information on foster care, or if your would like to become a foster parent, contact Four Oaks Foster & Adoptive Family Connections at www.iowafosterandadoption.org or call 844-380-2484 or find them on Facebook.

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