as taken from the Cook Foster Parent Advocate with reprint permission
Mentoring With Love
Finding an African-American family in the far northwest suburbs of
Chicago may require a house to house search. At least that's what area
white foster parents felt, who had adopted or were fostering African-American
From Shirley and Rich Polk, longtime DCFS foster parents. "We heard
from some friends who knew we have a multiracial family, that there
was a black church congregation in Cary, Illinois, lead by Reverend
Michael Love. Rich's work is in Schaumburg, so we had decided to live
close by in Cary, but really work at maintaining our children's culture.
Usually that means driving quite a distance to cultivate relationships
or attend events. When we heard about the church, we went right away!"
"We were looking for a small town atmosphere within close driving distance
to my work when we moved here from Tennessee," says Rev. Love, whose
day job as a successful corporate senior manager is close to Cary. "As
a Baptist minister, I started a night Bible study group with just a
handful of people at the beginning of 1991. As years passed, through
word of mouth, a church emerged with 125 adult members and 30-40 children
in our children's church. After five years, most of our member families
are African-American professionals living in the northwest suburban
While living in Tennessee, Rev. Love and his wife, Karen, and their
two children had no contact with families who had adopted or were fostering
transracially. In 1994, the Love family became friends with a white
family living in the area who, in casual conversation, mentioned a foster
parent networking group and the many member families who were fostering
and had adopted transracially.
"It surprised and touched me that there were so many families, who
had stepped outside the norm to take care of children," Rev. Love recalls,
"Knowing the obstacles they must be facing, I put some of the families
in touch with resources for African-American children and serveral families
began attending church regularly."
And the word spread and a small, informal mentorship program with Reverend
Love matching an African-American family from his church to a foster
or adoptive family raising black children was born. As time passed,
the program grew until it now has 15 pairs of families matched.
"Church families joining our mentorship program must be members for
one year to be considered and show commitment and interest," Rev. Love
emphasizes, as he matches the families himself. "I've told the families
to be relaxed and let thier relationships grow naturally."
What has been the reaction of others to African-American families becoming
friends and mentoring white families raising black children? "You begin
to look beyond what society expects and come together in a common bond
caring for children who need futures," punctuates Rev. Love. "Children
are growing up today. We have to all work together today to give them
what they need, not wait for the perfect time or the perfect child welfare
Barbara Hellmer, Foster Care & Family Agency in Wheaton met Rev. Love
several years ago. Last February, Rev. Love joined the ECFA Board of
"We first met to discuss mentoring programs and I was overjoyed when
he agreed to join our board," smiles Barbara Hellmer, ECFA Foster Care
Director. "Rev. Love believes we need to be about the business of taking
care of God's children caught up in the foster care system. He truly
puts into practice what he preaches."
Sitting in my Chicago living room, humbly discussing his African-American
Mentor Program, while waiting to pick up his son from choir practice,
I felt Rev. Love's sincerity and his competence. But, most of all, I
felt his humanity and personal dedication to children and to bringing
families together who see the color differences, but don't let those
differences keep children waiting for families or for mentors.
Rev. Love is a hero to the children and families in his church and
mentorship program. And now, he's mine and yours.