Faith Project to offer support to foster, biological parents

Debra Geels, a school nurse and co-founder of the Faith Project, makes a presentation on parenting teens to Fort Smith area foster parents at St. Boniface School Nov. 12.
Debra Geels, a school nurse and co-founder of the Faith Project, makes a presentation on parenting teens to Fort Smith area foster parents at St. Boniface School Nov. 12.

FORT SMITH — Five hundred children need foster care in Sebastian County, but there are only 60 foster homes.
Two Catholic school staff members want to bring light to this problem in the Fort Smith area.
Christy Koprovic, a kindergarten teacher at St. Boniface School, and Debra Geels, the St. Boniface School nurse, have been foster parents for several years. Each currently has six children. Christy and David Koprovic have three biological daughters, one adopted daughter, and two foster children, a 3-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. Debra and Patrick Geels have three biological children, two sons and a daughter, and three foster children, all girls, ranging in age from 8 months to 3 years.
“There is a huge shortage of foster families,” Geels said. “We each have a total of six kids and still get occasional phone calls because there is a child who needs a placement, and there is nowhere for them to go.”
The two co-workers and neighbors saw some of the challenges foster parents faced, having to travel long distances to attend required annual training classes and finding affordable baby equipment, clothing and other necessities. They also saw a need for biological parents of foster children to learn parenting skills and for a place where biological parents could visit their children in a homelike setting with toys and games that they could enjoy as a family.
“We talked to Mary Pat Parnell, our foster parent liaison at the Division of Family and Children’s Services, and suggested that we could offer some training to foster families,” Koprovic said. “Because I have a master’s in early childhood education and Debra is an R.N. who has worked in the NICU, home health and as a school nurse, we felt that our qualifications and expertise in working with children might be beneficial.”
Parnell accepted their help.
“They’re just great,” Parnell said. “It was difficult for foster families to get the 15 hours of training they need each year locally.”
They decided to name their venture “Faith Project” and started holding their monthly classes in St. Boniface Parish Oct. 8. About 20 to 30 foster families attended the first two sessions on “attachment and bonding” and “parenting teens.”
The second phase of their dream involved setting up an exchange program for gently used clothing, toys, car seats, cribs, strollers and other equipment, as well as providing small bundles of emergency clothing for children who are removed from their homes during short-term emergencies. The exchange is currently operating out of Koprovic’s garage.
Creating a visitation house is the most expensive part of the Faith Project dream. Currently foster children visiting biological parents see them in small, sparsely furnished rooms without toys, books or learning materials. Koprovic and Geels would like to provide a homelike atmosphere where parents and children could repair their bond through playing, reading and learning together.
Dr. Karen Hollenbeck, St. Boniface principal, is supportive of their goals.
“To know Christy and Debra is to know how much they love children,” she said. “I am so proud to have people like that on my staff because elementary school is all about loving children and helping them to grow into the best people they can be.”
Potential foster parents can take the first step to becoming certified by attending an informational meeting at their local Division of Children and Family Services office. The certification process, which includes 30 hours of training, background checks and home assessments, takes about four to six months.
To learn more about Faith Project programs or to help the project achieve its goals, visit

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Maryanne Meyerriecks joined Arkansas Catholic in 2006 as the River Valley correspondent. She is a member of Christ the King Church in Fort Smith, a Benedictine oblate and volunteer at St. Scholastica Monastery.

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