Partnership for Strong Families celebrates 10 years


Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.

Jeanette Carter said she was 16 the first time she knew she wanted to adopt foster children.

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She had gone with her church to a group home where the children would sleep without pillows. Toddlers weren't held by visitors because the 2- and 3-year-olds were considered too dirty to be hugged.

"It broke my heart," Carter said. "I made a promise to myself and God that if I could prevent any child from harm, I would."

Forty years later, Carter and her husband, Virgil, have provided a medical foster home for more than 200 children — so many children that Virgil lost count when they hit the 200 mark.

"My husband's and my lifetime is just about done," she said. "We encourage all young people to please consider loving a child."

The Carters spoke to about 60 people at the Partnership for Strong Families' "10 Years and Growing" tribute Thursday at the Best Western Gateway Grand. The event celebrated the agency's 10th anniversary and its accomplishments.

Since 2003, PSF has provided child welfare services to more than 50,000 victims of child abuse and neglect. The agency has finalized more than 1,400 adoptions and reduced the number of children in foster care in the 13 counties they serve by 46 percent since 2009.

The SWAG Family Resource Center in southwest Gainesville averages 935 visits per month, and the Library Partnership in northeast Gainesville had more than 7,000 visitors in 2012, according to PSF. Both the SWAG center and Library Partnership are projects carried out by PSF.

PSF oversees the child welfare needs of 13 counties in North Central Florida: Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Union.

Shawn Salamida, CEO and president of PSF, grew up in a house with foster kids. His parents had four children and then adopted seven others from multiple racial backgrounds.

"People called us the United Nations when we walked by," he said. "One lady even gave us a donation. The embarrassing part of that story is that my father took it."

Last year, Salamida and his wife adopted two children from the foster care program.

"It's not easy, because these children are traumatized, but that's why there's such a great need," he said.

On Thursday, PSF also unveiled the agency's vision for the future and the goals it hopes to achieve. These goals include preventing child abuse by promoting prevention and intervention programs focused on the 0 to 5 age population, increased presence in PSF's rural communities and diversifying PSF funding, said Dr. Michael Bowie, chair of PSF's board of directors.

"An old African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child," he said. "We have beating hearts, hearts that will continue to beat for these children, but we cannot achieve this vision alone. We need our community."

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