HELENA – Individuals were recognized on Tuesday for their efforts to support children and families at the annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference.
Bryon and Lindsey Gustafson of Nashua were named the Jana Elliott Memorial Resource Parents of the Year for excellence in working with birth parents and foster/adoptive children.
Since becoming foster parents two years ago, the Gustafsons have fostered 11 children. The couple said their first foster youth was a bit of an intense experience due to how fast everything moved.
“We went to the CPS office– it’s supposed to take a few months to do the paperwork, it only took a week,” explained Bryon, “[the girl] was in a really bad situation, needed to be removed and there’s not a lot of people that want to care for teenagers which is something we specifically want to do because of that.”
The Gustafsons ended up adopting the teen and said though they had their struggles, being a foster parent was an amazing and humbling experience.
“Really what foster care has taught us is to be more patient, more humble and a lot of forgiveness. We keep thinking that we know how to forgive and then like especially the first one has taught us many times over and over,” said Bryon.
The Gustafsons are currently looking after 4 foster teens in addition to their biological children. They joked that they’re going to need to move into a camper for the summer to make room for more kids in need.
Lindsey said opening their home doesn’t feel like a generous act, but rather merely something they should be doing.
“It feels easy to sacrifice those things just because there’s a higher calling, such a higher need here for them. It’s just second nature now to set your selfish nature aside and make a sacrifice,” said Lindsey.
Bryon and Lindsey also created a program called Foster Love to help prospective foster parents through information sharing. In January 2019, the first meeting was held in Glasgow and about 50 people participated.
The Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference offers three days of training and breakout sessions and is Hosted by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).
Around 500 people were registered this year including foster/adoptive parents, Children and Family Services Division (CFSD) staff, tribal social services staff, county attorneys, judges, counselors, attorney’s and teachers.
More information about foster parenting in Montana can be found on the DPHHS website here.
The following awards were also presented on Tuesday:
Montana Children’s Trust Fund Awards
- Strengthening Families Award Christina Powell, Bozeman Child Advocacy Center.
- Pinwheels for Prevention Award Heather Stenson and Barbara Fitzpatrick, Butte 4-C’s.
- Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award Watson Children’s Shelter, Missoula.
- Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Donation Warehouse, Missoula
Montana CASA/ GAL Association Awards
- Judge of the Year Honorable Judge Yvonne Laird, 17th Judicial District Court, covers Blaine, Philips and Valley counties.
- Program Director of the Year Glenda Noyes, CASA/GAL of Gallatin County
- Advocate of the Year Cathy Jenni, CASA of Missoula
- Board Member of the Year Cherie LeBlanc-Dyba, Executive Director of Eastern Montana CASA/GAL, Miles City
- Youth Achievement of the Year Jasmine Gruber, Kalispell; Kelly Brown, Kalispell; Jazmyn Saunders, Missoula; Kayce Zachariasen, Missoula; Samantha Gloud, Helena; and Emmanual Eporu, Missoula
- Engaging Families in Positive Change Kelly Slattery, Missoula and Jodi Christensen, Kalispell.
- Resiliency Award Deanna Hause, Helena, and Samantha Kitzenburg, Hardin.
- Creative Solutions Award Kate Larcom, Missoula.