In 2017, Tammy and Russell Swiggart of Edmond, Okla., were already veteran foster parents when they received a call that two girls, ages 14 and 15, needed a safe place to stay that night. The Swiggarts wanted desperately to help but had no place for the girls to sleep on such short notice. In Oklahoma, as in many states, foster homes must have a bed for each child before a placement can be made.
Fortunately for the Swiggarts, their foster care agency put them in touch with Fostering Sweet Dreams, a nonprofit founded in 2016 by Kristy Payne, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Edmond. Fostering Sweet Dreams provides beds, dressers, and other essential home goods that make it easier for families to accommodate foster children. By the time the girls arrived, Payne had two beds delivered and assembled at the Swiggarts’ home .
For many foster parents, handling the costs of beds or car seats can pose a significant challenge. Sometimes families are thrown into a situation unexpectedly, asked by authorities to provide a safe home for children of relatives or friends. Other times, siblings might be separated if there aren’t enough beds in one home for all of them. In such cases, Fostering Sweet Dreams steps in to provide enough beds so siblings can stay together under one roof. The organization also enables children to stay with someone they know when they are placed in foster care to escape dangerous or highly unstable situations at home, such as when a parent is physically abusive or an addict.
A former foster mom herself, Payne knows the Oklahoma foster care system has thousands of children who need homes. “I hated the fact that people were having to turn down helping these kids they knew and loved because they didn’t have the financial means,” she says.
More Than Just a Bed
Payne and her husband, Randy, a police officer, already had two children when they decided to become foster parents. They later adopted two more children from foster care, but Payne still held a strong desire to do more for the child welfare community. Through her work as a real estate professional, she was aware of extra beds and other furniture that clients no longer needed and sought to donate. That’s what generated the idea for a nonprofit.
Randy was originally hesitant, given the demands of their jobs and busy family life. However, sleeping on the idea gave him a change of heart. He woke up one morning and said to Kristy, “I think you need to do this. And the name,” he said, “should be ‘Fostering Sweet Dreams.’” Today Randy is heavily involved in the organization, assembling beds, moving furniture, and helping with fundraising.
From the get-go, Payne was amazed at how many children the nonprofit was able to help. “24 in one month!” she says, recalling the group’s early days. “I realized this is what I’m supposed to be doing, because I could never bring that many kids into my home.”
“I hated the fact that people were having to turn down helping these kids they knew and loved because they didn’t have the financial means.”—Kristy Payne
In three years, Fostering Sweet Dreams has been able to serve more than 2,000 children. The organization’s reach extends to 31 counties across Oklahoma. Case workers and families drive from all over the state to pick up furniture from Payne.
Sometimes the arrival of beds helps to bring a fractured family back together. Dr. Reginald Mitchell Sr., child welfare specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, remembers a family with eight children that was going through a difficult time. While the children stayed with relatives, the parents were working hard to build a supportive home for the kids to return to. Fostering Sweet Dreams helped by providing beds for all eight children. According to Mitchell, this was a huge turning point for the family. The mother, who suffered from depression, regained hope when the beds arrived. Payne helped change the whole dynamics of the case, Mitchell says. “She does wonders for helping the DHS work with families."
Dreams for the Future
Getting the word out about the organization was surprisingly easy, Payne says. In fact, Fostering Sweet Dreams has never had to use paid advertising. Her real estate connections and wide community support have enabled the group’s rapid success, she says, referring to in-kind donations, local grants, and sizable checks from neighbors. Even with a steady stream of furniture donations, items are distributed to foster families in need almost as soon as they come in.
Determined that the organization be able to thrive well into the future, Payne is focused on several long-term priorities. She wants to purchase a building that better serves for the operation’s needs than the storefront she currently rents. The present space isn’t set up for moving large furniture through the doors and onto trucks, and it lacks sufficient storage capacity. A warehouse would allow Fostering Sweet Dreams to accept more donations and get them on their way more easily.
She also wants to create paid positions for day-to-day tasks so volunteers can focus solely on helping the organization grow. Currently, unpaid workers do everything it takes to keep Fostering Sweet Dreams running—moving furniture, cleaning the office, handling the nonprofit’s budget, and organizing fundraisers.
Right now, the entire Swiggart family volunteers, eager to give back to the organization that helped them. Another volunteer, Angela Payne—no relation to Kristy—was moved to donate her time shortly after relocating to Edmond from Texas. She now serves as the organization’s vice president and describes Payne as her role model. “There’s never a problem that’s too big for Kristy,” she says. “She always finds a way to get things done.”
Kristy Payne’s passion for helping foster children is what keeps her going through long days. Her reward is knowing she’s made a difference in children’s lives. “The impact is immediate when you give a child a bed. To see the huge smile on their face is pretty cool,” she says.Contact Kristy Payne at email@example.com and learn more about Fostering Sweet Dreams at http://www.fosteringsweetdreams.com.