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Four Oaks Family Connections focuses attention on foster teens for Adoption Month

by Barry Green

Monday afternoon, the Four Oaks Family Connections staff announced they will be focusing their attention on the unique needs teens in foster care for Adoption Month.

Every year, more than 23,000 teens transition into adulthood with no adoptive family or permanent connections to caring adults.

Securing lifelong connections for foster teens are a critical component for their:

  • Future.
  • Achievement.
  • Health.
  • Well-being.

Iowa’s News Now spoke with Tonya Watters, Four Oaks Caseworker and Recruitment Leader, to talk more about focus toward teen adoption.

People are intimidated I think when they hear that there’s a teen in need”, said Watters. “And so, I think that having some more education and some support and realizing that these are kids that you can really make the biggest impact with, those formative years. So I think it would be very helpful for folks to come forward and say that ‘they could foster a teen.

Four Oaks will host a National Adoption Day event on Thursday, November 17th.

Adoptions will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Juvenile Justice Center, 211 8th Ave. SW.

This event will feature:

  • Proclamation.
  • Photograph opportunities for families.
  • Food and celebration.

Four Oaks will also hosting several celebrations to recruit new foster families through out December.

The facility will provide support for foster families with:

  • Support.
  • Education.
  • Additional Resources.
  • Team enactment.


Full article can be read at Four Oaks Family Connections focuses attention on foster teens for Adoption Month | KGAN (

Four Oaks’ Liz Estilow Speaks About Foster Care and Her Organization, My G.E.A.R.

Nov 14, 2022

CLINTON – Liz Estilow has seen the terror in a 3-year-old’s eyes when they are taken from the only home they’ve ever known and put in the care of a complete stranger.

Some of them leave with only the clothes they have on, unable to take any of their own personal belongings.

For those who never have had experience with the foster care system, it’s difficult to imagine such a scenario.

However, as someone who worked in the child-welfare system for eight years, Estilow has seen it happen many times.

Seven years ago, she made the decision to create a program to help such children and ease what is often a frightening transition.

“I decided that we needed to do something for our local children going into foster, adoptive or relative placement,” Estilow related. “We did not have any kind of program in the community that took care of the most basic needs for these children at such a traumatic time in their lives.”

So, she founded the My G.E.A.R. Outreach program. “G.E.A.R.” stands for, to “Give” the hope of Jesus, to “Equip” with the most basic needs, to promote “Acceptance” and to “Restore” relationships in the community.

The program provides children going into foster, adoptive or relative placement with a 32-inch, wheeled duffle bag full of comforting essentials, including new pajamas, socks, underwear, pillows, pillow cases, blankets, toys, stuffed animals, crayons, pencils, pens and journals.

The program serves Clinton, Dubuque and Jackson counties in Iowa, and Carroll, Lee and Whiteside counties in Illinois.

The bags are for children ages 0-18 years old and are packed with supplies appropriate for their ages and genders.

These children, she noted, are all around us and need love and reassurance.

“Unless your world’s been impacted (by foster care), you probably don’t think about these kids,” Estilow shared. “But they are in your schools and in your city parks. We hope to shine some hope for these kids, and when they look back on their experiences someday, they can remember their communities tried to support them.”

The My G.E.A.R. founder and director said they have been fortunate to receive funding from a number of sources. The group has asked for churches to sponsor the program and have received grant money and private donations. One donation, given anonymously by a Clinton County resident, was for $15,000.

“We have several people who donate monthly,” she said. “Last year, instead of buying each other Christmas gifts, a family decided to donate money to a charity and we were chosen. We’ve had kids run lemonade stands, and people have garage sales and donate their proceeds to us. We really have an awesome community. People are great to us. We’ve never had to purchase a pillow case … they’re all handmade. We got a $1,000 check from the Round-Up at Randy’s Neighborhood Market, in DeWitt.”

People can donate via PayPal or Venmo on the program website,, or email Estilow at All the money donated stays to benefit local communities.

Running the My G.E.A.R. program is something Estilow does in addition to working as the recruiter and training coordinator for Four Oaks Family Connections.

According to its website, Four Oaks’ mission is to “recruit and retain nurturing and diverse foster and adoptive families to keep children safe from further trauma and assist them in their transition to permanency.”

She said the demand for more foster or respite families is bigger than ever.

“We are in great need throughout the whole state for more loving and stable homes,” Estilow shared. “This is happening. We need good, loving homes to support these children. There’s so much need; but, if we all team up together, it will all work out. We need to get as many people as possible involved in the adoption and foster care world.”


Story from Program aids foster children | Local News |

Nine adoptions took place at the Juvenile Justice Center in Cedar Rapids

by Nada Shamah

It was an emotional day at the Juvenile Justice Center in Cedar Rapids.

Nine children were adopted Thursday afternoon.

For Michelle and Tom Wood of Hiawatha, their wait of 703 days officially came to an end.

They adopted three siblings, two sisters and a brother, into their family.

The couple says they knew the moment they met the children, they were the ones.

The Wood’s knew the birth mother of the children, and had made a promise they intended to keep.

“I just want to make sure they’re always safe and loved. And for my aunt Donna that always asked me for years if I would take them. She’s passed away but, we were just happy that we were able to do it.”

The Woods spent years fostering and adopting. They say it’s difficult but well worth it.

Their children range from ages 15 months to 24-years-old.

They say they don’t have plans to adopt more, but if it’s meant to be it will be.

The event was sponsored by Four Oaks Foster & Adoptive Family Connections.

November is National Adoption Month.

During this time, organizations work to raise awareness for the need and importance of fostering and adopting.

Full article found on Nine adoptions took place at the Juvenile Justice Center | KGAN (

Four Oaks Foster and Adoptive Family Connections held annual adoption celebration at Scott County Courthouse

Published: Nov. 20, 2022 at 10:27 AM CST

DAVENPORT, Iowa. (KWQC) – Four Oaks Family Connections raised awareness at Scott County Courthouse today for the need for and importance of foster and adoptive families across the nation.

“Today is an amazing day, so national adoption month is in November, and so every year we celebrate with the court,” Christa Hafel, Four Oaks Family Connections Recruitment and Training manager said. “And we do a big adoption day, we try to get as many families as we can to complete their adoptions on adoption day, which is today.”

With smiling faces of parents and children everywhere, one local dad gives his take on why he comes to this celebration.

“Hearing the stories about the, you know, the past adoptions and families and how they came, you know, all the different routes that, that people have taken to get to this day, and it’s, it’s good to hear stories like that,” Ethan Owen said, Adopter of four boys. “And just to kind of know that you’re not, you’re not really any different.”

Besides enjoying stories and families company, Owen adds some things that are important for being a stand-up dad.

“Time, patience and things like that, and it really helps me focus on those kinds of things and try to pass on more now as they’re older,” Owen said. “And I feel like they understand more of what’s going on in adult life to kind of give them more better advice.”

This organization provides the tools and services needed for families interested and children in need.

“Every month we have adoptions and Four Oaks Family Connections takes great pride in training and preparing those families for reunification,” Hafel said. “And when that can’t happen, we absolutely love to support them in the adoption route. We also provide adoption support services to those families for forever, so they can have that service.”

The family connections event included area professionals and local families finalizing the adoption process.

Click the link to see the full video

Four Oaks Foster and Adoptive Family Connections held annual adoption celebration at Scott County Courthouse (

Four Oaks Education Liaison Kara Grafft Appears as Guest on KCRG News

On Friday, November 18, 2022, Four Oaks Education Liaison Kara Grafft made an appearance on KCRG News! Kara shared tips and coping techniques that anyone can use when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Kara did a great job and will be back on KCRG on December 19! Click here to watch the interview!



Four Oaks Is A Candidate In Veridian’s Spark The Spirit Campaign

Critter Crusaders was the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor’s top vote-getting organization in Veridian’s Spark the Spirit giving campaign last year. CREDIT VERIDIAN

Veridian Credit Union is accepting votes for nonprofit organizations across Iowa and eastern Nebraska to receive $38,000 in celebration of Giving Tuesday on Nov. 29, including five organizations in the Corridor.

Twenty organizations across Iowa and eastern Nebraska have been nominated for the Spark the Spirit campaign by Veridian employees, including these five in the Corridor: Deafinitely Dogs!, Four Oaks, Freedom Foundation, Trees Forever and Willis Dady Homeless Services.

Veridian’s annual Spark the Spirit campaign is designed to be a reminder that Giving Tuesday is approaching and an invitation for public input on where a portion of the credit union’s giving should be directed to celebrate.

Votes are being accepted through Nov. 11 at

“The holidays are often a time of increased need, and many in our communities are facing an additional, unique set of challenges,” said Renee Christoffer, Veridian’s president and CEO, in a news release. “Spark the Spirit is one way to make a difference and a reminder for all of us of the importance of giving locally.”

The top vote-getting organization in each region, including Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, the Des Moines Metro and Omaha/Council Bluffs, will receive $5,000 each. Organizations receiving the second- and third-most votes in each region will receive $2,500 and $1,000, respectively. Organizations receiving the least votes will receive $500. Details are also available at

Veridian Credit Union, founded in 1934 in Waterloo, Iowa, has 30 branches across Iowa and eastern Nebraska. For more information, visit or call (800) 235-3228.