Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Marlene Quaroni - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | The Hope, Heart & Home ministry, and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard Parish in particular, once again have been honored for their “distinguished service” on behalf of children in foster care.
The recognition came from Worldviews International (City Keepers), an interfaith organization, during a dinner Sept. 7, 2023, at Miami’s Rusty Pelican restaurant.
“We were recognized for the hard work we do in the ministry,” said Eric Schwindeman, founder and executive director of Hope, Heart & Home.
Members of faith-based organizations filled the upper room of the restaurant to receive one of five awards given to dedicated church groups. Trinitarian Father Daniel Houde, pastor of Holy Rosary-St. Richard Church in Palmetto Bay, accepted the award for his church’s support of Hope, Heart & Home.
That support included hosting annual parish drives to collect backpacks, school supplies, Valentine “Love Baskets,” Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas toys, toiletries and even blankets and linens for children in foster care as well as hosting a Holy Smoke BBQ for foster families for the last three years.
Their efforts included recruiting foster parents after all the Sunday Masses and recognizing those who foster in their parish during Foster Parent Appreciation Month.
The beneficiaries of their work included the Citrus Family Care Network, Genesis Hopeful Haven, Catholic Charities’ Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program, Casa Valentina and One More Child.
“They have set the gold standard for every parish in the Archdiocese of Miami,” said Schwindeman. “Putting their faith into action.”
Father Houde said he is familiar with the foster care system since his family fostered children.
Schwindeman, who was adopted himself and is one of four children adopted in his family, started the Hope, Heart & Home ministry in 2018 at his parish, St. John Neumann in Miami. In December 2022, the Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Council gave the ministry an Outstanding Community Service Award for meeting the needs of the vulnerable. That recognition acknowledged the ministry’s efforts to forge collaboration from Tallahassee to Miami-Dade County to help Florida’s 35,000 foster children.
“At this time there are about 1,500 children in the Miami-Dade and Monroe foster care system. It varies,” Schwindeman said.
He conceived the idea for Hope, Heart & Home in 2018 after hearing Voices For Children CEO Nelson Hincapie speak about the huge need for Guardians ad Litem, unpaid volunteers who are appointed by the courts to represent the best interests of a child in a legal proceeding.
Hope, Heart & Home began by recruiting volunteers to act as Guardians Ad Litem. Guardians advocate for children in court and support them through abuse, neglect and abandonment.
“Trained guardians often know more about the child than the overloaded case workers,” Schwindeman said. “They commit to 12 months of work. The court relies heavily on the guardians to get unbiased, real information from their interaction with the kids.”
Hope, Heart & Home volunteers also mentor children, recruit and support foster families, and serve on the Florida Foster Care Review Board. The leadership team is now spread across 11 parishes in the archdiocese’s South Dade Deanery and beyond.
The ministry partners with several non-profit organizations to help foster children, such as Catholic Charities, The Children’s Trust and Citrus Family Care Network, a lead agency for community-based care and child welfare services in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties
“It’s good to have all these people talking to each other, from politicians, church leaders and faith-based non-profits,” said Schwindeman, a former teacher and marketing executive. “The potential is there to help even more children and foster families. We just need to seize the opportunities. It’s helping these kids out and giving them love that they don’t get otherwise.”
Every second Monday of the month, Hope, Heart & Home members take part in a Zoom meeting where they discuss various concerns, listen to guest speakers, and hear from members who serve as Guardians Ad Litem. The organization also publishes a quarterly newsletter with information about the group.
CORRECTION: This article initially included information about "a $10,000 grant from the Miami Kiwanis Club for the creation of a soccer referee training program for 60 high-paid positions to foster youth aged 15-17,” and another $10,000 grant from the Lucas Alvarez LA6 Foundation "earmarked for foster teens aging out of foster care who dream of a higher education.” Those grants were not given to Hope, Heart & Home, as the article stated, but to the Coral Estates Soccer Club and Citrus Family Care Network, respectively. "We partner with Citrus FCN (in so many ways), the LA6 Alvarez Foundation, and the Kiwanis to help support these programs but we didn't receive or manage these funds,” Eric Schwindeman explained.