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March 13, 2024 | By Sara Meyer
Sara Meyer knows exactly what children and families in the child welfare system go through — from personal experience. When she was 4 years old, she and her younger sister were left by themselves in a motel room all day and into the night until a kind adult found them. Now, she takes what she has learned and uses it to make the lives of other children and teens better.
My first experience with the foster system was at 4 years old in California. My biological mother left my younger sister and me in a motel one morning, and as the day turned to night, we became hungry and restless. When we wandered out of the room that night, my sister wearing nothing but a diaper, we were met with a kind adult who notified local law enforcement. This began our long journey of moving between institutional care, group homes and one very loving couple who fostered us for close to a year. Vicki and Bob had one adult son and had never fostered before. They were kind angels who gave us beauty and hope in a very traumatic existence. Vicki kept a luscious garden, prepared our meals from scratch and even made our clothes. Bob taught us to ride bicycles and took us to baseball games. They exposed us to the arts and took us to church. They gave us a vision of what life could be without gang violence and exposure to drugs and neglect. I attended 12 different elementary schools, and most of my memories living with my mother involved being hungry and cold. [caption id="attachment_3964" align="alignright" width="486"]Sara Meyer and Thrivent team Sara Meyer (front, third from left) participates with her Thrivent Compass Wealth Advisors team at a Commission127 fundraising event in early March. (Photo courtesy of Sara Meyer)[/caption] As the oldest, I also carried responsibility for the survival of my two younger sisters. Eventually, our mother was sentenced to many years in prison, and our father had died of a drug overdose, so we were placed permanently with our uncle and aunt and their two children in Florida. I was in 7th grade and turned 13 that year. Because my father had a loving mother and four older brothers, we were welcomed into our extended family in Florida as if we had always been there. We were finally safe and warm and had no shortage of food. Beth and Jeff provided a secure home and were inspirational role models. They both owned businesses and had strong relationships in their community. They even became foster parents for several years after three of us moved on to college. The love and kindness I experienced with my foster parents and relative caregivers is nothing short of a miracle in my life and that of my sisters. Because of their support, I was able to graduate college on a full scholarship, build a business of my own and raise three incredible children. My children know Beth and Jeff as Grandma and Grandpa, and Vicki and Bob attended my college graduation at UCF. I am passionate about serving and supporting Embrace Families and all those who are in mission to change the lives of kids who have experienced abuse, abandonment and neglect. There is no greater impact we can have in our communities than early intervention for this group. I believe it is my responsibility to share my story and outcome as a person who has personal shared experience with the children we serve. Meyer, a wealth advisor with Thrivent, has served on the Embrace Families board since 2016 and was presenting sponsor for Embrace Families’ 2023 Dance, Dream & Inspire, a dance competition fundraising event.  As a valued partner, she is one of many people who have helped Embrace Families improve the lives of Central Florida’s children and families for the past 20 years. March is Women’s History Month, and on April Embrace Families celebrates its 20th anniversary. In honor of both, Embrace Families is highlighting women who have not only made a difference to many children but have also been an instrumental part of the Embrace Families’ mission for two decades. Adults who want to learn more about becoming a foster caregiver should visit make-a-difference/foster or contact Lisa Walters, Embrace Families’ foster parent recruitment and training manager, at recruitment@embracefamilies.org. Those who are interesting in making a difference in a child’s life through mentoring can learn more at make-a-difference/mentor.