Times –   Saturday, April 30, 2016

CROWN POINT — After rearing three children and retiring from a local steel mill, Jeanette Fleming started to settle into life as an empty-nester.

Her daughter, who previously worked at Campagna Academy, would share stories about her job that made Fleming, 63, want to do more to help youth.

On top of that, she started to wonder what was going on with the younger generation, especially young black men, while watching news about on-going violence.

“I can’t save the world, but maybe I can save a couple young men,” she said. “And those young men can save a couple of young men.”

Fleming is one of the hundreds of foster parents expected to attend Saturday’s sixth annual Foster Care Conference coordinated by Campagna Academy. The conference is meant to provide resources for foster parents along with an opportunity to meet other foster parents.

The conference comes in anticipation of Foster Care Month, which is celebrated throughout May. The event starts at 8 a.m. at Patrician Banquet Center located at 410 U.S. 30 in Schererville.

Beth Szamatowicz, director of public relations and volunteer services for Campagna Academy, said the conference is open to all foster parents throughout Northwest Indiana.

The day will include workshops about the effects of children witnessing domestic abuse, nurturing children with special needs and resources for foster parents.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of Indiana Department of Child Services, and Lake County Juvenile Judge Thomas Stefaniak are expected to speak at the conference.

 Dawn Andriese, 43, of Crown Point, has been a foster parent for two and a half years and has attended the conference in the past. She likes meeting the other foster parents and hearing about how they’ve approached various scenarios as foster parents.

After learning she couldn’t have children of her own, Andriese said she decided to go through the process of becoming a certified foster parent.

“If I couldn’t be a mother, then I need to be a part-time mom to help another child, to give them something that they should have,” she said.

Becoming a foster parent has changed how she lives. Andriese said it was an adjustment keeping up with the various court hearings and appointments for the children. In addition, anyone who watches the children has to go through a background check.

Andriese said some days can be bad, but others days include her helping the children reach milestones. She said the children she has fostered along with Campagna Academy helped her after her husband unexpectedly died.

Fleming said taking care of two teens since January has given her a new sense of purpose in her post-retirement life.

“These guys are basically on lockdown until someone saves them, and shows them that someone cares. That’s pretty much what they need, someone to show they won’t throw them out because they made a mistake,” Fleming said.

“I can’t save the world, but maybe I can save a couple young men. And those young men can save a couple of young men.”Jeanette Fleming