Our Towns

Mina’s Lends a Hand to Foster Families

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As a foster parent, Nicole Tsarnas understands the challenges that face those accepting children into foster care at all hours of the day or night, with little or nothing in the way of clothing or other necessities.

The desire to help other foster parents, kinship families and youths aging out of the foster care system led Tsarnas to found Mina’s Foster Closet. Located in the Old School Marketplace on South Avenue, the nonprofit agency provides clothes, toys and other items to support youths in foster families, kinship (placement with relatives or someone else familiar with the child or children in question) or youths aging out of the foster-care system.

“We just thought that there was a way to do more and make this easier,” Tsarnas said. “We want to make it easier on the community, on other foster parents, and on the foster children.”

At a ribbon-cutting Friday afternoon, Tsarnas, president of Mina’s Foster Closet, said she and her husband – who served in the U.S. Navy – understand the personal struggles and challenges involved. They now are fostering two children in addition to raising their three biological children in North Lima.

“Everywhere else we’ve lived has had something like this for foster families,” she said.

Mina’s Foster Closet received its 501(c)3 status in November and moved into its 1,000-square-foot space in March, Tsarnas said. While setting up, Mina’s has assisted more than 40 kids, she reported. Serving the foster care systems of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, it is staffed entirely by volunteers, including five regulars and a few who give time periodically. Provided at no cost to the foster children, items are donated by the community or purchased with cash donations made.

Tsarnas celebrates the opening of Mina’s Foster Closet with Beth Padisak, secretary (left), and Tracy Behnke, treasurer.

Children rarely come into the foster care system during “bankers hours” and typically bring very little with them, said Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services.

“We can outfit them from our supplies for a few days, but the ability for a foster parent while waiting for a closing order to go to a place like that to get clothes and supplies is just phenomenal,” Schaffner said.

“It’s a wonderful new community resource,” said Jennifer Kollar, public information officer for Mahoning County Children Services.

Kollar sees the new service being particularly helpful to kinship family caregivers, who don’t receive the same support as licensed a foster parent, as well as foster children who are transitioning to adulthood, she said.

“We will help get them started, but as they eventually get a little bit more on their way you need a lot of things,” Koller said. “A lot of these kids are going to school, they’re working part time, so this is another way to enhance their way of life and continue to make them self-sufficient.”

“We’re really impressed when a foster mom steps forward and takes care of other foster families,” Schaffner said. “[Tsarnas] has really put her heart and soul into this.”

The representatives of the two county agencies also noted that the area’s foster system has seen a spike in recent years, a condition both attribute to the opiate crisis. According to Kollar, Mahoning County normally has up to 175 children in foster care, but that figure has risen to 250.

“As foster parents, you rarely see a child who is not exposed to some kind of substance abuse. It’s terrible,” Tsarnas lamented.

At the beginning of the crisis, the approximately 150 in foster care at any given time in Trumbull County rose past 200, Schaffner said. That figure has fallen back to more typical rates by getting kids placed with a relative the same day rather than placing them in a foster home overnight and finding a relative the next day.

“It’s easy for that overnight to turn to a week or two weeks,” he said.

Mina’s Foster Closet is already preparing to expand, with an additional room across the hall being made available, Tsarnas said. This summer, she plans to establish the additional space as a room for collected items for teens and for youths preparing to age out of the foster system.

Mina’s is located at 11836 South Ave., Building E, Suite 3. Hours are by appointment only, according to the website. Contact staff by calling 330 536 9098, or filling out the form on the website, MinasFosterCloset.com.

Pictured above: Nicole Tsarnas, president of Mina’s Foster Closet.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.