On the first Wednesday of every month, the family law office of Phillips & Peters celebrates Women Crush Wednesday! These are not sponsored or paid posts – just women business owners we love to support that are crushing it in Hampton Roads.
Audra Bullock can recite the numbers without hesitation. There are close to 5500 children in need of foster care in Virginia. With a population of over 8 million, if just one person in a thousand decided to do something for foster care, not foster but just do something for the system, the cycles would break. As the founder, president, and board chair of Tidewater Friends of Foster Care, Mrs. Bullock is determined to help break those cycles.
It only took 5 seconds of a CNN story about children having a hard time finding their forever homes for Audra’s heart to catch the passion of fostering. “I’ll never forget this image of a little boy. He said, “I can be a good son. I just need to find the right dad.” I still well up with tears about that. The thought that this little boy, who did nothing wrong, carries the responsibility of trying to find his own family. It wrecked me.” That feeling weighed on her heart and mind for over a decade. In June of 2014 she and her husband, Richard Litton, took a chance and stepped into a seminar for fostering with the Norfolk Department of Human Services.
8 months later, after all the classes and training, the family received their first placement. They embraced a new life with their growing family, but it wasn’t long before Audra thought they could do more. At the time she was working as a Mission Manager at NASA and with her engineering background, she started looking at the numbers. “I sat around and started calculating. Let’s calculate how much money is going to this little boy…it’s not a whole lot of money to support a whole life.” Being able to see the number of resources going to the public and private sector but not to kids in need made Audra increasingly unsettled. It was that feeling that helped move her forward to do more.
“I didn’t think I would start a non-profit. That wasn’t what I was trying to do. I really wanted to help either advocate for our social service agency or help raise funds for them” Mrs. Bullock recalls. When asked where the help was needed the answer was apparent. There was a dire need to recruit parents and bring more community resources to the table. So that’s what Audra and her husband decided to do. With the help and strategic planning of ODU’s John Broderick and Jeff Tanner, a marketing plan was made to engage the community and recruit more parents. Shortly after Audra left the job she loved at NASA. She took with her the mentality “failure is not an option” and started Norfolk Friends of Foster Care.
The success of the non-profit has grown it into Tidewater Friends of Foster Care today. “When we started we only had a partnership with Norfolk social services because I didn’t know anything about fundraising or running a business. I literally got the non-profit for dummies book” she laughed. Yet starting simple allowed TFFC to grow steadily. They started by raising public awareness but were soon able to provide resources. Today the organization focuses on outreach, tutoring, providing gifts for birthdays and holidays, camperships, and other extracurricular activities.
When COVID-19 shut down the nation in March it was hard to imagine it’s effects lasting to Foster Care Awareness month in May. To celebrate the month, TFFC annually hosts the largest single recruiting event in the state, Foster Care Aware. This year they pivoted to a month-long, in-depth online summit that brought together experts from around the country. TFFC’s other programs had to adapt as well. Tutoring moved online and birthday gifts were hand-delivered by volunteers. Now everyone is preparing for the influx of cases that might come when the world opens back up.
As passionate, motivated, and dedicated as Audra and her family are she knows meeting the needs of the foster care community is not something she can tackle on her own. That’s where the TFFC Village comes in. It’s a digital community of foster parents and supporters in the 757 that exists to help kids live their best lives possible. Together they are filling the gaps and fighting to break the cycles that keep children in the foster care system. The path forward is long but not impossible. In many ways, Tidewater Friends of Foster Care is making an impact in the local community. When asked what success looked like for her organization, Audra has this to say: “To me, it is making sure these kids feel valued, important, and have an opportunity to thrive. That is success for me. It is one child at a time. Everyone matters. You might not be able to save them all but the ones that you do save are going to make a difference in the world.”