NEW PORT RICHEY — During National Foster Care Month in May, the RAP House is recognizing Reni Slepka, a volunteer who plays a part in enriching the lives of foster youth in its community.
“It takes a caring individual to deal with a traumatized youth, a youth who may have been removed from home of no choice of their own,” Maria Matheus, a spokeswoman for Youth and Family Alternatives, which operates RAP House, explained in a press release. “Someone who has learned not to take things personally, soldier on and be a mentor to that youth is the kind of person a youth in a foster group home needs.
“In fact, the world could use a lot more sympathetic souls like Reni Slepka, a volunteer at The RAP House in New Port Richey, whose motivation for helping foster youth kids never ceases and started decades ago.”
While Slepka was busy raising an adopted son with her husband, she was working flexible part-time hours selling microscopes and science equipment to middle and high schools in Oklahoma. She was waiting to be seen in the administrative offices of a school when she learned the story of a 7-year-old boy who had come into the school’s office to see a nurse about bruising he sustained. The nurse asked what happened and whether his stepfather hit him again. To which the boy replied, “I did not do my laundry good enough.”
Stories like this resonated with Slepka, so when her adopted child was old enough, Slepka re-enrolled at Oklahoma State University to finish her studies.
She graduated from OSU with a bachelor’s degree in family relations and child development. During her final year at OSU, she accepted an internship at Tulsa County Child Welfare, and upon graduation, she went to work with Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services in permanency planning.
After working there for four years, Reni resigned to finish her graduate studies, while also subcontracting part-time for Tulsa County Child Welfare, where she did home studies and child profiles.
Slepka’s subsequent experience included volunteering for the Laura Dester Children’s Shelter, a state emergency temporary shelter in Tulsa for children ranging in age from newborns to 17. For foster care children’s needs, help from the community is crucial, Slepka emphasizes, so that needs of foster youth children do not go unmet.
Now retired, for the past three years, every Monday like clockwork, Slepka comes into the RAP House with a rolling case of art supplies to work on a small art project. Once, when a kitchen nook was temporarily closed, a young lady laying on the couch blurted out for Slepka to keep her mouth shut, or “I’ll pop you!”
Slepka proceeded to go about her business and ignored the girl. Then a young boy turned to her and said, “I bet you don’t like all kids, do you?” Slepka responded, “What I have learned through the years is kids who are saying these things might have gone through a lot that we don’t know about.” The young girl’s composure immediately changed as she got up from the couch and began engaging the group.
Some foster youths who thrived under her mentorship are now adults who keep in touch with her.
She said she appreciates a supportive staff at RAP House, who are great role models for the children. After all, it takes a village to raise a child, Slepka stresses.
The compassion of volunteers like Slepka may be tested but their feelings are not compromised; and, the children of the RAP House feel a little less hardened, more confident that the best intentions lie with help for today, hope for tomorrow, Matheus said.
To find out more information about foster care opportunities through the RAP House, call 727-835-1777, or visit www.yfainc.org.