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Fostering childhood

With a tool belt strapped to his waist and protective glasses covering his eyes, Blake Brogren carefully measured how much soffit he would need under the roof's overhang.

Blake Brogren

With a tool belt strapped to his waist and protective glasses covering his eyes, Blake Brogren carefully measured how much soffit he would need under the roof's overhang.

The Fargo South High School junior has worked in construction before and plans to pursue a career in construction management. But the playhouse he is building for his construction class is more than just another project. It's being used to help raise money for children in foster care.

"It's good that we're giving something away to help a charity organization," Brogren said.

Two playhouses built by Fargo North and South students were raffled off Friday to raise about $3,500 for PATH ND Inc., a private nonprofit agency that provides treatment, foster care and other services to children and families.

"It made it more fun to work on, knowing it was going toward a good cause," said Dan Zehren, a Fargo North senior.

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The money will be used for a special needs program that funds things such as uncovered medical costs, graduation expenses, camps, activities fees and bikes.

"The special needs is really about things that all kids need to just really fit in and feel good about themselves," said Bobbi Geiger, PATH ND assistant director of operations. "It's a way for us to be able to help kids feel and experience the normalcy of being a kid."

Peter and Vicki Schmidt of West Fargo understand the importance of the program firsthand. They have been fostering children for more than 30 years.

"It really is out of our faith, our calling to provide hospitality and be a place of shelter for people who don't have it," Vicki Schmidt said.

While it has often been a difficult undertaking - fraught with runaway youth, teenage pregnancy and kids taken away in handcuffs - being foster parents has also been a rewarding experience.

"I rent out my heart and I give myself and sometimes my heart is broken," Peter Schmidt said. "There are emotional highs and lows, but we can handle that."

Joe Huovinen, of Fargo, lived with Peter and Vicki for a little more than a year. He continues a relationship with them 10 years later.

"They were a very positive influence in my life," Huovinen said, adding that the Schmidts provided stability during a very volatile time.

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He said he has a better relationship with his foster parents than with his biological parents. The experience has made him a better father to his own sons, who call Peter and Vicki grandpa and grandma.

"The foster care system gave me stability, structure, a caring home," Huovinen said.

More than 513,000 American children are in foster care, mostly due to parental abuse or neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families statistics show.

In North Dakota, 1,416 children were in foster care on September 30, 2006, according to the state Department of Human Services. In 2005, relative and nonrelative foster parents provided temporary care to about 10,500 children in Minnesota, the state Department of Human Services says.

"Many families have what it takes. We're not all that different," Peter Schmidt said. "Many kids have needs."

Geiger said PATH ND plans to have another playhouse fundraiser next year.

Ron Streit, Fargo South construction technology instructor, said the project has been challenging, but it's a challenge he and his students would like to take on again.

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- May is national foster care awareness month. For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact PATH ND Inc. at (701) 280-9545 or (800) 766-9321, or visit: www.pathinc.org .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

Blake Brogren

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