Swinging into Jefferson City

Spring is in the air and with it comes all the sounds of children returning to play outdoors—the thudding of feet running to the playground, the squeaking of swings flying back and forth, and the giggling shrieks of jubilant children eager for some fresh air and fun. For most, this is a standard childhood memory— but what if for some children it isn’t? 

Before entering foster care, many children have not had the opportunity to experience common childlike activities—like playing on a swing set. That’s why for over thirty years, Coyote Hill has worked to provide children from hard places and traumatic life circumstances a safe place to be a child. Research has long suggested that child abuse is known to repeat itself from one generation to the next. That’s why we do everything possible to create more secure homes by licensing foster families throughout mid and northeast Missouri.

 Coyote Hill currently serves nine counties in Missouri. When we looked at the statistics for Cole County, as of December 2021 there were 131 children in the foster care system and only 38 licensed foster homes. Families within this county have stepped up to become foster parents, but there is always a need for more. With many children and few homes, it was apparent to us that we needed more safe homes for children in this county. 

Our decision to step into Cole County allows us to help more families in crisis, raise awareness and advocacy for children in foster care, and continue our commitment to creating safe homes for children to live. Since Jefferson City is the largest city in Cole County, it was clear to us that it was the first place to start. We have grown into the Jefferson City area by expanding our Foster Care Services Program, which emphasizes providing resources for education, licensing and support for all foster parents. Also, thanks to the generous support of many donors, Coyote Hill purchased a home in Jefferson City. This home serves as a community foster home, with additional support from Coyote Hill. 

Throughout 2021, funding and finishing the Jefferson City home was a big focus for Coyote Hill. As we embarked on this journey, we met with key leaders in the community, including Jefferson City mayor, Carrie Tergin. “We know the great work that Coyote Hill does,” Mayor Tergin said upon hearing of our expansion. “We are looking forward to welcoming them to the community and building relationships that will impact so many in Jefferson City that need it.” 

At Coyote Hill, our number one goal is to create a safe place to be a child. The Community Support Grant we received through United Way played a huge role in making this goal come true. We were able to make our very first Jefferson City foster home a safe and fun place for children with the grant-provided playground and fence! 

This playground has become a popular spot at the Jefferson City home. For one child, it was a memorable experience because he was able to use a swing set for the first time. Having never had access to a playground before, he had not learned how to swing. Our foster family was able to teach him how to use a swing, which created a bonding experience. Before long, the child was swinging independently and gaining confidence, while also having fun! 

Research has shown that playing outdoors offers more than just physical benefits. Although when children play, they are only focused on the fun, they are also learning communication skills and vocabulary, number relationships and social customs. By providing the grant to build the new playground and fence at our Jefferson City foster home, the United Way of Central Missouri has given more than just wooden beams and metal chains—they have blessed children at Coyote Hill with the opportunity to receive physical and emotional healing and wonderful childhood memories. 

As we continue to expand our organization into new areas, the needs of children continue to grow as well. We have been able to serve 132 children and 88 foster families across mid and northeast Missouri in 2021 alone. Contributions and grants, like the one received from the United Way, help us meet the growing needs of Missouri children in foster care and allow us to continue pursuing our number one goal—serving children by keeping them in safe homes and providing them the space to have fun being a child!

Story by McKenna Neville, Coyote Hill | March 2022