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Advocate hopes ads will help foster children

Nancy Avalone says that until she became a foster parent about a year ago, she had no idea that kids sometimes spend years in foster care, waiting for permanent homes.

Learning about the plight of these children "totally changed my life," said Avalone, 39, a real estate agent in Pinellas County. Now she's trying to let others know what the children need.

Beginning Jan. 10, a new group that Avalone helped form will run commercials on various cable television stations. The ads, which will be seen initially in Pinellas County, seek to raise awareness about the needs of foster kids.

The ads tell viewers how to access the group's Web site _ _ which encourages people to get involved in the lives of foster children. Avalone said she thinks simply letting more people know about the plight of foster kids will motivate more Americans to step in and help.

"I just think that because people are unaware of these issues that it still remains a problem."

In some cases, children bounce through the system for years, without going back to their birth parents or to permanent adoptive parents. That's the kind of inefficiency Avalone said she hopes to stop, by letting more and more people know about the situation.

"My hope is for the information to spark some concern about the issue and motivate people to learn more," said Avalone, who has been foster mother to two teenage brothers, a teenage girl and two children younger than 10. "Hopefully, that will spark some action.

She said she is not advocating a particular point of view _ she is not suggesting that fewer kids should be taken away from their homes in the first place, for example _ but is trying to shine a spotlight on the system as a whole.

Avalone and other volunteers have worked to raise a few thousand dollars for the commercials, and she said getting them on the air through March feels "fantastic; it's a dream come true."

A miniature golf tournament sponsored by a local chapter of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers helped raise money for the initial round of commercials, and Avalone is continuing to seek more funds.

The Web site encourages people to become foster parents, adopt foster children or become guardians ad litem, who are advocates for children during court proceedings.

April Putzulu, spokeswoman for the Safe Children Coalition of Pinellas and Pasco counties, said her organization, which oversees foster care programs, is aware of Avalone's plans. While not involved in the effort, the coalition supports the goal of raising awareness, she said.

"We certainly support any kind of effort to recruit more guardians. We need more foster parents as well," Putzulu said.

"My hat's off to her, because she's really driven by this vision," Putzulu said.