By Jim Walsh, GSN Staff Writer
Cindy McCain will be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser that three Gilbert women are holding to help launch Jacob’s Mission Community Center, a new facility in east Mesa that would provide a much-needed place for foster kids to congregate.
McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain, R-AZ., will speak on March 8 at the ASA Now Inspirational Breakfast Fundraiser at 8 a.m. at East Valley Institute of Technology Banquet Hall, 1601 W. Main St.
ASA Now is a group of three Gilbert mothers and foster mothers who saw a need for a center, not unlike a YMCA for foster children with programs catered to their needs and the needs of foster families.
The three women – Anika Robinson, the group’s president; Susan Woodruff and Angela Teachout – have been on a mission since 2016, when they collaborated on a law requiring the state to provide behavioral services faster to foster children. It was dubbed Jacob’s Law in honor of one of Woodruff’s foster children.
ASA Now obtained a loan of $1 million from an undisclosed benefactor to buy a church building in the 7800 block of East University Drive, which they are converting into the center. Businessman Randy Hansen read about their efforts and donated $1 million to pay off the mortgage.
But ASA Now, a nonprofit, is now raising funds that would pay for the center’s estimated $20,000-a-month operating cost, Robinson said.
She said the programming and operating costs includes only one full-time staffer since the women want to rely on volunteers familiar with the unique needs of foster children to teach classes and provide counseling for children and their families.
Because of their special needs, the children often “don’t fit in’’ and often are behind in school because they have been moved from one foster family to another, she said.
ASA Now plans to rely on the network of people they have met as foster parents to work with the children.
The goal of Jacob’s Mission Community Center is to create a place where foster children, who often move from one foster family to another, feel at home, Robinson said.
“Regardless of what is going on their lives, we have a hub, a home, someplace where they feel safe,’’ Robinson said. “We want to show them that volunteers care and the community cares.’’
“I think in everything, we keep going in faith, knowing we can make a difference for our most vulnerable population,’’ Robinson said. “I think it’s our state’s fundamental obligation to impact the lives of these children.’’
Support groups for both foster children and foster parents also would be available, along with supervised daycare that allows parents to have some time for themselves once in a while.
Robinson, Teachout and Woodruff have devoted much of their lives to the needs of children. Robinson alone has 10 children, four biological and six foster, including a newborn baby boy.
The building on University Drive near 80th Street originally opened in 1992 as a Masonic Temple and then became the Church of God of Prophecy, which catered to a Hispanic congregation.
The plain-looking block church is painted white and has a simple, white cross outside.
It sits on a secluded lot and is not readily visible from the busy road.
A classroom building is planned on an empty lot behind the church building, along with a basketball court, a splash pad and other recreational facilities.
Woodruff said the children haven’t lived with the same family long enough to participate in the activities that other children do – things like youth sports leagues, dance lessons, piano lessons and all the other learning experiences that help children develop.
“We want to wrap our arms around the entire family,’’ Robinson said.
She envisions the new community center as a place that will nurture the children, where they are understood, where they can go even if they end up with another family.
“We put our son on a basketball team. They kept on saying, what’s wrong with him, why isn’t he paying attention,’’ Robinson said.
Without intervention, foster children have a history of a grim future, often ending up in prison or abusing their own children in a never-ending cycle of violence, she said.
“We are focusing on prevention,’’ Robinson said.
A $30 donation is suggested for attending the breakfast. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/asa-now-inspirational-breakfast-fundraiser-tickets-44005550787.