Doing business with the foster care system
When Seth Hall hired an old friend to work at the mattress and furniture store he has co-owned with his dad for nearly 10 years, it didn’t take him long to fully understand the needs of foster families.
He saw those challenges firsthand when his friend Todd Hyatt moved back to Tennessee last spring from Georgia with his wife, Megan, and their family of three adopted children and two more they are fostering. Hall had a rudimentary knowledge about the foster care system, but it took the re-connection with his friend from their high school years to truly open his eyes.
“With Todd and his wife being so actively involved in the foster system, it kind of educated my dad and me in how it all works, just getting a better understanding of how the system works and what the needs are,” said Hall, who opened Head Springs Depot in Franklin in January 2010 with his dad, Jay Hall.
“We do furniture and mattresses, and to bring new kids into your home, you’ve got to have a place for them to eat and sleep and to be a family. We felt like it was a tangible way where we could plug in and offer them some free or discounted services to be able to get their homes set up to accommodate those kids.”
That’s what led Hall to connect with Tennessee Kids Belong, a Franklin-based nonprofit whose mission is to empower and equip community leaders to end the foster care crisis in Tennessee. The organization, which launched in January 2016 from the national organization America’s Kids Belong, works with government, faith communities, creative groups and individuals, and businesses to reach its goals.
The groups are known as the four spheres, and from the business leg of the support system came the Business Impact Program. Its purpose is to form partnerships between Tennessee Kids Belong and businesses and companies across the state to help give foster families a leg up on meeting their individual needs in terms of products, services and even leisure activities.
“It could be [a restaurant] offering a discount of 20% off a meal, or an afterschool activity or roller skates, something that will impact those foster families,” explained Emily Tardy, who coordinates strategic partnerships for TKB. “Or it could be free house cleanings for a foster parent, or free Financial Peace University [through the Dave Ramsey company], anything along those lines.
“We allow it to be unique to each business, because businesses are unique and the way they can interact with the issue and story of foster care is going to be different based upon the business.”
‘A huge blessing’
Head Springs depot, which is located on Mt. Hope Street in the Hard Bargain neighborhood in Franklin, offers a significant discount on furnishings and mattresses to foster families. Hall said the store has already seen several foster parents taking advantage in the relatively short time it has participated in the program. For Hyatt, who graduated from Franklin High School the same year Hall graduated from Page High, his employer’s participation has instilled in him a sense of pride.
“I thought that was awesome, and I was especially excited that the place where I was working would be supporting foster families,” said Hyatt, who added that he and Megan plan to eventually adopt their two foster children. “When we made our move with five children, Seth asked if we had any needs, and he helped me out that way. That was a huge blessing.”
Making an impact
Tardy said the number of businesses getting involved in the Business Impact Program is steadily growing in Tennessee, and nearly half of those are located in Franklin. At last count, there were more than 60 businesses or companies participating across the state, with 28 in Franklin and a total of 33 across Williamson County.
Businesses can make an impact in four ways, Tardy said.
- Impacting employees — creating a foster-friendly business culture through a company’s human resources department.
- Impacting community — offering discounts for products and services or even doing something as simple as affixing a window sticker that shows the business supports foster families.
- Impacting children — contributing financially to give children in foster care a face and a voice through the TKB’s I Belong project.
- Impacting the future — having businesses connect to the teenagers that are aging out of foster care with on-the-job career training.
The latter is a work in progress, according to Tardy, but should soon be implemented.
“We have already been gathering businesses interested in that program, which is exciting to know, … so we’re going to make that happen,” she said.
A passion for foster care
Another Franklin-based business participating in the TKB program is Green Room Cleaners, a residential home-cleaning company that was started about five years ago by owner Jasmine McClarney. She was cleaning about three homes a week when one of her customers put a referral about the work she was doing on a Facebook group.
Next thing McClarney knew, she had around 50 messages from people wanting to hire her. She now has 40 employees cleaning some 200 homes per week, and a good number of those are foster homes getting a 20% discount on McClarney’s services.
“My husband and I have always had a real heart for children in need,” said McClarney, mother of three biological children. “It became a natural fit for me to be able to do something, offer something through our business that’s a great need in the foster community.
“We just love being involved and our employees do as well. It’s beautiful to see the excitement around the employees when they know they’re going into a home where there’s a foster or an adoptive situation. It’s been pretty amazing to watch.”
Haylee Achten, owner of the women’s clothing store Haylee B in downtown Franklin, also has a place in her heart for foster care and families. When she was approached by TKB about a possible partnership, she knew right away the fit would be natural.
“I happen to love [the idea of] foster care in general,” Achten said. “I met with Emily [Tardy], and she told me about the program and about the dynamics of foster families, and how we could be a part of it. We have a heart for it as well, so we decided to partner with them.”
Achten said her store will do different specials, and occasionally host family-night events where they’ll do discounts or stay open late and donate a portion of sales to TBK.
Tardy said support from the business sector is immeasurable, not only from a financial standpoint but also in helping foster families feel less isolated.
“When businesses say yes,” she explained, “more foster families are going to say yes, because the community that they live in and interact with is seeing them and acknowledging them and supporting them on their courageous journey with these kids.”