NEW MARKET, Ala. -- Foster parents are needed in Alabama. One couple decided to take on this new role just two years ago.
Merri Gardunia had wanted to be a foster parent for a while. As a teacher, she noticed a need in her classroom.
Her husband Craig, on the other hand, was not so keen on the idea.
Craig admits to being very reluctant at first, but says, "As we went through the training and through the program I realized how much of a need there is out there for foster parents." Now he is grateful he took the leap of faith and opened up his heart and home.
"Once you have that first child being able to see that impact that you have... it's huge," he says.
According to Childtrends.org, around 5,000 children are in the foster care system in Alabama.
Cassandra Couillard with Alabama Mentor says it's important for foster kids to have a home. "Kids thrive better when they are around people who are like family," she says.
For those who may worry they don't fit the mold of what a foster parent should be... The good news is that all it takes to be a foster parent, is an open heart.
"Our mentors come from every area of life. It doesn't matter if you're single, married with kids, no kids we just are looking for people who have the love for it."
There are 40 hours of training prospective that foster parents must go through in order to receive certification. They are able to take as long as they need.
Couillard says some parents are certified in four months while others take about a year. It depends on the time they are willing to commit.
"Once they are licensed, they have the support of our staff, our case workers, our therapists, our program directors, are always there for them," she says.
Alabama Mentor specializes in providing therapeutic foster care and other services for youth of all ages with emotional, behavioral and other complex challenges as well as their families.
Alabama Mentor is having a foster parent info session on March 9 at the Huntsville Madison County Library at 12:30 p.m.