By Jay MejiaTribune Photo/Ron Wight
Forty-five foster children ages two to sixteen spent last Saturday morning bouncing balls, practicing forward lunges and learning Tae Kwon Do bowing and defense techniques at the Academy of Fighting Arts. Their foster parents got a well-deserved break.
In fact, that’s the name of the program – Respite.
The event is sponsored by the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association (MFCAA) based in Independence, MO, and takes place every month at different locations throughout northwest Missouri. The Lee’s Summit event was held at the academy located at 825 NW Commerce Drive, owned and operated by Jeff and Dana Yeagley, themselves foster parents for more than 15 young people over the last several decades.
Respite provides children physical activities while their parents get a chance to spend a few hours on their own.
"Most people don’t know that the average foster parent is taking care of more than just one child and as many as five," said 32-year-old volunteer Justin Cohen, who holds a Black Belt and has been a member of the academy since he was nine. "These parents need a break, especially since their children come from previously extreme home situations. It’s a good change of pace for both parents and children."
On this Saturday, the eager children gave their own enthusiastic reasons why martial arts can help develop skills.
"It teaches you to defend yourself," one said, vigorously raising his hand.
One girl added: "It teaches you to respect other people."
"That’s right," Cohen told the assembled group. "Martial arts is not about learning to fight, but to not be afraid to defend yourself. Not to hurt people, but to help others."
Dereik Domerese, 26, a resource development supervisor with MFCAA and a parent of three foster and two adopted children, explained that the event is more than just giving young children something to do on a Saturday.
"We’re providing foster children an opportunity to build their social skills and learn how to get along with others," Domerese said. "Foster parents get a much-needed break for a few hours so they can do their shopping or take time out without having to worry about their children."
Local churches and gymnastics organization have been the venue for other Respite events. Organizations wishing to host Respite should contact Laura Tilford at 816.350.0215 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Academy of Fighting Arts is located at 825 NW Commerce Dr. in Lees Summit. 816-525-5555.