Heather Duhon still remembers scrambling to get everything she would need to care for a 5-year-old boy and his 20-day-old sister when she received a phone call one August evening in 2015. 

She and her husband, Matthew, knew the day would come when they would become foster parents, but they didn't expect to be placed with children the same day they finished their certification. 

"Both of our children showed up with just the clothes on their back, and we got them late on a Friday," Duhon said. "So I ran to Target at 9:30 at night to get diapers and bottles and all the equipment for a baby and clothes for a 5-year-old. Thankfully, in the next few days we got everything else we needed like a baby bed and things like that. We weren't prepared to receive kids that quickly."

Duhon and her husband eventually adopted Holden, now 9, and Audrey, now 3, through foster care.

But that first night inspired Duhon and her friend Alisha Thomas to start Foster the Love Louisiana.

The nonprofit, which offers support to foster families in Acadiana, celebrated its first birthday Sunday with a family fun day at Poche's RV Park in Breaux Bridge. Children who are living with foster parents or who have been adopted through foster care ate hot dogs, cooled off in the pool and rode their new bicycles, which were donated by Leading Edge Manufacturing of Youngsville.

"Foster the Love has been a huge support for us," said Robin White, who is in the final stage of adopting a 13-month-old boy named Isaac with her husband. "You know you're not alone. It's just a great, supportive community."

The organization offers a community closet filled with gently used clothes, car seats, strollers and other equipment for foster parents. It recently began providing "first-nights bags" to local offices of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services so children have more than just the clothes on their backs when placed with a foster family. The first-night bags include age- and gender-appropriate clothes and personal care items. 

Foster the Love Louisiana is offering support and services that the state can't provide with limited funding, according to Chenita Broussard, child welfare specialist with home development for the Louisiana DCFS.

"It helps us provide for some of the things like this family fun day activity," Broussard said. "Many of their volunteers are actually foster and adoptive parents, and they have a passion for children. Where the state is coming up short, groups like Foster the Love are bridging that gap of what it actually takes to care for a child and what the state provides."

Learn more about Foster the Love Louisiana at fosterthelovela.org.


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.