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A New Last Name

by Kimberly Gordon, CFS Volunteer Writer

Kelly Gravelle has always taken a special interest in caring for and mentoring teens. When she moved to Suttons Bay, Kelly purchased a large house and decided to offer the ex

tra space to anyone in need of housing. Soon thereafter, an eighteen-year-old moved in looking for a place to rent while attending Northwestern Michigan College (NMC). Kelly’s home quickly became more than just a place to stay for the young student. Kelly became a role model and mentor, helping the teen develop basic life skills for school, work, and countless other things. Kelly enjoyed creating a nurturing environment for the young student and after six months she thought to herself, “I should really do this. I should foster.”

But -- she did not know anything about fostering, and she wasn’t sure where to start. She began looking around for local opportunities to foster and found Child Family Services of Northwestern Michigan’s (CFS’) website. As she began researching further, she was drawn to the level of commitment CFS had for children and families. Kelly began working with the CFS licensing team, and in 2020 became a licensed foster mom to 14-year-old Natalie,* who she will be adopting this fall.

Natalie was placed with Kelly last summer and since then has had a remarkable journey. When she first arrived at Kelly's home, Natalie was reluctant to acknowledge or speak to her teachers, and only communicated with friends and acquaintances online. Gradually, over the past year, that changed. Natalie now affectionately hugs her teachers goodbye and eagerly spends time with her friends in and out of school. Currently, Natalie is taking a big social step by attending summer camp for the first time this year and is really enjoying it.

Kelly’s family then extended beyond just her and Natalie. This April, Gavin* joined them in their home. Gavin and Natalie both struggled with trauma in the past, and it still impacts them today. However, since their placement with Kelly both have made huge strides. Gavin, who is slightly older than Natalie, plays the role of big brother well. In addition to Gavin and Natalie, Kelly is still housing the young college student as they work towards completing their degree from NMC.

When asked what the most rewarding part of being a foster mom was, Kelly responded with a story regarding Natalie. When Natalie had been first placed with Kelly, she would tell her, “You can adopt me, but I will never take your last name.” Kelly replied by chuckling and saying, “that's alright, my last name is a mouthful anyways.” That was almost a year ago. Now after growing closer and closer as a family, Natalie had something different to say to Kelly recently. “I want to change my last name. I want yours.” Kelly turned to Natalie and asked, “Are you sure? It’s a terrible name.” To this Natalie simply replied, “Well, I like it.”

Kelly’s story is a part of Child and Family Service’s 32nd annual Brown Bag Campaign. This campaign reminds us of the brown bags many children arrive with when they are first put into foster care. A brown bag (or plastic garbage bag) often contains all their belongings as they head into a new, safer life. Your donation will pay for things like a stuffed animal to hug, counseling, school supplies, winter boots, and opportunities such as music or dance lessons or summer camp. These little brown bags have raised more than $550,000 for children over the past 32 years of the campaign. You can find a bag at Oleson stores throughout northern Michigan, Oryana in Traverse City, or in your local newspaper. Can't find a bag? To donate online or to learn more about the Brown Bag Campaign go to bag.

*names have been changed

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