The statistics can shock, but they only tell a small part of the real story.

Last year, more than 11,000 children were placed in foster care in Oregon. That is more than the combined student body for Klamath city and county schools, which totals 9,600.

It’s no wonder that social workers at the Department of Human Services burn out, leave after a few years of work, or just feel unappreciated.

“It’s the worst job that you’ll ever love,” remarks Jeremy Player, the district manager for DHS in Klamath and Lake Counties as well as Jackson and Josephine counties. He said he still remembers the first child in 1991 he had to place in foster care, and still thinks about where he may be today.

A non-profit citizen’s group, called the Every Child Initiative, is bringing its expertise to Klamath County at the invitation of Player. The group has had remarkable success in raising awareness of what foster care is, lifting the veil of what takes place in social work, and bringing communities on board to better support DHS operations.

“Many people have this perception of foster parents, and social workers, but they really don’t understand what they go through, the sacrifices that are made,” said Brooke Gray. Gray is the executive director of government partnerships at Portland Leadership Foundation, which sponsors the Every Child Oregon initiative. The initiative is designed to encourage Oregonians to participate in foster care.

“But you don’t have to become a foster parent. Not everyone can make the commitment,” Gray said. Every Child encourages the community to meet social workers and the DHS halfway, to get to know what goes on in the day-to-day lives of social workers, foster parents and especially foster children.

“It helps the public dip their toe in the water of understanding,” Gray said. “Once they understand, they may go into the water farther, they may wish to volunteer and help in some way, or they may eventually become foster parents.”

The organization got started in the Portland by Gray and her husband after welcoming a foster child into their home. They quickly realized that children often show up with the clothes on their backs and have just left a traumatic situation, most likely in the middle of the night.

Volunteers started making gift boxes with a personal note to the foster child, so that when they arrived at a home, they had something to make them feel at ease.

The gift box idea took off, and it grew into a corps of volunteers in the Portland-metro area.

“The community can help DHS in a number of ways; by bringing in food for the workers, helping redecorate office space that hasn’t been painted for years; by just telling them that they are appreciated for the hard work they do,” Gray said.

Every Child is seeking community leaders to take up the charge in Klamath County. The group made a pitch Tuesday night to a small group of Klamath County residents who have an interest in child welfare across a wide spectrum. It plans to hold a few more monthly meetings before it settles on a steering committee for the effort.

Every Child is not a top-down support group. Locals do the legwork. Every Child provides support, expertise, resources, ideas; sort of a safety net for communities wishing to support their local DHS.

They have the blessing of the state Legislature and are charged with starting similar programs in every Oregon county by 2022. To date they are in eight counties, including Lane, Josephine and Jackson.

“It could be a simple as bringing brownies to the staff at DHS,” said Gray. “We have respite nights were volunteers take in foster children for four hours and give the foster parents a night to themselves. We have cookouts for families so they get to mix with workers and the community.”

All of it raises awareness of the needs of DHS. If interested, see the websites: www.everychildoregon.org of facebook.com/everychildoregon.