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Local organization provides opportunities to foster unaccompanied children

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Columbia, S.C. (WACH) -- A local program through Lutheran Services Carolinas seeks to help unaccompanied children who end up in the U.S.

It's called Transitional Foster Care for for Unaccompanied Children and one Midlands man, Christopher Smith, knows personally about the effort.

"They called me and said, 'We just got a call from the border and they have four boys,'" said Smith. "'How many are you willing to take?' And I was just like, 'All four of them. Let's do it.'"

Smith says he was the first in the state to sign up for the program through Lutheran. He had been interested in adopting and, upon hearing of the program, figured it was a way to help children involved in a very controversial and dangerous situation.

Smith said, "It was kinda like God was telling me, 'This is what you're supposed to be doing. You're supposed to be helping out.'"

The program was introduced through LSC last year. Smith himself kept the four boys, originally from Guatemala, in August and September of 2017.

"It was truly rewarding to see them so happy and grateful," said Smith.

To be eligible to be a foster parent an unaccompanied minor through LSC, you:

* May be single, married, living together with a partner or divorced.

* Must be able to provide a clean, safe, loving home.

* May rent or own your home.

* Must be emotionally stable and demonstrate compassion with children who may have had traumatic experiences.

* Must be a US Citizen or US Legal Resident.

* Must be willing to work as a team for the best interest of our children.

* Must be able to demonstrate financial stability and that you would not rely on the board payment as income.

There also is a licensing process. However, applicants don't necessarily have to be bilingual, as the program can assist with translators. The website says "Everyone, however, understands LOVE."

During the stay -- up to 90 days -- the children attend a school sponsored by LSC where they are educated and taught English.

"I have a cousin who is half Mexican," said Smith. "And I would call her to translate some things...or I used Google Translate a lot."

A hotly-contested issue at the forefront is the practice of children being separated from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, reports say the number sits at roughly 2,300 children. WACH FOX reported that four of those children are being fostered here in South Carolina.

Smith is not currently fostering unaccompanied children, as he has recently adopted several American children.

But he says it is something he would do again.

"If your heart is in it, you want to do it, don't be scared.," said Smith. "It goes back to like...it's like, God."

LSC offers various services in addition, focused on veterans, homelessness and much more. For more information on fostering, visit their website.

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