Student builds SAFFT Garden

A garden where bonds grow stronger

Student hopes her garden will reconnect families
by Aldo Nahed
Editor, Forsyth Herald

May 16, 2011

CUMMING, Ga. — Martina Vis has planted an outdoor garden that she hopes will grow family bonds.

The 16-year-old junior at West Forsyth High School said she hopes the gardens will promote interaction between the foster children and their biological families at Safft, Inc., (Supporting Adopted and Foster Families Together), located off Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Cumming.

Safft is a nonprofit that provides supervised visitations required by the juvenile courts and Division of Family and Children Services. It also provides parenting classes to the community.

“I’m in the process of finishing up an activity book, which will have interactive activities,” Vis said.

The idea is that in her alphabet-themed garden, parents and their child can “go through the alphabet and find letters.”
There are 15 small gardens with different themes. In the alphabet garden, one can find lilies, for the letter “L,” or look for violets for the letter “V.” In the zoo-themed garden, one can look for lamb’s ears, butterfly bush and catnip.

 “It’s beautiful,” said Millie Evans, a supervisor of visits at the nonprofit. “It has helped the overall appearance of our backyard.”

One of the goals is that a family will plant a seed in one of the raised garden beds, and each week when they visit, they can watch the seeds grow into a plant.

Together, the parent and child will care for the plant, thus bonding during their visit.

Two murals — modeled after Atlanta Botanical Garden murals — were painted on the 78-foot-long picket fence around the garden by Aimee Kudela, Vis’ classmate at West Forsyth HS.

“It turned out fabulous,” Vis said.

Vis said she has been planning the garden sin

ce August. She didn’t get her hands in the dirt until March. By then, Vis said

she was able to reach out to local businesses for support, including securing plants, paints and in-kind donations.

“A lot of people were willing to offer help,” Vis said.
Lynn Martiny, a master gardener, gave her advice on which plants to get, along with

 Kevin Smith of Keep Forsyth County Beautiful. Ace Hardware, Lowe’s and Home Depot made donations to Vis’ garden. She estimates about $3,000 in donations went into the garden project.

 Vis’ idea will also serve as her Girl Scout Gold Award project — the highest and most prestigious award that Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors can earn.

Vis, who plans to pursue a career in the medical field, said people’s reaction to the garden has been positive.

“They had a look at the garden and said, ‘This is more than I ever imagined,'” she said.

National BBQ Cup Benefits SAFFT

SAFFT participated in the first annual National BBQ Cook Off & Festival on November 18 & 19. Some of the proceeds that day went to benefit our organization. We are very appreciative of all our staff and board members who volunteered. A special thanks to Starbucks off exit 13 (across from the Avenue shopping center). Their help with coffee and cups helped us in a big way!

Filling A Need By Adopting

By: Adlen Robinson

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me to be nice to everybody because you never knew when you might be speaking to an angel.

After leaving a meeting with my new friend, Melony Witt, I felt as if I may have met that angel.

Melony and her husband, Andrew, just signed the final adoption papers for not one, not two, but five children. The children, all siblings, range in age from 5 to 12.

They join the family of Melony, Andrew and their 12-year-old son.

So what was it like to go from having an only child, to having six?

“It has been an amazing experience,” Melony said. “They are very close to each other, and we feel incredibly blessed to have them.”

Before adopting them, Melony and Andrew were foster parents.

“Most people don’t know much about the world of foster parenting, but it was not a strange concept to me since when I was growing up my parents were foster parents,” she said.

Melony said her mother always had a heart for children, especially children with special needs.

“My mom is like Mother Teresa,” she said. “I saw her love all sorts of children, besides myself and my siblings.”

Melony married young, gave birth to her son and life seemed great. Tragically, her young husband died, leaving her a single mother of a 3-year-old.

In 2005, Melony met Andrew. After they wed in 2007, he legally adopted her son.

A few years ago, she brought up the subject of fostering and the couple decided to take some classes to learn more.

“When you learn about these kids, your heart just melts,” she said.

After fostering three other children, Melony met the five siblings. She and Andrew embarked on the journey to legally adopt them all.

Melony is quick to say she couldn’t do this alone.

“Andrew is such a great father,” she said. “He is such a patient person, with so much love to give our children. He is truly a special person.”

Ashley Anderson, executive director of Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, knows quite a bit about foster parenting.

Besides being the director of SAFFT, she and her husband have been foster parents for years.

Anderson said becoming foster parents was absolutely “life changing.”

Since its formation in January 2009, Anderson said SAFFT has provided a support network for hundreds of foster parents and adoptive families and their children.

“We want to parents to know that they are not alone. If we can provide that supportive network for the parents, they can ultimately support the children,” she said.

Anderson said Forsyth County has about 80 children at any one time in the foster care system.

“Because we do not have enough foster parents, half of that number has to be moved outside our county,” she said.

That means children are moved away from their schools, family members and sometimes their siblings.

“We hope that people will consider becoming foster parents,” she said. “We have such a great need right now.”

Anderson said if someone is interested in learning more, he or she can call SAFFT and talk to someone about fostering or attend an information meeting.

In addition, Anderson said there are many other things people can do to help impact one of these children.

“My hope is that everybody will do something, these children are our future,” she said.

Melony said she has no illusions about the challenges ahead for her family.

“I am not saying it has been easy,” she said. “There has been anger, tears and frustration. But the good definitely outweighs the bad … we both feel it is worth it.”

Melony wants to advocate for foster parenting, but does so with a note of caution.

“I want people to know that it is not always going to work perfectly, there are children who may not be a good fit in your home, and that is OK,” she said.

“We look at our own situation and say, we fostered three children that did not work out. But if we had of given up, we wouldn’t have our family.”

I want to thank Melony for sharing her inspiring story. I know six children who are so blessed to have such wonderful and compassionate parents.

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at

Originally posted on Forsyth News