Behind the scenes: Volunteer selflessly gives his time to ensure the basic needs of foster children are met

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For two decades Chuck Johnson has been working behind the scenes at Oakland Family Services to build brighter futures for our clients.

He’s the go-to guy when foster families need a crib or other furniture on a short notice so they can provide a safe and loving home to abused or neglected children. Chuck not only searches for furniture that can be donated, but assembles it and, if needed, makes repairs.

Chuck also has been involved in the agency’s Adopt-A-Family program since its inception. You’ll usually find him in the background, either working with teens from Crossroads for Youth who are unloading holiday packages from vehicles or assisting those manning the volunteer check-in table.

And there are other events too, such as assembling Thanksgiving baskets and the foster care holiday party, where he has spent countless hours helping ensure Oakland Family Services’ clients’ basic needs are met.

Chuck was recognized for his volunteer commitment to Oakland Family Services Nov. 8 during the 27th Annual National Philanthropy Day Dinner hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Detroit Chapter. The awards banquet, held this year at The Henry in Dearborn, celebrates and honors the passion, commitment and leadership of Southeastern Michigan's philanthropists, distinguished volunteers and those in the fundraising profession.

“A behind the scenes hero to clients and staff alike, Chuck selflessly gives his time in support of building maintenance, delivering donated furniture to foster and birth parents’ homes and holiday gift programs,” said Jaimie Clayton, president/CEO of Oakland Family Services. “Chuck has a measurable, positive impact on everyone he meets, most especially parents and foster parents struggling to provide basic needs that ensure families stay together.”

The 79-year-old Farmington Hills man said he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. He said he is thankful for the award but feels a bit embarrassed by the attention.

“I like to feel good about myself, and I feel very comfortable in a role where I am in the background,” he explained. “The folks who administer and run the programs at OFS are the real heroes and success of OFS. I’m just someone in support of the agency who works in the background.”

Chuck and his wife, Fran, became connected to Oakland Family Services as foster parents. They came to the agency after the county ended its foster care program and have opened their home to many foster children over the years. The couple began their journey into foster care after losing twins who were born prematurely. They adopted one boy, Brian, who is now 30, through Oakland Family Services. This year the Johnsons became grandparents after their daughter, Mary, 35, had a baby girl, Ella.

 Kristin Benton, director of development, Chuck Johnson, Fran Johnson, and Valerie Mercadante, development and engagement coordinator, at The Henry in Dearborn.

Kristin Benton, director of development, Chuck Johnson, Fran Johnson, and Valerie Mercadante, development and engagement coordinator, at The Henry in Dearborn.

While Chuck has been recognized for his volunteer work, he said he and Fran — a foster care senior program aide at Oakland Family Services — work hand in hand helping foster parents or other clients. Between the two of them, the Johnsons have been working to support Oakland Family Services and our foster children for three decades!

“Recently a young man had custody of a young lad who was in a house that literally had nothing in it,” Chuck said. “Somehow, he was able to rent the house but didn’t have any furniture, so we asked him what he needed and went out and got a washer and dryer and installed them. Another time I had a foster dad, and I worked with him extensively on assembling a crib that they really needed. It was a complex assembly. It was not a matter of delivering furniture but making sure the furniture was installed properly.”

Chuck spent 21 years serving in the Air Force before working in satellite communications at a company in Washington, D.C. He then left to work at MCI in Minneapolis, where he and Fran stayed until 1985 when they moved to Detroit so Chuck could work for EDS.

After retiring from EDS in 1996, Chuck decided he wanted to volunteer at a place where he could make a difference and chose Oakland Family Services. He said he has learned a great deal from his volunteer work and is amazed by the foster parents he has met through the agency.

“They take a child who they have never seen before and from a background where the child has been deprived or abused, and they have a profound effect on this young child who feels their sense of self-worth is at the bottom,” he said. “I’ve seen foster parents take in a child and help that child to turn around in their thinking processes, so they can realize they are important as an individual.”

Of all the volunteer work Chuck has done at the agency over the past 20 years, Adopt-A-Family is his favorite.

“It gives these kids a feeling they are not just a piece of cargo somewhere,” he said. “They are little people or big people and they all need to be made to feel like somebody’s thinking about them.

“What OFS does very frequently can be gut wrenching since the workers are dealing with people who have neglected children, but on the flip side is you have a good feeling that they really made a difference in their mission. If you want to volunteer where it really makes a difference in kids’ lives, volunteer at OFS.”