Embrace Families Names Melissa Walker Foster Parent of the Year


( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Melissa Walker Provides Backyard Safety With Landscape Project

ENSPIRE Contributor: Gabrielle Maya 

Embrace Families is a lead nonprofit agency that oversees child welfare services in Florida, including Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties. New foster homes and mentors are part of Embrace Families mission. On behalf of the Embrace Families’ Caregiver Support Team, Melissa Walker, a foster mother, and fourth-grade teacher, was chosen as the new Foster Parent of the Year. 

Melissa Walker teaches at an Orange County charter school. She was recognized at the signature fundraising event  “Dance Dream & Inspire,” for her availability, adaptability, and advocacy. According to Executive Director of Clinical Services at Embrace Families, Amanda Reineck, “Melissa is one of our strongest and most reliable homes. She has been known to take kids of all ages and circumstances. Melissa goes above and beyond to make sure every child that’s placed in her home feels special, supported, and taken care of.”

Melissa Walker Receives Foster Parent of the Year Award

Recently she helped with a major landscaping project, making her backyard more kid-friendly. The community supporters at Westgate Resorts and the Westgate Foundation stepped up to assist her including the Embrace Families team of volunteers. ENSPIRE interviewed Melissa Walker and Embrace Families. We discussed with Melissa Walker her experience as a foster parent, her teaching career, and her recent landscape project. With Embrace Families we dived into their mission, their adoption and fostering process, and the ‘Dance, Dream & Inspire’ event details.

When did you realize helping children was your calling? 

I realized I wanted to help the next generation around 18 when I did a research project on foster care and adoption. I knew I wanted to show them how loved they were by so many people. I was unfortunately a victim of sexual abuse and can empathize with the kids in care about feeling worthless/helpless. I just want everyone to know how valuable they are to their community. 

As a teacher, you educate young minds every day, what skills in the classroom do you apply to your personal life? 

I treat everyone with respect no matter what their age may be. Sometimes as adults, we tend to overpower our children/students but after several trainings surrounding trauma I’ve realized that everyone deserves to feel important, so as a teacher, I want every child that comes into my classroom to feel loved, cared for, comfortable and safe. Same as my house! 

What is your connection with Embrace Families? 

My connection with Embrace is pretty good. I know a lot of people who have helped me in several different ways. 

Tell us the reasons for your landscape project, what other contributions to your community and children have earned you your award? 

Being single, tending to my tall palm trees can be very time-consuming and not safe to do when I have 5 littles under my feet. Having the backyard done allowed me to spend more time with my kids, have a safe environment for them to play more freely in, and teach them about how even people we don’t have a relationship with still love and care for us.

I also try to make the children know that I’m going to treat them the same way I would if they were my own, so we travel together, we help other foster families with respite, I also help with teens that need a place to sleep because there are not enough foster homes to take them. I try to work closely with the whole team.

I make every court hearing, staffing (meeting), therapy, and bio visit. I try to get to know the case managers, GALs {guardian ad litem}, and attorneys as well so they know they’re cared about. Sometimes they can get overlooked. 

Melissa Walker Landscape Project – Central FL

‌Tell us about your experience being a foster parent, what is your advice for those who want to look into adoption in Florida? 

Being a foster parent has its ups and downs. I do it for the children. These children come with so much loss and trauma regardless of what they went through. All these children need is love, support, and to feel safe. If you think you’re capable of that, then you can for sure love these children. The moment I say yes to a new child I fall in love, even before I see their face. Goodbyes are hard. But it’s so worth it when you can see the impact you have had on their life and their family’s life. 

What is the overall mission for Embrace Families and how has that benefited the community and children everywhere?

At Embrace Families, we believe all kids deserve to grow up in safe, stable, and loving homes. That’s why we work hard to find strength-based solutions that put each child’s well-being first. We begin by helping families overcome the challenging situations they might experience, such as housing insecurity and substance abuse, through programs that offer case management and community-driven solutions.

And when children can’t remain safely in their homes, we support them through foster care, adoption, and beyond to ensure they are moving toward brighter futures. Our priorities are child abuse prevention, family stability, and youth success.

As the lead agency for foster care and related child welfare services in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties, Embrace Families served 8,660 children during the last fiscal year. Embrace Families’ solutions-based programs provided housing, mental health, and victim advocacy services to 882 children and adults.

On any day, there are an average of 3,000 children and youth in our care. Of those kids, 1,700 are cared for outside of their homes: 1,000 with relatives or close family friends, 600 in foster homes, and 100 in group homes.

What are the processes for mentoring, fostering, and adoption?


Individuals who would like to become foster caregivers are encouraged to call 1-866-90CHILD to speak to a foster caregiver recruiter or visit fostertrack.embracefamilies.org/parentquestionnaire.asp. 

To be considered, adults must be 21 years old and currently not a recipient of governmental financial assistance. And the process of becoming a foster caregiver includes:

  • Attending an orientation session.
  • Completing 30 hours of training to understand the unique needs of children who have experienced trauma, separation and loss; expand parenting skills and strategies; and increase access to information and resources that will help throughout the fostering journey.
  • Completing a home inspection and study, as well as background, employment and reference checks.


When children and teens experiencing foster care can be adopted, potential adoptive families are required to complete many of the same steps as prospective foster caregivers, and the process can take as long as 10-12 months. Embrace Families prioritizes families who are willing to adopt sibling groups, teenagers, and youth with medical needs.

The 32 hours of training adoptive parents must take provide comprehensive information about the foster care system. It also helps them better understand the child welfare system and what to expect when parenting children who have experienced trauma.


Individuals who are interested in mentoring must be at least 25 years old and able to transport youth. They must also undergo a background check and training before being matched with a mentee. Information is available by emailing the mentor program manager at youthservices@embracefamilies.org.

Do you provide support for those who want to adopt, foster or mentor?

Embrace Families provides training and a wide variety of support — personal, emotional, financial, and practical. Many resources are available at Find Support (embracefamilies.org)

Tell us more about your event ‘Dance, Dream & Inspire’ and what it entails.

Dance, Dream & Inspire is a high-energy event that pairs Central Florida celebrities with professional dancers to perform in a spirited dance competition that raises funds for Embrace Families programs and services. It’s our version of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Former celebrity dancers have included Stacia Wake from Walt Disney World, Sarah Hohman from AdventHealth, and local news anchor Nancy Alvarez.

The event includes an auction and a variety of sponsorship opportunities. Last year, participants, donors, and sponsors raised more than $360,000, exceeding the event’s fundraising goal by $100,000.  

Melissa Walker Landscape Project Volunteers

What do you look for when deciding who the Foster Parent of the Year is going to be?

It’s incredibly difficult to narrow down what sets any of our incredible foster families apart, and our team celebrates their dedication and commitment to the kids in their care as often as possible. We created this special distinction to bestow on those who always go the extra mile to support our youth.

Melissa Walker is one of many who continue to support children from all walks of life and give them a home. Her landscape project is a big success, providing a safe place for her children to play. For more information about how to help support Central Florida’s most vulnerable children, visit www.embracefamilies.org.

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