the facebook group: FAQs

Recently, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first three posts here.

What is this Facebook group you speak of?
In September 2015, some friends of mine (Jenny and Elizabeth) were opening a foster pantry (read all the details here!) and I offered to try out some online fundraising to get some needed items stocked. 24 hours later, nearly $2000 had been raised. On Facebook. It was clear that momentum had built and that people were eager to do more to serve foster/adopt/kinship families, so I started a Facebook group to share ongoing needs.

What goes on in there?
– Raising money for foster pantry items
When Jenny or Elizabeth lets me know about an item that needs to be restocked in the foster pantry, I head to the Facebook group and do some fundraising. Depending on how things are going with people donated used items, sometimes we’ll decide to wait and do a big fundraiser for several items a few times a year. At times, we also learn of families who are at risk for CPS-intervention because of insecure housing who have obtained an apartment but have no furnishings, and we’ll do fundraisers for that as well.

The fundraisers, frankly, look a lot like me posting incessantly and convincing people that even giving $2 makes a difference. I’m silly, loud, and pep rally-ish, and people give either because they love it or because they want me to be quiet. I’m cool with either.

Here are some sample posts from fundraisers!

– Meal calendars
We regularly post meal calendars (favorite site is Meal Train) where people can directly sign up to take a meal to a family, post in the comments that they can cook but not deliver (or vice versa) and look for a partner, be prompted to donate toward take out, or sign up to cook and deliver a meal that they’ll be reimbursed for through our Monthly Meals program (post to come). Those posts look like this.

– Promoting adoption fundraisers
– Posting information on classes for becoming a certified foster babysitter
– Offering items that are no longer needed to other families
– Coordinating rides, pick-up/drop-off of items, etc.

How could I start a Facebook group?
– Talk to local foster/adoptive families and/or CPS workers to determine what would be truly supportive in your community and determine if a FB group could be a part of it.

– Consider if you want to be responsible for running the group, if you’d like to do it with a group of friends, or if you’re not comfortable with/capable of posting regularly, etc. Who do you know that may be?

– Get very familiar with unsplash.com. Unsplash has a great selection of free stock photos that I use constantly when posting meal calendars, a request for a ride or delivery, etc. Pictures make a huge difference in visibility and interaction on Facebook.

– Whoever is in charge of this little corner of the Internet must be comfortable posting frequently when the need warrants it. When there isn’t a pressing need, go quiet. When there is, or when it’s time to do a fundraiser, go crazy! The more excited you are, the more momentum builds.

– PayPal and Venmo make it easy for people to give, as well as offering the option for checks to be sent.

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I’m here for you! Comment with questions or shoot me an email.

the foster pantry: FAQs

Last week, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first post here, and the second post here.

What is the foster pantry?

Though it has “foster” in the title, the pantry also serves adoptive and kinship placement families, as well as families at risk for CPS intervention. The pantry is filled with clothes, car seats, strollers, baby swings, diapers, toys, toiletries, and more, all available at no cost to the families.

How did the foster pantry get started?

A few years ago, my friends Elizabeth Carter and Jenny Closner began dreaming about opening a foster pantry through a foster and adoption support group called Faithful to the Fatherless. When Elizabeth lived elsewhere, her church started one, and she had seen firsthand how helpful it was to families.

Elizabeth (a foster and adoptive mom), and Jenny (an adoptive mom), prayed about the pantry and eventually a family in our church provided space for it in a small side building on their property. The pantry now shares a storage unit space with another ministry of our church. The items all come through donations.

Who runs it?

Elizabeth and Jenny are the primary contacts, and a few other volunteers have keys for meeting families at the pantry to go shopping.

Why is the pantry needed?

Very often, foster families receive a phone call just a few hours before a child is coming into their home. CPS interventions vary widely, and children are often in immediate need of a place to spend the night tonight.

Imagine that you are going about your day and suddenly the phone rings with a placement opportunity. How comforting to know that your next phone call can be to set up an appointment at a pantry that is stocked with the items you’ll need for this new season of your life!

The pantry is also open to families who are adopting, as they are often facing major costs. We want to celebrate the bringing of a child into a home, whether temporarily or permanently. So, the same way that we throw baby showers for friends who are pregnant (even when they have the ability to buy some items themselves), we want to show our support through the pantry.

Don’t foster families get reimbursed by the state? Don’t the kids bring things with them?

The pantry primarily provides items immediately needed at the time of placement (as opposed to ongoing needs months after a child has been placed, though we are happy for families to trade out clothing sizes, for example).

Foster parents are reimbursed by the state, but the reimbursements take a while to come in, and they’re not a high amount.

Children often come with nothing, or maybe a few belongings in a trash bag. So, for example, if the child is a baby, immediate needs would include a car seat, stroller, bottles, etc. – items that add up very quickly and can’t wait to be purchased when the reimbursement comes. The pantry removes the stress of those large initial costs.

How do families learn about the pantry?

Many of the foster and adoptive families in our community are a part of the Faithful to the Fatherless, so the word spreads easily there. Jenny and Elizabeth also have good relationships with caseworkers at our local CPS office who inform foster families that the pantry is available to them.

How do families set up an appointment?

Foster parents (and sometimes caseworkers) call Elizabeth or Jenny who arrange a time to meet the parent at the pantry. Sometimes, if the child is coming right this minute, a volunteer will go gather items for the family and deliver them. Ideally, though, the parent gets to shop and choose things they especially like and need.

How much can families take? How do you know you’re not being taken advantage of?

The vast majority of the time, Elizabeth and Jenny are imploring foster parents to take more. Rarely, almost never, have they felt that the pantry was taken advantage of.

In general, foster families are so thankful and overwhelmed by the offer of assistance during those crazy first days of transition that they restrain themselves a great deal when choosing items. (So Elizabeth and Jenny just add things to their bags :).)

Faithful to the Fatherless wants to steward donations well while honoring the dignity of each foster parent and child by giving generously and not being trapped by the fear of misuse. There will be times when the pantry or items from it are misused. But overall, abundant giving has been reciprocated with abundant gratitude.

Families are never expected to return the items that they take, though we’re certainly happy to take back items that are no longer needed (a crib, for example). The foster families are also encouraged to send items with foster children who leave their care to wherever they are going.

If resources were limited, it would be easy to come up with a checklist that is given to the foster parent (x number of outfits, etc.) to refer to as he or she shops.

How do you solicit donations?

When the pantry first opened, Jenny and Elizabeth spread the word through Faithful to the Fatherless and on social media that excellent used condition (this is really important – we want the families to receive items that communicate dignity) clothes and items were needed. Our community stepped up to the plate big time with clothes, and by the time I made it to the drop-off day, the only things still needed were bigger items like car seats and strollers.

I suggested to Jenny that I post on Facebook and see if anyone wanted to contribute toward the “grand opening” of the pantry. 24 hours later, the wild world of Facebook had blown me away by raising around $2000 toward needed items (read about it here).

Building on the momentum of that fundraiser, I started a Facebook group where supporters of Faithful to the Fatherless could stay in touch with ongoing needs. I’ll do a separate post on the Facebook group, but for now, it’s where we share a lot of information about items that are needed and fundraise for them.

How could I do something like this in my community?

You’ll need:

Space, which could be as small as part of someone’s garage (maybe with attic space for car seats, etc.), or as large as a storage unit. You may start small and get bigger! Ideally, the space needs to be accessible by multiple volunteers who will have keys to take families shopping, so keep that in mind as you’re considering spaces (aka do you want to give 4 people keys to your garage?).

Volunteers to maintain inventory, fundraise/solicit used items, meet families at the pantry. Time commitments will vary based on the size of your city’s foster/adopt needs and how often new placements are made (you could learn this by contacting your local CPS office). Jenny and Elizabeth average about 3-5 hours per week meeting families at the pantry and maintaining inventory, and I average around the same with raising money for needed items, etc.

Keep in mind that this is an average. Some weeks, Elizabeth, Jenny, and/or I may spend 15 hours on the pantry, some weeks none at all. Largely, this is because some weeks the community may have no new placements, and some weeks it may have 10.

If you’re limited on volunteers/time, you could have a schedule of weekly availability for each volunteer and only allow appointments during those times. A lot of this will depend on season of life/other commitments for your volunteers, so I encourage you to all be very honest with each other about your schedules/capacity and set up the pantry in a way that will be sustainable for your volunteers.

Set up a clear line of communication between the people who are hands on at the pantry taking families shopping and maintaining inventory, and the person or people who fundraise for needed items. In our case, Jenny or Elizabeth will send me a text of what’s running low and I’ll get to work hassling people on Facebook for baby swings. Talk through it with your people to see what works and helps everyone stay on the same page.

A connection to foster families so they can learn about the pantry, such as an existing ministry or the local CPS office

A strategy for soliciting donations of new and/or excellent used condition items (post to come on some of our fundraising tips and tricks)

You may want:

A Facebook group (post to come!)

Someone who is comfortable manically posting in said Facebook group to solicit donations (in our case, this is me)
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I am here for you as you determine if this is something your church, community group, or friends could get started. Please feel free to comment on this post or contact me with any questions!

Orphan Care: Calling and Creativity

Last week, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first post here.

For this series to be helpful to you, we’re going to need to be on the same page about something: orphan care is for everyone. Extra bedrooms or not, disposable income or not, specific spiritual gifting/love for children/heart for the marginalized or not, orphan care is for you, both in terms of calling and creativity. Let’s explore that a bit.

Calling
Scripture is explicit that, for the Christian, caring for widows and orphans is a mandate. At the time those words were written, widows and orphans were some of the most vulnerable members of society, and in many ways, this remains true. In America, the orphans who are often the nearest to us are children in foster care.

According to Children’s Rights, “on any given day, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2015, over 670,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

Hundreds of thousands of children, right here at home, are undergoing the traumatic event of being removed from their families of origin and are in need of love and safety. For many people, the best way to respond to this reality is to become a licensed foster parent. If you are maybe-a-little-tiny-itty-bitty-Abby-I-kind-of-want-to-slap-you-because-you’re-making-me think-about-this level of interested in pursuing a foster care license, I highly commend my friend, and author, speaker, and foster/adoption advocate, Jason Johnson, to you. His blog will be a gift as you pray through God’s call on your life as it pertains to orphan care.

For those who cannot pursue a foster care license right now, or who are praying through it but want to begin moving toward the foster/adopt world in the meantime, I want to help us answer this question: for those of us who believe that we are both called to care for orphans and that we cannot bring foster children into our homes today, what can we do?

Creativity
Here’s a truth about God that I can’t get over: He never leaves us ill-equipped for that which He has called us to fulfill. Since God has called us to care for orphans, there must be ways in our lives right now that we can do so.

It may very well be the case that our lives will need to adjust or be reprioritized so that we can follow God’s call. Oftentimes, what’s required of us will include sacrifice. But, we are not locked into lives incapable of accommodating some form of orphan care. The God of the universe has placed this calling on our lives, and He has set His Spirit, with great creativity and passion, within us as we seek to obey.

As you begin to think creatively about engaging orphan care, keep the imagery of the body of Christ in mind. Everyone plays a part, right? No part more valuable than the other? So, consider what body part, building block or concentric circle you may be a part of.

In the case of foster care, the center of the circle is the foster child (or the child being adopted, or the family at risk for losing their children to foster care, etc.). The circle just outside of him or her is the foster family. Just outside of them are case workers, CASA advocates, etc. Then extended family and close friends, then their church community, then the community at large, and so on.

Consider where you fit right at this moment. Do you know anyone who is fostering or adopting? Do you know anyone whose financial or family circumstances may be putting their children at risk for being taken into care? Think about your workplace, child’s school, church, neighborhood, city buildings you drive past, and community’s services.

You do have a place to start. It may be a call to your church to ask if anyone in the congregation fosters, adopts, works with families at risk for removal, or is involved with those who do/are. It may be an appointment with the local CPS office to see what the pressing needs are. Send an email or make a phone call. Move toward one person, just to get to know their story. 

So, about the next post: One way that God’s call to care for the orphan intersected with my life at an unexpected time was through our community’s foster pantry. Next week, I’ll write about what it is, how it was started, and the logistical details in a way that will help you figure out if something similar may be doable in your community. Please comment with any questions about how the pantry works and I’ll make sure to address them!

With joy,

Abby

P.S. Want to do some further research in the meantime?

And Then There Were Five by Emily Attaway for Respite Redefined
Wrapping around Foster and Adoptive Families by Jason Johnson
Three Things Foster Parents Don’t Have to Be by Jason Johnson
Pure and Undefiled Religion by Jared Perry (a sermon my husband gave last year)

on serving foster & adoptive families. 

When Jared was in seminary and we were just beginning our journey into parenthood, I was overwhelmed with a desire to foster and/or adopt. We met with friends who were licensed, who were welcoming children and filling out paperwork and attending classes, and we decided to work toward our fostering certification once Jared graduated. In May 2014, we became licensed, and over the summer we cared for two sets of siblings for a long weekend each (known as respite care).

After Gabriel was born and the unknowns of his medical needs stacked high, it became clear that our plans for foster care needed to shift. Nothing, not one thing, about our passion for the orphan shifted, but our circumstances required that passion to manifest differently.

By God’s grace, our church and community made possible creative ways for us to engage. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of blog posts with ideas for supporting foster, adoptive, and kinship placement families. If you’ve ever felt like there’s only a binary between fostering/adopting or not actively engaging orphan care, if you’ve never thought about orphan care before, or if you’re itching to rally your community around supporting children (and their immediate caregivers), this series is for you.

I plan to explain the ins and outs of:

  • The concentric circles of care for children and families
  • Our community’s “foster pantry”
  • The Facebook group where we share needs
  • Programs for providing meals when families welcome new children
  • How we help families at risk for Child Protective Services intervention stay together
  • Ways we support teens aging out of care

I would love to know if there are other topics related to supporting foster, adoptive, kinship, or otherwise CPS-adjacent families you’d like for me to address. You can on this post, send me an email, or come find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. This series exists entirely to illustrate what has worked in our community so that you are informed and inspired to try similar things right where you are.

So, what are the barriers you perceive in your community when it comes to effective orphan care?

What feels unknown or scary or intimidating?

Most simply, what can I share that may help you take a step forward?

I’m delighted to start this conversation with each of you!

With joy,

Abby

love & grit & glory. [grace & truth series]

[just joining us? catch up with the grace & truth: social justice series here & here]

i’ve been sitting here staring out the window eating crackers with roasted garlic hummus [to God be the glory, right?] and trying to come up with a good illustration for the point i’d like to make. nothing is coming to mind, so here’s the point, delivered in a non prettied-up, non compelling way because that’s just what’s happening today.

love works hard.

graceandtruthloveworkshard

it just. works. hard. it pours out and it may not be filled back up and it makes hard decisions and is a life without love really life at all and when love is our life sometimes it’s just painful and anyone who says differently is selling something.

i’m so overwhelmed at times by the pain in the world that all i want to do is fix it. i’m feeling this right now as i just read this and i’m rolling my eyes because my life today is coffee and friends and there’s brick on our house and my baby is napping and i’m picking out paint colors.

and now i’m rolling my eyes again because i’m reminded that love works hard and you should feel guilty because you’re having a great day are not. the. same. thing.

loved already worked hard. love took on flesh and dwelt among us and we’ve seen His glory. the only Son. from the Father. grace & truth.

so when i say love works hard, the Spirit of God works that truth out inside me, and He reminds me that love works hard as a response, a reflection and not a repayment of what has been done for me. and i’m so much more motivated than i could have been otherwise because i get to love now. i get to work hard and i get to function out of the overflow of grace & truth and joy woven deep. it’s as simple and complex and clear and foggy as we love because He first loved us. it’s a love that:

creates
comes
intervenes
provides
sacrifices
bleeds
pours out
dies on behalf of another.

that’s the love that was shown to us. it’s the love we get to respond to.

this is not a call to be a self made martyr. it is a call to marvel and wonder and invest in discovering just how deeply we are loved by Love and how the calling of our heart to love Love and love loving is where the heart of this life is found.

love works hard.

it looks like selfless service and why is she doing that? it looks like discipleship and open hands and fear not and finances not clutched but given and all we have is His so what would He have us do with it? it looks like many members but one body and it looks like a people compelled and convinced, Christ-loved and Christlike. it looks like grit and commitment and all glory, honor, power is Yours, amen.

it looks like a life that won’t make sense to the world and we hear that all the time but why do i have to repeat it to myself over and over again? it looks like people who are convinced that thy Kingdom come is motivation enough for wherever the Spirit leads, and it looks like people who are confident that God gives wisdom and empowers us to move forward into the dark places.

it looks like the family of a dear friend of mine, parents five minutes into empty-nesting and mom and sister traveling abroad and Spirit pricking and souls saying our home should not yet be empty. paperwork and conversation and prayer and waiting and two children on a plane headed toward a forever home, a forever family. two sisters greeting a new brother and sister at the airport, overwhelmed with happiness that their siblings are here and a jet-lagged, exhilarated brother head-spinning and heart trying to catch up says, “it was not easy.” this is the truth.

love works hard. we are people loved by the greatest Love of all, and this is life is but a vapor, a moment in time and we get to love in a way that reflects God and have faith in a way that moves mountains. love works through us and in us and our hearts are softened by it and stronger for it. love calls us into battle and calls us into rest and that this God we serve brings all these seeming contradictions into synthesis is a manifestation of love itself.

love works hard. if you share that belief with me, grab a friend or a journal or a space in the comments section and ponder what that means for you. it means something, i’m sure of it. He is faithful to reveal.

orphan care: someone else’s words [#2]

welcome to a special, close-to-my-heart-i’m-so-proud-of-this-man edition of someone else’s words.

during jared’s last semester in seminary, he was chosen to speak in chapel as one of four senior preachers. the sermon that he was nominated for and then delivered in chapel was entitled the care of the orphan, and i’m excited to share it with you today. if you have a moment, let it play while you organize your inbox or wash your dishes, or even take twenty minutes to pretend you’re a seminary student sitting on campus. jared’s message is clear, compelling and Scriptural, and he gives excellent examples of how to understand and engage orphan care. also, enjoy the opening illustration. i find it hilarious.

orphan care: someone else’s words.

my brain is so consumed with this new journey God is unfolding in our life that i can hardly form a coherent sentence. in order to keep you all safe from the tangled web that is my attempt at reason, i’m going to share a lot of other people’s words. people who are years, miles, souls encountered down the road from where we are and who are living to tell the tale of orphan care in all its heartbreak and beauty. my mind and soul churn and weep and give thanks because of them.

i’m undone.

if your heart has been pricked by the plight of the orphan, beware. these sermons and posts and articles may just push you over the edge into a world of prayer and action and connection that you didn’t know existed. that’s where i’m finding myself right now, and i’m not sure i’ll ever find my way back. in the interest of full disclosure, i hope i don’t, and i hope you join me.

Sermons/Lectures from Together for Adoption*:
Relaxing in Trinitarian Love [Tim Chester]
The Mega Issues: Breaking Down People’s Perception of the Orphan [World Orphans]
The Church and the Foster Child [Robert Gelinas]
The Church as the Answer to Foster Care Challenge [Dave Gibbons]
Adoption and the Pursuit of Transracial Reconciliation [Scott Roley]
* these are just the messages i have listened to – i have a feeling the rest are excellent as well.

Blog Posts
I’m Not Done Yet [Jen Hatmaker]
The Truth about Adoption: Two Years Later [Jen Hatmaker]
Let Our Answer Be Jesus [Light Breaks Forth]
The Truth about Birth Order, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Family Trauma [Light Breaks Forth]
Grieving Together [Ashley Fishbach/Mercy Found Ministries]

Articles
Miracle in Possum Trot [Charisma Magazine]
More Foster Families Needed across Texas [CBS News]

this is a lot. i get that. i get that i’m a research nut/junkie/addict.

pick one message and listen? pick one post or article and read? it’s worth your while, i guarantee it.

our next adventure: foster care

yesterday afternoon, baby asleep and coffee poured and sun through the window, i sorted through hours of conversation and thought and prayer and put these words together for our families. the short of it: jared and i are (slowly) beginning the process of becoming licensed foster care parents. the long of it, as we shared with our families yesterday, is here.

Dear Family,

Some of you know that we have been praying about and researching foster care. We attended an orientation through Arrow (a foster care agency) on Monday and, to make a long story short, we are officially pursuing licensing as a foster care family. 

We realize that this probably raises a lot of questions and we sincerely hope that you will ask them! We are learning so much already and would love to talk to all of you about the information we are gathering and excited to put into action soon. There is a huge need for foster families in general, and College Station is no exception. In fact, only 9 families are licensed through our agency in Brazos County and children are, consequently, often placed in group homes or taken out of the county for placement in a home.

Children are placed in foster care due to neglect or abuse, so the fact that they are then put through the additional trauma of being removed from their communities breaks our hearts. God’s call to care for the orphan has been knocking at our door for quite some time, and we are so glad that He has given us some clarity as to how we can help address the crisis. There are over 30,000 children in foster care in Texas alone, over 12,000 of whom are waiting to be adopted. We believe it is the correct response for our family to begin fostering one child at a time, whether that child becomes a part of our forever family or we are able to help restore him/her to a biological family.

As far as timeline and a bit of detail, we are currently working on our (monstrous) application and hope to do the training classes in a weekend intensive in January or February. After that, we will have home inspections and complete our “home study,” which is a several hour interview that will provide the agency and Child Protective Services a comprehensive understanding of our family. If a child we foster becomes adoptable and we want to move forward with adopting that child, the home study will be passed on to the judge to assist his decision.

Our hope is that we will have our first foster child by next summer, but our timeline is flexible. We are open to fostering any race or gender. We would like for Owen to remain the oldest child in our home, so his birthday will be our cut-off date for the age we are willing to foster. We are still praying about and discussing what level of therapeutic needs or disabilities we feel capable of handling. Will you pray about that with us?

Other specific prayers at this point are that:

– our application/training/interview process will go smoothly;
– God will open our eyes to the realities that we will encounter and give us the strength and humility to walk through them;
– He will continually remind us that He will be our grace in the need of the moment, whether that moment be a drug-addicted baby in our home, a terrified toddler, or a year with a child ending as he or she is taken back to a biological family member;
– Owen’s heart, even now, will be opened to “sharing” us and that we would be especially skilled in affirming his identity in our family and the way that Christ calls us to be like him and care for our fellow man, as well as how God adopted us when we were orphans;
– we will be faithful to Jared’s position at Grace and the students/families we are called to minister to there;
– we will be able to raise awareness, action and support for orphans and those caring for them in our church and local community.

We hope you will join in this process with us! Please, please, please ask us questions and share in our joy just like you all were so faithful to do when we were pregnant with Owen. We are extremely excited but we also realize that we are opening up our lives to hardship that would be much easier to ignore. Whenever we think about that, it’s our peace to remember that God could have said the same thing about us…but He didn’t. Instead, he told us, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He’s so good, and He has set that goodness inside us through His Spirit. It is grace to walk with Him, even into an uncertain journey.

Thank you for loving us and supporting our (seemingly crazy) dreams. We are so thankful that we will be welcoming our children into a home that is loved by each of you. We know that will make an immeasurable impact on their lives.

Call us, text us, email us back. We want to do this together.

We’ve attached a Christian foster care guide that a family at Grace helped write. We found it extremely helpful in understanding God’s heart for the orphan, as well as how the foster care system works. If you have the opportunity, we hope you’ll take the time to look through it.

If you want to pass this on to anyone, feel free!

With joy,
Jared & Abby

so, there it is. the next season of our family’s journey, or at least part of it. we are in the boring paperwork phase right now, so we may not have many exciting updates for a while. however, i am very much looking forward to using joy woven deep as a vessel for sharing what we learn throughout the process, shedding light on the orphan crisis as well as the ever-changing specifics of foster care.

for now, we give thanks that He did not leave us as orphans and we look forward to reflecting that truth in our community. what a privilege and joy.
joy woven deep: Our Next Adventure: Foster Care