The CALL empowers families to open homes to children
Two families at Little Rock's Christ the King Church adopt foster children
Kristie Fox knew in her heart that she wanted to become a foster parent and underwent training through the Christian non-profit Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime to become certified.
Three fostered and adopted children later, she is a testament to the success and the need of children still searching for a place to call home.
"I can't imagine a more amazing gift you can give somebody than a family when they have none," she said. "We could not have done this without the support and love and prayers from people at our church. They were amazing to us. They were like family."
Foster children in Arkansas face a shortage of homes, some 950 available for 7,000 children throughout the state in a given year. It is a crisis the CALL has been seeking to address since its founding in 2006.
The CALL was formed by Mary Carol Pederson as an initiative to bolster support and participation in the Christian community for the foster care system in Pulaski County. It partners with area churches "to educate, equip and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for the children in foster care."
The initiative has grown statewide with 20 county affiliates listed on the website and a statewide director. About 200 Christian churches participate now.
The idea for CALL stems from God's own call to his faithful in Scripture, said Jim Miles, CALL's board chairman and parishioner at Christ the King Church in Little Rock. CALL's motto stems from a verse in James: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction" (1:27).
The need for foster families continues to grow, so the success of CALL is a blessing. In 2011, more than 770 children were welcomed into CALL foster and adoptive families. As more children need homes, the non-profit is expanding to get the word out to more potential volunteers.
"We, as church are being called to lift up the plight of these children living in our midst so that our faithful can respond. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt children, but almost everyone can pull alongside and support those who do answer the CALL," said Sandy DeCoursey, parish life coordinator at Christ the King Church. "You can see God's grace flow through this ministry."
Miles is energized by the results the group is making in streamlining the training process, forming relationships with the Department of Human Services and increasing the pool of foster and adoptive families.
"People just don't know of the need and they don't know how to help. In our churches, we find a very fertile field to do this. By their nature they want to share the love of God," he said.
As a former foster parent who adopted two children through the DHS, he understands how frustrating the government model can seem.
"It can be an ordeal. It can be frustrating, but that's not the intention. Government agencies are taxed, and if we can lift some of that off, we can make a difference in the process."
The CALL strives to advocate for families during the approval process, so they can expedite it and have families ready when children need them.
"They need to have choices. We want more homes available, so they can make an appropriate placement. We need adoptive homes for those children who won't be reunited with their parents. The CALL brings in people who have a passion for this, a passion to open their homes and churches to these children and help them," he said.
The families go through the same training and approval process, but CALL offers more options for potential foster and adoptive parents, including weekend training.
Even though the process is more streamlined, the commitment is no less complete, said foster and adoptive mothers Fox and Lori Clements, both who participated in the CALL program through Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
Fox worked as an emergency room nurse in a trauma facility and saw abused children who had no place to go. Her husband David always looked at her like she was a bit crazy, she said, or had an excuse related to money, time or other things. The excuses made sense, especially since the couple had four children.
When an exhibit of photos of children waiting to be adopted called the Heart Gallery came to Christ the King, Fox "tugged" her husband along.
"He was still reluctant at that point. When he walked in, his whole heart changed. Immediately, God changed his heart and we became certified as foster parents after that," she said.
On the day they were certified in 2008, they got the call from DHS for a placement for a four-month old baby boy. They agreed to take him, but DHS called back and asked if they would take his 18-month-old brother also.
In the end, she came home that day with three children -- Bernie, Tony and their 3-year-old sister Corinna who had been sent to another home. They legally adopted Bernie and Tony in 2010 and are in the process of adopting Corinna.
"My heart broke again when I learned she was sent off by herself without her brothers. I told them to bring her to my house too. I didn't think about how different it would be with four kids already at home. I just couldn't bear for her to be alone like that," Fox said.
Lori Clements also had a feeling that one day she would adopt a third child. At the time, they put it off, as her husband was in the middle of a career change, so he could be at home with his family more.
She was at a meeting with her mother when she found out that a woman was pregnant and they would need a home for the baby. Their friends, the Fox family, had taken in his siblings.
"I felt like God had a rope around my heart and pulled me to do this," she said.
At five days old, Chase came to live with her family -- her husband and two older children. When he was 18 months old in 2010, they adopted him.
"It has been the greatest joy you could ever imagine -- he is the greatest gift," she said. "It was not all roses. There were ups and downs. You have to pray for God's grace during those times when that child is almost sent back."
The Foxes did face the situation where they had to send back Corinna to her biological father. It was not a good situation, so they are thankful she is back and in the process of adoption.
Miles and volunteers at Christ the King are beginning a virtual prayer group to pray for children in the foster care system and their foster families.
"Foster kids are off of people's radar screens," Fox said. "If these children showed up on your doorstep, I don't think a person would say 'no' to caring for them. Because they are not in your face, people tend to forget that they are out there in need of love and caring. This changes their lives forever. For kids in foster care, the more times they move, the more scarred they are."
It is not a process that is easy, Fox said, although the laws are there to protect the children and those involved.
"Nothing ever worth doing is easy. These children are not disposable and are owed a loving home. Every child deserves that," Clements said. "Children are worth it and we must step up and be there for them in whatever way God is calling us to do."
People who foster children must do it for the right reasons, Fox said, which is why the training and commitment of faith that the CALL encourages is critical.
"Make no mistake about it, this changed our family," Fox said. "My children realize how blessed they are. I feel like I did what God called me to do. You have to do it for the right reasons, which is for the kids. When I was in the most difficult, most trying time, a friend told me 'Never question in darkness what was brought to you in light.' God brought me to this. It has to be for the kids and not yourself."
As the need grows, Clements hopes more people hear the CALL to help foster children.
"I would like Arkansas Catholics to embrace this organization in whatever way they can. Not everyone has the call to foster or adopt, but they can offer support to a family who is. There are all kinds of ways we as Catholics can help," she said. "I encourage everyone to look into their hearts and find what way God is calling you because these children need our help."
Christ the King will host a CALL information meeting Nov. 19 and will also host the Heart Gallery from Nov. 17-19. For more information, contact the CALL at (501) 823-0607 or visit http://www.thecallinarkansas.org.
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