United Methodists give hope to foster children, families

12/19/2016


Amanda Holt, left, and Meghan Davis, right, paint dove ornaments to sell to raise money for their organization, Foster Hope. Holt and Davis are United Methodists who are passionate about serving foster children and foster families. 

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Hope.

Christ put on flesh and came to earth to offer hope to people who have no other way to be saved.

The Heart Gallery of Georgia and Foster Hope are offering hope and healing to children who have no resources and no one to turn to for help.

Founded by South Georgia United Methodists, these two organizations – and the people who run them – strive to help children in seemingly hopeless situations.

Healing gives way to hope
The Heart Gallery of Georgia, founded in 2014 by Ally and Michael Christianson, members of The Chapel, and Amy Houston, a member of Taylors Chapel, both United Methodist congregations in Brunswick, is an advocacy agency that works with the state to help place children into adoptive homes.

Part of the Heart Gallery, a national organization that seeks to pair children in the foster care system with loving families though a gallery showcasing each child’s background, goals, hobbies, and even what they are looking for in their future family, the Heart Gallery of Georgia gives potential adoptive families a chance to get to know children who are waiting to be adopted through photographs, videos, and larger-than-life displays.

“Our mission is … to offer hope in a hopeless situation,” Ally Christian said. “If that hope ends up leading to a forever family then that’s wonderful. But we also want to offer them hope while they wait.”

Children who are deemed most in need – those who have been waiting longer than five years, who may be part of a large sibling groups, or have special needs – are nominated by the state and featured in the exhibit and invited to Heart Gallery of Georgia’s Day of Hope event at Callaway Gardens. There they take part in recreational and therapeutic activities while professional multimedia teams capture their stories via photographs and videos to add to the galleries, which are displayed online at www.heartgalleryofga.org.

More than 100,000 children are in Georgia’s foster care system, and the Heart Gallery of Georgia works with the 400 or so most in need, those whose parents have terminated their rights and who have no resources, no family able to care for or adopt them.

The exhibit travels around the state throughout the year to churches with adoption ministries, introducing potential adoptive families to waiting children, but the traveling exhibit isn’t the only avenue for those interested in adopting. Just last month, more than 10,000 people visited www.heartgalleryofga.org’s online gallery, and this year the organization has fielded more than 400 inquiries from families who are ready to adopt.

The Christiansons have always been passionate about helping children in helpless and hopeless situations, and see the Heart Gallery of Georgia as one way to offer the hope they have in Christ to the world.

“Our dream is to see healing take place and to be a tangible source of hope for these children who exist in the shadows of our society,” Ally Christianson said. “They live waiting for a forever family.”

Hope for foster families
Foster Hope is a Glynn-County based organization that strives to equip foster families with suitcases of essential items needed when a foster child first moves in to a new home.

Co-founder Amanda Holt discovered firsthand the need for such a ministry when she and her family welcomed a foster child into their home.

“She came with the clothes on her back,” said Holt of the infant, who was dressed in a boy’s onesie that was too large for her small body. Holt and her husband, Jarrod, are members of Taylors Chapel in Brunswick and are parents to two girls. They were also providing respite care to two 2-year-olds at the time.

Only getting approved for the additional child late in the afternoon, the Holts were unprepared to welcome a baby into their home and didn’t have the needed essentials when she arrived with the social worker at 6 p.m.

“That first night was so hard,” Holt said. “You’re really in the trenches and need someone to just show up.”

Foster Hope’s mission is to support foster families and provide them with a bag of items to get them through the first two days when a child arrives. Bags are filled with diapers, wipes, bottles, pacifiers, swaddle blankets, pajamas, toothbrushes, socks, and other essentials. They also arrange to have a pizza delivered for dinner the first night.

One of their main goals for 2017 is to set up “communities of care” around each foster family.

The idea is that each foster family will have eight to 10 families supporting them to help provide meals, babysitting, transportation, and other help for the entirety of the child’s placement. Foster Hope would provide coordination and training for each volunteer.

“It’s an unknown world,” said co-founder Meghan Davis, also a member of Taylors Chapel. Davis and her husband, Steven, adopted their son through the foster system, so they’ve seen the needs firsthand. “There are too many gaps. There’s no way to solve the foster care crisis without supporting the families who are already doing it.”

Foster Hope also hosts, through The Chapel Ministries, a monthly community wide small group for foster parents. It’s been helpful to have a venue in which to share and support one another, they say.

Davis and Holt both want to bring awareness to Georgia’s foster care crisis and bring more normalcy to foster care itself.

“It’s okay to say, ‘yes, I will take care of other people’s children,’” Davis said. “The more we have it in our churches and support these families with baby steps of support the more we’ll see that it’s normal families who do this and hopefully this will open people’s eyes.”

The number of children in foster care in Georgia has grown rapidly in recent years, and it’s an issue that can’t be ignored, they say. According to new state records, the number of children in state-sponsored foster care jumped from 7,600 in September 2013 to 13,266 last month. The 75 percent increase in three years is the highest in the nation.

“You can’t un-see the problem once you see that it’s there, and it’s definitely there.”

How to help
Interested in knowing more? Visit www.heartgalleryofga.org and Always Foster Hope.

Both The Heart Gallery of Georgia and Always Foster Hope welcome partnerships with local churches. Partnerships are great ways for local congregations to extend hope and healing to children and foster families. Contact Ally Christianson with The Heart Gallery of Georgia via email at allychristianson@gmail.com. Contact Meghan Davis or Amanda Holt at Always Foster Hope via email at alwaysfosterhope@gmail.com.

Praying for each child by name is a vital part of The Heart Gallery of Georgia’s ministry, and they invite prayer warriors to select a child from the online gallery and pray for that child, by name, daily.


These dove ornaments are available for $6 through Foster Hope. They will help fund the organization's goal of becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit.