The phone rings and the caller says, “We are working with a biological mother who is in reunification working on getting her children back from foster care. She has cut ties with the negative influences in her life and is lonely. She needs a mentor type of friend. Can the Centre County Orphan Care Alliance help with that?”
“We will certainly do what we can. Where does she live?”
“Where does she live?
Why does that matter?” It matters because ideally, we would want to connect the mom with a family or church small group nearby so they can “do life together.”
Becoming A Caring Church
The impact of the Centre County Orphan Care Alliance does not lie with one large project. It lies within the Alliance of 39 different churches. Which, to varying degrees, have all joined to change the trajectory of caring for vulnerable children in our county and beyond.
Thirteen years ago, Pastor Vince Smith, who was, and still is, a foster parent with his wife Beth, was in an elevator with a supervisor for Children and Youth Services. He said his church wanted to get involved with foster care. The supervisor responded with, “You are the Church. You will do one project, and then we will never hear from you again.”
What an indictment of the church!
Pastor Vince thought the Church could do better. He went to his 13 fellow City Church pastors, who were in the discipline of meeting once a week to support and pray for the community and each other and presented the idea of working together to care for vulnerable children. “Regardless of denomination, size, or demographic of the church, ‘caring for the fatherless’ is something we can all agree on.” And from this suggestion, the Centre County Orphan Care Alliance (CCOCA) was born. Its mission is to:
- Ensure that every Christian in Centre County is aware of locally and globally, the plight of the fatherless.
- Motivate every believer in Centre County to engage in their responsibility to care for the fatherless.
- Provide biblically-based resources and material support to help create well-equipped homes for every fatherless child in Centre County.
Through a team of church representatives to the CCOCA, speaking opportunities at numerous churches, vulnerable children awareness events, and one-on-one conversations, the subject of caring for vulnerable children is spoken readily from the pulpits. It is in adult Sunday school classes, and in coffee shops throughout Centre County.
Gaining trust from the government and private agencies did not happen overnight. We found that it wasn’t that the church didn’t care; they didn’t know. The Church needed to be made aware of the needs locally and globally. The county and private agencies needed to see that the Church was not going to abandon them after one awareness campaign. They needed to see us care for the community over time. And it didn’t hurt that we cared for THEM through appreciation events for our child welfare workers and by filling the needs of their clients. Over time a beautiful triangle of trust between the Church, agencies, and their clients blossomed.
Where Does She Live?
So back to the county caseworker who was calling the Church for a mentor for her client…the question, “Where does she live?” We ask this, so we know which church to call to get the mom connected. Connected to a loving body who will care for her, encourage her, and cheer for her success as a mom raising her children after foster care.
We ask, “Where do they live?” when a foster family gets a placement, and we need to get meals delivered to them the first few weeks when life is a blur.
“Where do they live?” is asked when a family, whether it be foster, adoptive, or biological, working to stay together or get back together, or their caseworker requests the CCOCA James 1:27 list. This email list has 478 people on it. These people are from county churches who are all committed to supporting these families through meeting their material needs. Recent needs met include double strollers, bunk beds, basketball hoops, and bikes. Even a bedside bassinet for a family fostering a newborn detoxing from cocaine and methamphetamines.
The question “Where do they live?” matters, so we know where to drop off items for a family adopting a baby from the NICU. A family with only three days’ notice that they were chosen as his forever family… during a pandemic. Preemie clothes, a diaper pail, a small dresser, diapers, and offers to buy things off a hastily put together registry flowed to their front porch.
However, it doesn’t matter where they live when foster and adoptive moms from all corners of our county gather once a month at our “Care Group.” They sit around the table and share the demographics of our families. They open the floor to “what’s going on with everyone?” Sharing the joys and struggles of fostering and adopting kids from hard places. Being in a safe place to admit thoughts and feelings others wouldn’t understand. Asking advice from moms who have walked similar journeys, allows these mamas to make it through another week. And how do these mom’s find out about this group of caring, compassionate women? From local trauma therapists, church pastors, and word of mouth.
The “kingdom wins” as we like to call them, don’t come from big projects involving large groups from different churches. They come from small efforts of Christ-followers throughout the county. People are opening emails to see if they can meet a need. And through speaking engagements at churches where we recruit foster families and others to care for these foster families. These small efforts by numerous people, combined with the large efforts from families and church small groups welcoming children, youth, and biological families from hard places, giving them a safe place to heal, by God’s grace, is transforming our community. To God, be the glory!