Ephesians 4:3 is a life verse for me. When I think about the trinity, I think about the three persons working in collaboration with each other. It gives me so much encouragement and peace to know that they are all fulfilling a unique role but are continually working together. It sets a pattern that is not easy to follow. Our forward progress, western culture has infused us with getting ahead of others. After a long career in corporate America, I am certainly no stranger to the competitive way of getting ahead and getting things done.
Listening to Each Other
Early on as staff at North Point Ministries, I was introduced to the founders of another ministry forging a very similar path. The founders and I became listening posts for each other, and those conversations became fodder for our ministry models.
Eventually, the founders of that ministry, Promise 686, stepped out of operational leadership and hired a CEO to take the organization forward. Andy Cook, their excellent choice as CEO, and I could continue the collaborative nature of the relationship without interruption. It was clear that we were in the same space, but each in our lane, and it was also clear that our lanes could benefit the system in individual ways without competing in any way.
It began as a friendly collaboration of two organizations, each of whom had a fair amount of visibility. We were both working alongside the child welfare system. To recruit families into the system, both as foster parents and into the supporting roles of respite families. Also for other members of what we call “Care Communities.”
The Three Ministries
It’s important to note that this idea of identifying people to support a foster placement was forged, first, in our local area by Faithbridge Foster Care. Promise686 and Fostering Together both partnered with Faithbridge from its earliest days. Each ministry benefited from the vision that Faithbridge cast. From that springboard, both Promise686 and Fostering Together took the leadership responsibility for creating strong but distinct operational models for the Care Communities idea that is the hallmark of each of our ministries.
As Promise686 and Fostering Together each visibly grew in metro Atlanta, other 501C3 organizations in Georgia would reach out to either or both of us to share ideas, ask questions, etc. When Andy and I would have reasons to connect, we’d often share updates on these other organizations, their lane, their strategy, their struggles.
At one point in time, in approximately July of 2017, during one of these friendly updates, we realized that we were less helpful at driving unity than we could be. We were helping these organizations, much in the same way we’d helped each other in the earlier days, by sharing insights, ideas, etc. but we had not yet created an environment for all of them to be able to communicate.
There was no reason not to create a collaborative environment that would allow all of us to know all of the other great organizations and what they were doing to help strengthen the child welfare system. Helping each of our organizations learn from and leverage each other so that we worked stronger and smarter together was the idea.
Out of this moment, Foster Stronger was born. Ironically, sometime earlier that year, Andy had felt prompted to look at available domain names. When he found the web addresses of Foster Stronger, he grabbed it. Never knowing what, if anything, they would ever use it for. God had a plan for it.
We didn’t know if other organizations would see value in this collaborative. But, we decided to “just do it” and see what benefit would come from it.
The First Gathering
In September of 2017, eleven organizations and 28 individuals came together for the first Foster Stronger gathering. The plan was simple. Share your mission, share your struggles, gain insights from the others in the room, and pray together. They drove from as far away as 6 hours to join other faith-based ministry leaders. It was a remarkable starting place.
As we continue to gather, pretty much quarterly, we find consistent and growing participation. We form our agenda during the RSVP process for each upcoming gathering. In this way, the group owns the plan and how we spend our time together. No one is “in charge,” but Andy and I continue to provide the administrative support to ensure the group continues.
Supporting Each Other
Going into the start of this collaboration, I was a big believer that the absence of knowledge of what others were doing contributed to less efficiency and less effectiveness in strengthening the child welfare system.
We all had a lane and needed to know who else was in our lane or what other lanes existed. And didn’t need to create what was already being done. We needed to leverage what someone else was doing. Then, at times, add new things to the portfolio that no one was doing “yet.”
Working in this way, we also find systemic gaps and themes that we can, when appropriate, elevate to the regional or state level to resolve the issue.
Smaller rural areas and Atlanta-based organizations, are all in one space. Operating in an openhanded, collaborative context to help strengthen the system.
God Loves Unity
The criteria we chose for inclusion in Foster Stronger have been revisited but not, as of now, altered. We are all nonprofit, 501C3, organizations operating in the faith-based context. However, we are not under contract to provide any services to the child welfare system. We are at-will organizations who want to help the system be stronger and better. The Chief Innovation Officer of the State of Georgia also attends our meetings at the request of the Division Director.
Every time we are scheduling the next meeting, I wonder, “will they come?”. “Is this working?” And every time I leave the gathering, I think, “this essential,” “we should never stop.”
God loves unity. I truly believe this was God-inspired. And that he would love to see the same idea expanded to as many other places as possible. We ARE Stronger Together.