Tell your story. Change people.
Andy Part 1/3
Andy is a youth pastor in Tennessee. He grew up in Florida. He met and married his wife there. He was a middle school English teacher and then went to seminary in New Orleans. In the midst of teaching and studying to become a minister, he and his wife, Kelly had five children, most of whom are now teenagers or in college. He took a job in rural Tennessee with a Baptist church a few years ago. The congregation was predominately middle class and all white. As a youth pastor, he and his wife began to reach out to the youth living in the community. They invited them to church youth events and began to hear their stories. They discovered a lot of the kids living in the neighborhood were in troubled homes and needed safe places to go. “We sought the foster care route because we wanted the kids in our neighborhood to have a safe place to stay.”
They were approved as a foster family four years ago. “We have had newborn placements and even kids who aged out while staying with us. We have had ups and downs with foster placements. We’ve seen kids go back when we thought they weren’t ready. We had one come to our home when he was 16. His mom just couldn’t handle him anymore. He stole a car. He was smoking marijuana. He had a drug addiction problem. He went back to live with his mother. But we were able to have her over for dinner once a week and I still get to see him. While he lived with us his mother was able to go back to school. When I see him, I try to encourage him and I tell him, ‘You’ve got to do your part.’”
Andy’s job as a pastor has helped to raise awareness about foster parenting within his church. “We have more foster parents because of it. Our church has rallied around it as a ministry. We provide a place for people to meet. We want to start a mentorship for kids in foster care. Our church has stepped up their game. It helps to have a staff member as a foster family. We have built a support system within our church. They are good about helping us throw birthday parties for foster kids and things like that. The church has done a good job of actually getting involved and being helpful. I am constantly recruiting. I say, ‘Hey you’d make a great foster parent.’ If I don’t’ say it they will never think about it.”
Andy Part 2/3
“Our first placements never left. We had a 12-year-old as our first placement. It was his second foster home. We adopted him 6 months later. He is almost 16. Our second placement was a 7 ½ month old baby whose diaper rash became so infected he became septic. He was hospitalized for a week before coming to our home. My wife went back and forth to the hospital. We adopted him when he was 2 ½. He is four now.”
“We do use State resources. We used adoptive services counseling with J because he was older. It was beneficial. We used Catholic Charities out of Jackson, TN. It was done holistically, with the entire family. Everybody could ask questions and it was good for the whole family.”
“One of the biggest struggles we have had is, you think the child is innocent, and they are, but they bring their culture into the home. If you are going to bring older elementary and teenagers into your home you need to be prepared, because they are going to bring their culture with them. Their culture is probably not your culture. And it is not just an African American culture, but the culture of their home. And sometimes there is difficulty because of that. Prayerfully these kids don’t stay and are able to be put back together and these parents are going to be able to get back their own children. We rejoice that our youngest got to stay. At two years old, he called us Mom and Dad because our children in the house called us that. He was already ours in so many ways. Your heart breaks because his family fell apart. But you rejoice because he gets to stay. We should be a little bit heartbroken when it doesn’t work.”
“Now my biological children get a perspective they would not have had otherwise. It was an adjustment, for sure, to bring a 12-year-old boy in the house and my little girl was not the youngest anymore. He is a part of the family and treated no differently. He is different than them and has different interests and lived 11 years somewhere else. He is all West Tennessee-football, hunting and fishing and that’s not who they are and that is an adjustment, but it helps them to see people are different and that’s okay. We should reach out to people who are different than us and who are in trouble because that happens to everybody.”
Andy Part 3/3
“I taught 6th grade English for years and have had to make the call to DCS. I’ve seen the little girl taken away to live with a grandparent. Now I am on the other side of that phone call. I see what happens after the phone call happens. I am seeing and meeting these people and, at times building relationship so we can help maybe put things together. I’m seeing what desperate looks like.”
“It is easy to sit in our white middle class house and talk about drug dealers until you actually meet one, the moves they make. You see this in a whole different light. This has taught my children to become compassionate and less judgmental. I hope our children have learned that it’s okay to have someone at the table completely different than you and show them grace, love and hospitality, because that is who we are and what we do.”
“I have seen what can be done when a child is put into a stable environment. The stability just kicks in. It has changed the way we do our home. We have a very strict menu when we have foster kids. Monday is Taco night and Tuesday Spaghetti. Not only do they know supper is coming, they know what is for supper. Some are used to asking, ‘Can I eat supper? Are we having supper?’, but in our home, they know stability. To know that everything is going to be taken care of, I don’t have to worry about what I am going to eat, wear and who will get me up in the morning, even if they are only there for a few months, really matters. Even that changes them as a person and they can let their guard down, calm down and relax a little bit. An 8-year-old should not be worrying about what they will eat that night or how they will get themselves up in the morning to catch a bus. This little bit of stability helps them to see there is something better out there, breaking the cycle that cannot seem to end. We are hopefully showing these kids there is a different way to live, a different way to do this and you can do different.”
“It does take a village, even with your biological children and that is sad because we live in such an isolated society now. We do isolate and insulate a lot. You get caught up in your own lives. But people build community all over the place. It doesn’t have to be in the church.”
TFACA thanks Andy for a real, open and honest conversation about Fostering. We are delighted that out of their sacrifice, two boys have found forever homes and their foster children have found a safe place to stay. Andy continues to keep in touch with many of their foster placements, meeting them for a milkshake and sharing advice and a listening ear.