Near midfield at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium Saturday stood displayed the photos of 140 children. Their ages and races differed, and the snapshots revealed their unique personalties. But they had this in common: They all are waiting to be adopted.
The Arkansas Heart Gallery is a coordinated effort involving the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services and Project Zero, an organization seeking a home for every child in Arkansas who needs one. Project Zero’s slogan is “Imagine a world where 1+1 = 0.”
Project Zero founder Christie Erwin, who has fostered 50 children and adopted two, said the Heart Gallery personalizes the issue in a way that statistics cannot. More photos are coming thanks to volunteer professional photographers across the state.
“The exciting thing is when we’re taking kids out,” she said. “Like this morning, as we were setting it up, there was a little guy that was placed this week, so we took his picture out.”
The Heart Gallery was on display Saturday as part of the Walk for the Waiting, an annual event that raises money and awareness of the need for adoptive and foster families. The event has raised $186,000 so far, according to its website Tuesday. (Click on walkforthewaiting.org to donate.)
Along with Project Zero, the Walk is sponsored by two other organizations. One of those is The Call, which trains prospective adoptive and foster families and, like Project Zero, mobilizes churches to take up the cause. The other is Immerse Arkansas, which manages four houses for young people who are aging out of the foster system without ever finding a family.
About 3,900 children are currently in foster care in Arkansas, and about 7,700 spend some time in the system annually. Parental rights for 615 children were terminated last year. Those kids are the waiting.
Without much media fanfare, a church-based movement is making real progress in recruiting adoptive and foster families. Adoptions in Arkansas increased from 601 in 2010 to 677 last year thanks in part to these group’s efforts. One in four foster families in Arkansas was originally recruited by The CALL, which operates in 29 counties and is about to add three more, according to Executive Director Lauri Currier.
“Not everybody is called to foster or adopt, but everybody’s called to care,” she said in an interview somewhere near midfield. “Everybody’s called to do something.”
Nathan and Amy James of North Little Rock are among those doing something. After seeing a CALL video at church, they began fostering children and then adopted three, all sisters or half-sisters. Last year, the family raised the most of any Walk for the Waiting participants – $10,000 thanks to a series of Facebook videos where people declared, “No more waiting!” This year, life’s busyness and a balky computer hindered their efforts, but they still have raised $4,000.
They are giving their adoptive daughters opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. But Nathan said having a diverse family also has benefited their biological children.
“We’re showing them sacrificial love,” he said. “We’re showing them what it’s like to sacrifice for someone else at a young age, that we think it’s important.”
Immerse Arkansas, meanwhile, helps never-adopted young people transition into adulthood. Founder Eric Gilmore said his clients, robbed of a stable home life during their childhood, sometimes lack purpose and motivation. But those traits can be learned, as they were by one young man who became involved in Immerse as an 18-year-old.
“He’s 21 now. A few weeks ago, he moved into his own place, and he’s working two jobs, paying for all his bills, taking care of his own needs and has surprised himself,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore told walkers that he hopes Immerse Arkansas is put out of business someday. That would only happen if every child has a family.
Can you imagine a world like that, where 1+1=0? Actually, I know some people who do more than imagine.