by Dwain Hebda
It’s a nice turnout at the church social hall. Friends and fellow worshipers greet each other and chat between sips of coffee. There’s a joy in these friendships, but a slight nervousness too. No one really knows what to expect from the speaker today and a few are a little bewildered as to what led them here. Could the Lord really be calling? Was it just our imaginations? Really, us? Their minds whir as they linger in their groups of two or three, gathered in His name.
Lauri Currier knows how the people feel because she was once one of them. Moved by the number of waiting foster children in Arkansas she was looking for a way to make manifest what she believed she was called to do – touch a life, make a difference, maybe even foster or adopt a child. And while that ultimately didn’t prove to be her path, she found another way to serve the children that became her life’s work and today is the latest step in that mission. She calls the room to order, introduces herself as the executive director for The CALL, and gives the room a big smile of welcome.
“The CALL is very unique in that it is a bridge organization and that means we are bridging the gap between the church and the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) that ultimately has custody of the kids who are in foster care,” she says. “That’s one thing that we do really well. We speak church, we’re translators. We’re cultural navigators; that’s really what we are.”
Founded in 2007, The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime) helps mobilize the faith community to address the issue of foster children in several ways. First and foremost, the group recruits families to become foster and adoptive parents. Second, The CALL supports these families in their journey by assisting in their training in partnership with DCFS. And third, it engages the entire faith community to support the foster and adoptive families in their midst throughout the process.
“We’re trying to help the church understand the needs of children in foster care,” she says. “That’s really a great thing when you think about it because there is a disconnect there. If we’re able to bridge that gap and we’re able to help support Christian families who want to become foster and adoptive families, we can make the process a little easier.”
Since 2008, The CALL has opened more than 2,100 homes. It has also established a formal presence in 47 counties with teams of local volunteers that begin the process of recruiting, training and supporting families. Currier, whose been with the organization since 2008 and executive director since 2011, is proud of this progress to be sure, but hardly satisfied.
“[Our progress] doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a great need for foster families and adoptive families because there are many children and youth, especially older youth, who are living in congregate care settings,” she says.
“About 50 percent of these children over the age of 6 are living in group homes or residential facilities or maybe they’re living in places that can provide treatment for the trauma that they’ve experienced. If that’s an appropriate placement for kids, we want them to be there. But we believe, and [DCFS] also believes, that children do better when they’re placed with families. The need for families continues to be great.”
How great? Currier’s voice takes on a steely, determined edge.
“Currently, we have about 1,600 foster families across the state,” she says. “We need to double that number in Arkansas in order for all kids to be placed with a family.”
God may direct people to an informational meeting, but after that it’s up to The CALL to shepherd families through the preparation – legal, spiritual and otherwise – to take on the enormous responsibility of fostering or adopting a child. The organization also informs the faith community how to embrace people on the journey through seemingly small acts of mercy like babysitting, bringing over a pizza or baking a birthday cake for a foster child who’s never had one.
“There’s always fear associated with doing things that you’re not hugely familiar with,” she says. “I think that God just kind of taps you on the shoulder and lets you know what your role is. For some people that is the big calling of foster care and adoption. But as Christians, there’s not one of us who is not called to do something on behalf of these children.”
“What we’re trying to do is, first of all, educate. That’s even in our mission statement, to educate, equip and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and hope for these kids.”
It would be easy for Currier to put things on autopilot at events like this, addressing a crowd of fellow Christians in the warm and friendly confines of a church. Especially since the parade of children in crisis seems endless at times, even with the progress that’s been made to create more temporary and forever homes for them. But her tone and her urgency are as palpable tonight as ever as she speaks on behalf of children she’ll likely never meet.
Kids like Kaden, who if he was here would tell you that behind a shy exterior beats the heart of a boy desperate to please and working every day to learn how to trust. Or Faith, a whispy chatterbox of a girl who loves music and laughter that has so often been absent from her life. Or the one child Currier sees in her mind sitting in the front row looking up at her with bright, expectant eyes. He’s the one who’s put her here today and every talk leading up to today and every talk that is to come.
“My dad was in foster care when he was a little boy. He was abandoned by his parents,” Currier says quietly. “There were a total of five siblings. Five of them all together got brought into foster care in 1939 here in Pulaski County. I like to say that my dad was an overcomer and therefore I am an overcomer because my story could have been very different had his story been different.”
“Ultimately, I think that’s the goal, that’s what all of us who are working in the foster care arena – Project Zero, The CALL, Immerse – are really working for. We’re all trying to change those future generations.”
The meeting ended, the audience filters out into their lives. A few will be moved to take the next step and one or two might make it all the way to becoming an open home. Some will hear of Walk for the Waiting, a May 4 event benefiting The CALL and will participate hand in hand with others concerned about the future of Arkansas’ children. Others will pray harder to know how they can best help. Currier prays back, knowing not all seeds grow but without care and nurturing, none of them do.
“So, that’s really where my passion for this ministry comes from,” she says summarily. “God called me to do this and when God calls you to do something you don’t say no.”
To learn more about The CALL, to schedule a presentation at your church or learn about other ways to get involved, please visit https://thecallinarkansas.org.
To participate in Walk for the Waiting May 4 in Little Rock, please visit www.walkforthewaiting.org.
To see Faith’s story, please visit https://www.theprojectzero.org/kids-1.php?id=88.
To see Kaden’s story please visit https://www.theprojectzero.org/kids-1.php?id=136.