Victory through faith and family

Adam and Shannon Sawyer and family

Healthy Families participants Adam and Shannon Sawyer and family visit Tallahassee to meet with members of the legislature and share how Healthy Families helped their family.

Guest post by The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Healthy Families Florida is a nationally-accredited family support and coaching program that helps parents provide the safe and stable environments children need for healthy growth and development. The program has proven to be highly successful in preventing child abuse and neglect. Healthy Families participants Shannon and Adam Sawyer share their experience.

When we enrolled in Healthy Families, Adam was incarcerated and fighting drug addiction. I was pregnant and bouncing between family members looking for a place to sleep. We were without jobs, without a home, and without much hope for our future.

Then I met Joan, our Healthy Families Support Worker. With her guidance, I learned positive ways to deal with stress and how to be the best mom I could be, even when times were tough.

When Adam was released from prison, he was connected to a residential rehab program. We knew that most addicts have a low rate of success and that we would face a lot of challenges when he came home for good. Joan helped us set goals for when he got out. It has been hard work, but I’m happy to say he has been sober for 3 years now.

We wanted a place of our own, so Joan taught us how to save money. Within five months we had saved enough to move into our own place with our children. Our family was doing much better but we knew we had a long way to go. Joan helped us get job training and today we both have good jobs.

Healthy Families also helped us become better parents to our children. Having little ones is tough, even when things are going well. Joan showed us how to discipline our children in positive ways, how to play with them and how to help them learn.

She helped us improve our own relationship, too. We learned how to communicate with each other, how to set goals and achieve them together.

We wanted to have a better life, and Healthy Families helped make that possible. They believed in us when no one else did. Now our family is stable and our children are thriving. We are so grateful for Healthy Families.

To learn more about Healthy Families Florida, voluntary program for expectant parents and parents of newborns, visit www.HealthyFamiliesFla.org.

Story Behind the Adoption – Never too late

two girls sitting on sidewalkGuest post by Gigi Kean, Adoptive mother and teacher

“I met Maci at the end of her 8th grade year. She came to the high school where I work, to tour in preparation for her freshman year. Maci was well known by everyone in the special education department because of her story. We knew Maci was an orphan, her parents died when she was young. At the beginning of her high school career, Maci lived with an aunt and by the beginning of her sophomore year that relationship ended, and Maci went into foster care. I knew she was in a group home but I thought her life improved after she went into care and never really saw her as the type of kid who wanted to be adopted. Maci did seem better but she had her low moments and those of us who cared about her were there for her to help her pick up the pieces when she came out of it.

One day in October I had a conversation with her. She told me she had legally changed her plan from adoption to extended foster care. I was shocked because it was the first time I had ever heard that she had wished to be adopted. I actually thought that someone else was in the process of adopting her. Stunned, I asked her why she had changed it and she went into a litany of reasons; none of them being that she no longer wanted to be a part of a family. Essentially, Maci had given up hope. I can’t explain what happened but something inside of me felt like a switch that had been flipped. I had known this girl for more than two years, but it was as if I was seeing her for the first time. I knew at that second, she would become my daughter. I just needed to figure out how to make it happen.

Teenagers are big and some may think they’re scary because they have “big” problems, but the need to have a parent who is lovingly committed to a child is no different at age 7 than at age 17. They’re still just children who need a family who will be there to love and guide them for the rest of their lives.”

If you have room in your heart and are passionate about helping teens become successful consider becoming a foster or adoptive parent today. Your love and support can help change lives. For more information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, please visit our website at  http://myflfamilies.com/fosteringteens.

Celebrating the Dream

Mike & Foster MomGuest post by Mike Williams, entrepreneur and former foster youth

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans. I have been fortunate to learn great things about my heritage, and how so many African Americans helped paved the way for me.

Two of my favorite African American heroes are Dr. Steve Perry and Les Brown. Dr. Perry is the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Perry at the 2015 National Faith Symposium and he made an impact on my life forever. Secondly, Les Brown is a man who not only found the greatness inside himself, but helped thousands of others as well, including myself. He is a former foster kid like me, and is now one of the most sought-after speakers in the world and I aspire to impact thousands just like him.

Like these great men, perhaps my story can inspire others to never give up on their dreams. I arrived in foster care around the age of 9 because my mother was on drugs for many years and could not take care of me. I never knew my father. The amount of pain I endured as a young child was traumatic. I went from being a little angel, who thought I was a precious gift from God for my mom to love forever, to a very disrespectful and disobedient child who hated adults. So while most kids my age were playing football, video games and going to movies… my world was being turned upside down. I was placed in more than 20 foster homes and attended more than 10 different schools. I remained in the foster care system until aging out at 18.

Changes in my behavior and emotions paved a rocky road for me. I was sad, alone and depressed. I even attempted to take my life and end it all. But I’m still standing.

I believe I’m a great example of why you don’t have to be a product of your circumstances. I’ve graduated from Tallahassee Community College with my AA Degree and am continuing my studies for my Bachelor’s in Business Management. I’ve helped launch and market several successful businesses and I’m a growing motivational/inspirational speaker.

I was a child destined for failure until amazing people came into my life like my foster mom, Pamela Benton, and foster dad, Matt McKibbin. When faced with some of my life’s hardest challenges, these two people were there to uplift and guide me. They embody the true meaning of committed and dedicated parents and I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of their families.

I believe we can all make a difference in the lives of children and families. African Americans should be encouraged to become foster and adoptive parents. To me, that’s how real black history is made.

#InspiringSelfSuccess

#ItCanBeDone

The Porch Light

Child holding head in hands
Guest post by Dr. Jerry Haag, Ph.D., CFP
President/CEO of Florida Baptist Children Homes, The Porch Light and Orphan’s Heart

A common reaction when we see, experience or hear about something repulsive or tragic is to ask the question, “Why?”

Pleading for answers and reflecting on the cause is as normal as expecting the sun to come out tomorrow. But the questions we should be asking as it pertains to innocent children being sexually exploited and trafficked in Florida should really look more like, “What now?”

Did you know that in the past year there were more than 1,200 reports of human trafficking to the Florida Abuse Hotline? Although we’ve made great progress in two short years, the number of available, safe beds for victims of human trafficking does not yet meet the need.

At The Porch Light, we are proud to operate a safe home that helps combat that reality. We exist to serve victims like 13-year-old Mary* who came to our safe home earlier this year.

Mary’s father died when she was young and her stepfather was physically and emotionally abusive, so she ran away. One night, when Mary was sobbing on the bench at a bus stop, a man drove by who promised to “take care of her.”

She was forced into prostitution and her life was so consumed with pain and deceit that she turned to alcohol to numb reality.

When Mary arrived at the safe home, she looked twice her age. She was bruised and broken, pleading for a better life.

Working with partners like DCF, law enforcement agencies and other child welfare organizations, we facilitate long-term trauma care for victims like Mary, while pouring our hearts into prevention efforts to stop this gruesome trade.

Our safe home’s expert staff focuses on helping girls overcome the abuse they have endured and works to redefine their self-worth, which has been grossly distorted. Sometimes it takes three to four months in a safe environment for a victim to talk about their traumatic past.

Utilizing therapeutic horses , highly trained coaches and mentors, and individualized care, The Porch Light helps heal scars that no child should ever have.

We are grateful to live in a state where forceful steps continue to be made to get predators off the streets, and we applaud those who have been bold enough to call for stronger measures to protect innocent children.

On January 1, House Bill 369 went into effect. It requires signage and advertisements in a plethora of public places to help Florida residents and visitors understand the real and present dangers of sex trafficking.

This year, The Porch Light reached more than 21,000 people through advocacy and prevention efforts and we believe in educating and equipping people so they can understand common signs of sex trafficking and make the difference our children so desperately need.

Now that you know you can make a difference in keeping children from being sexually exploited, I have a question for you: “What now?”

Let us take bold steps together to care for these innocent children and eradicate this heinous crime from our communities.

The eyes of twenty-three children

image of a persons eyes Guest post by Emily Meadows

At 15, a part of me died, the part that was inherently selfish and conceited. In that empty space grew a form of myself who was constantly looking out for the wellbeing of others, forgoing my desires for the needs of the children we welcomed into our home. When I was 15, my parents became foster parents.

This was a very strange decision on their part, seeing as they were two years from turning 40 and their two biological children were already teenagers. But God works in strange ways. Thus began our family’s journey into the depths of the foster care system and the hidden world of social work.

For a very long time, it was hard to decide whether or not I was going to be directly involved in the lives of these children. At some point though, the heart of God and the love of Christ took over. Every moment I spent with these children was a blessing, a burst of purples and lime greens and pinks, radiating with joy, excitement, and perhaps most importantly, hope and safety on their part.

It was a blessing in disguise, and those moments were some of my happiest. Most nights ended with me helping the children we had taken into our home to learn how to spell, or how to write a complete sentence. One night in particular, our oldest child came into my room and asked me about something her classmate had said.

“Emily, this kid in my class said today that he doesn’t believe God works miracles.” I set my anatomy textbook aside and invited her to sit beside me, “What do you mean? What were the exact words he said?” He said that he believes in God, and that God created the world. “Well, what do you think about it?” I don’t think he’s right, because if God didn’t still do really cool work, me and my sister wouldn’t be here with you, Kate, Aunt Jennifer and Uncle John.”

But at the end of every child’s stay, it never got easier to say goodbye. In fact, I believe it got harder. Every child seemed to assimilate into our family faster. Their backgrounds almost forced them to, because for the first time in a very long time these children felt loved and completely safe.

I looked into the eyes of twenty-three children in the past five years and I have felt my heart break twenty-three times. But thankfully, not every story has a heart wrenching ending, and not every child leaves. Three years in, I stood in a courtroom before a judge, crying once again, at the end of a chapter in a child’s life. Three years later, he was not just another foster child.

He was my brother — a tried and true Meadows — forever and for always.