How Julie got her daughter back and her life: And how you can share your light

This story is true, written by Steve Brawner, a syndicated columnist in Arkansas, and published in the August 22, 2018 issue of the Pine Bluff Commercial. Mr. Brawner graciously permitted us to reprint this column in whole.

After Julie completed her program, they moved back to Mountain Home. She became a Christian, found a job at a pet boarding facility, and married. She now supervises four employees.

Julie gives much of the credit for her comeback to Chuck, her caseworker, who still provides an occasional helping hand.

“He never gave up on me, even though there were times through the process he could have or should have,” she said. “If I did slip up, of course he was disappointed, but he always told me that he believed in me…He was like the only solid, normal person, if you want to say, in my life.”

An agency employee since 2012, Chuck said parents like Julie need lots of contact with the caseworker, adequate services, a support system, and time with their children. Having to explain to a five-year-old why he can’t be home with his parent can be difficult, but you have to approach it with respect.

Even when living in a loving and stable foster home, children still have an attachment to their biological parents, he said. That’s one reason Arkansas’ system is oriented toward reunification.

In fiscal year 2017, 41 percent of the almost 4,000 children discharged from foster care returned home. Another 27 percent went to a relative, while 23 percent were adopted by another family.

Many people invested time, money and effort in helping Julie recover: Chuck, Nanny and Pop, the staffs at Gamma House and Arkansas CARES, the boyfriend’s sister who took her to church before she even went to rehab, and others. Donors and taxpayers funded much of the costs.

With their help, she went from being a meth addict whose daughter was taken from her, to being a married mom and taxpaying employee supervisor. And Anna’s at home.

Thank goodness for Arkansas CARES, and for Chuck and all those others in Arkansas who cared.

Editor’s note: Julie and Anna were able to get the help they needed because of the generosity, prayers and kindness of Arkansas’s United Methodists. This season, would you help more Arkansas children and families like Anna and Julie’s by making a financial contribution to Methodist Family Health? You can donate online at https://www.methodistfamily.org/donate.html, text to give at 501-254-6048, send a check to P.O. Box 56050, Little Rock, Arkansas 72215, or call 501-906-4209 to make a secure donation using your credit or debit card. You also can make a contribution to Share the Light during Special Offering Sundays on December 9 and 16.

By sharing your light, you will help more children and families find stability, peace and hope like Julie and Anna. Thank you for your gift.

All aboard the FUMC Christmas Train!

Fort Smith First United Methodist church is headed for the rails! The train rails in the park to be more specific. When Sally Ware first started in Children’s Ministry 20 years ago, the children and their families walked in the church doors with little to no invitation. Parents had been taught by their parents that behind those church doors their family would be taught the love of Jesus!

Somewhere in those last 20 years parents lost the direction they once had to give their children a church family that helps them experience Jesus. Today, Sally and the program staff at Fort Smith First UMC downtown have meetings about how they can serve the community outside those doors so that people will know Jesus loves them.

Last year, at one of those meetings, they decided to go outside the church doors and meet the families where they are: the Creekmore City Park, waiting to ride the city’s Christmas train.

The Children’s Ministry team worked with the Mission Outreach team, pastoral staff, and Youth Ministry team to move the FUMC hospitality to the park. The community tradition of the Christmas train is a strong community filled event. It is open seven days a week and typically accepts free will donations from families to ride through the park and gaze in Christmas wonder at the Creekmore light displays. However, on a Tuesday evening in December of 2017, Fort Smith Mission Outreach donated the funds to sponsor an evening’s worth of train rides for $200.

Sally and her Children’s Ministry team purchased cookies, prepared Igloo filled hot chocolate and gathered candy canes. They made sure to promote this event to their church families and encouraged them to invite friends or neighbors. The Youth Ministry team had students tie a candy cane poem with worship times to each candy cane. The pastoral staff strategically hung a church logo sign on the cookie and hot chocolate table that was along the path of where up to 75 people at a time waited in line to ride the train.

Christmas carols were playing while the staff from Fort Smith FUMC greeted the eager children and their families with cookies, cocoa, and conversation. Many of the families tried to offer the traditional donation to ride the train, but they were denied by the loving words of a church member saying, “We have it covered for you tonight. Just enjoy the lights with your family.”

Sally shared that through the church’s service of hospitality they were able to have wonderful conversations with the parents about communion and what worship options they offered. Their curious guests asked all questions without a church member having to promote it. Children are invited to a Sunday School special event the following Sunday that included pictures with Santa and worship time. Many young families took them up on the invitation for the coming Sunday. FUMC’s discipleship goals were to make people feel known, create a culture of connection, and build trust with those who have never stepped in their church.

Last year was their first year to sponsor the Christmas Train but because it met so many of the discipleship goals, the Outreach team — along with Children’s Ministry — is currently busy planning the 2018 Christmas Train sponsorship. They have already reserved the date and refined what worked and what did not work. They found that the kids wanted to play on playground equipment last year, but it was too dark. This year, volunteers from FUMC will be lighting up the playground so that it is safe for children to play and for parents to mingle a little longer in the park.

Sally estimated that 30 percent of the Christmas Train participants were their church members and 70 percent were from the community. Fort Smith FUMC has found a way to reach those young families who may be off the rails when it comes to sharing their faith with their children. The church has gone out into the community with love and hospitality to offer their church resources as a way to give families opportunities to get their faith formation back on track.

Mary and Joseph’s Faith was Hard

It was hard for Mary to comprehend how she could be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Hard for Joseph to stay with a pregnant Mary. Hard for the two of them to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Hard to give birth in a cold drafty animal stable. Hard to learn that King Herod was trying to kill their baby boy. Indeed, Mary and Joseph’s faith was hard. So maybe you should not be upset when your faith is hard. Maybe you should wonder what it means when it’s never hard at all.

Warm clothes for cold months: Hempstead County Closet provides everyday necessities for county residents

The Baby Room provides clothing, shoes, and even toys to parents who want to give their toddler the amenities they need. || Photo provided by Angie Kidd

One of the biggest questions prior to the opening of the Hempstead County Closet in Hope, was how was it going to be filled.

“That was the scary part of it,” Sarah Carrillo, co-coordinator for the closet, said. “People would ask us, ‘Who is going to fill this house? I know this is a good idea, but I don’t know if y’all are going to be able to fill a house with enough stuff.”

However, despite how scary it was, Carrillo and her cousin, Angie Kidd, prayed about it and “left it in His hands.”

“[God] has filled this house,” Carrillo said. “There have been so many groups involved and so many donations; we are literally the hands and feet of Christ.

“Through every denomination, all the way across, it is awesome to have a common goal that everybody is working towards. It was definitely a God thing, but it was also a community thing, led by Him. It is just amazing.”

The Hempstead County Closet is a nonprofit that assists families and children with clothes, necessities and other items. Kidd said it is for everyday necessity items including pajamas, warm coats, comforters, blankets, and pillows, as well as hygiene products. She said the response to the needs of children in the community has been overwhelming.

“This was a dream Sarah and I both had a year before it was put into place,” Kidd said. “God has continued to put everything and every person in the path to make this succeed.”

The house is open to parents who are in-between jobs, foster families, or families who have been through a traumatic experience such as a house fire or other disasters.

“We are doing for Him, working for Him and we are working for His children,” Kidd said. “God is showing us that there is hope and love.”

The house, which is located at 601 Hwy 355 West, opened Aug. 1. The building itself belongs to Spring Hill United Methodist Church and was previously used as the church’s parsonage and as a rental house. Kidd, the wife of pastor Revel Kidd, said they live in the town and don’t need the house.

“We needed a purpose for it and it just all went perfectly,” Angie Kidd said.

“It was completely a God thing,” Carrillo said. “Angie and I had talked and had been dreaming about it, and it really felt like God was laying this on our heart.

“I have young children, and when I look and see how extremely blessed they are compared to the kids beside them, it breaks my heart. There should be a way to help all these kids.”

Carrillo said she has three children, all under the age of 14.

“We just don’t want kids to be left behind for any reason,” she said. “We want to help meet those needs and fill in the gaps.”

Current needs for the closet include:

  • Quarters for the laundromat (a continuous need)
  • New socks for men, women and children
  • New underwear for men and women
  • Coats
  • Clear Plastic Storage Totes
  • Pillows
  • Sheets for twin beds and cribs
  • Blankets for twin beds
  • Diapers, Pull-Ups and Depends

For more information or how to donate, visit the Hempstead County Closet Facebook page. For families in need, it is by appointments only, according to Kidd.

“We sit down and figure out how much of what you need and we keep a record of who uses it and what they receive,” Kidd said. “So we don’t run into someone abusing the system.”

Kidd said the Department of Human Services – DHS – might send a family to them or a family can contact her on their own. So far, there have been close to 60 families that have come through, and she said they have been contacted a lot more frequently as of late.

Kidd said they have also worked closely with The CALL in Hempstead County, which just opened Oct. 28.

Laura Bramlett, the family support coordinator for The CALL in Hempstead County, said when they were planning on opening their branch, Kidd and Carrillo offered the house to help foster families.

“Normally, when The CALL opens, it has what is known as The CALL mall, and that is virtually what the closet is,” Bramlett said. “Foster parents can come and get clothes, formula, diapers and whatever else they may need.

“It is just a place to get it for free instead of going to a store.”

The Men’s Room of the Hempstead County Closet provides clothing to boys and men in need of a new shirt or warm jacket for the winter. || Photo provided by Angie Kidd

Bramlett, who is currently a legal guardian for an 18-year-old girl, said she has used the closet to get two new pairs of shoes for her daughter.

“They are constantly in contact with DHS and finding out the needs of the children in the area,” Bramlett said. “Once we are able to train our own foster families, we will use them a lot more.”

Bramlett’s husband, Daniel, is the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Hope. She said while they were living in Texas, they were foster parents for two years, but are not currently licensed for Arkansas.

“One of the best things about this closet, is that so many different churches are working together, it has been exciting,” Bramlett said. “God is bringing together the churches – no matter the denomination – together to meet the needs of children.”

Carillo said they are following something that God laid before them and getting to watch Him work. She also said meeting people has been rewarding.

“Seeing a child hug a T-shirt or a pair of pajamas like it is Christmas morning is pretty awesome,” Carrillo said.

Kidd said there has a tremendous outpour from Hempstead County.

“This is only due to the love and compassion of people of Hempstead County uniting together to make this happen,” Kidd said. “It has been and will be such a blessing to so many. Sarah and I are the coordinators, but we have several volunteers that assist us with serving in the closet.”

As cousins, Kidd and Carrillo have always been close and worked on several projects together.

“To do this with her has been so awesome,” Carrillo said. “It is something we have talked about for the past year and felt Him leading us to it.

“To see it actually bear fruit is amazing.”

The Most Un-wunderful Time of the Year

The beautiful music. The bright lights. The family gatherings. No wonder Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But what do you do when Christmas becomes the most un-wonderful time of the year because you’re overwhelmed by grief, fighting depression or seeing people you love destroy their lives? That’s when you hold on for dear life to the one thing that truly matters about Christmas: God loves you so passionately God has gotten personally involved in real life in order that you may experience real life.