Ariel struggled with addiction and mental health challenges as a young woman in Oklahoma, ultimately leading her to attempt suicide. Shortly after waking up in the hospital, she learned she was pregnant. It wasn’t long afterward that her son was placed in foster care. But this new life gave Ariel a new reason to live, and she worked diligently to become sober and be reunited with her son.
But this vulnerable mother still needed community support. Through an email on 111Project's CarePortal — a connection platform that drives action for local children and families in crisis — Ariel’s needs were made known to a local church. She received things as simple as sheets for her son’s bed and a car seat, but most importantly, she felt the love and support of a community.
111Project is a faith-based Oklahoma City organization that mobilizes local churches to recruit and support foster and adoptive families so that no child is without a safe family who needs one. In 2014, over 11,500 children were in the Oklahoma foster care system, with the leading causes of threat of harm overwhelmingly connected to neglect stemming from poverty, substance abuse or mental illness. But research consistently affirms our deep intuition as humans that children grow best in families. Today, the number of kids in Oklahoma’s foster care system has decreased to less than 6,300 because of the community's great efforts and increases in foster and adoptive families.
Our vision for an Oklahoma where every child thrives in a safe, loving family is slowly but surely becoming a reality. And this vision doesn’t end here.
While orphanages are often the default response when helping children in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the best practices employed to keep families together here in Oklahoma can work internationally also. This is because a large percentage of children in orphanages have family members who could safely welcome them home with sufficient support.
Local or global, the answer is the same — children are made for family, and many families can flourish with caring support.
In the United States, we often assume that material resources fix things. Sometimes they do. But material goods alone can rarely meet the deepest human needs.
That kind of healing requires much more. It’s nearly impossible without personal connection, the kind that involves great perseverance in caring relationships. It also requires a long-range vision and a confidence that lasting transformation is possible.
We all love immediate results, but many of the best things in life require long-term investment — from the nurture of our own children to support of vulnerable families.
Ariel had material needs, as do the parents in other countries who are forced by circumstances to place their kids in an orphanage. Resources were necessary for their success as parents. But for their success to be sustained, they also needed a devoted community supporting them, as do so many other families.
By investing in relationships — with those in need and with each other — we can permanently break cycles of brokenness. If we attempt to fix these problems in a hurry, we won’t be successful. But for vulnerable children and families in Oklahoma, and around the world, we can all play a part in the steady stream of support that is making a lasting difference in their lives.
Chris Campbell is the executive director of 111Project. Jedd Medefind is the president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). The CAFO2023 Summit — designed to bring together individuals from around the world seeking to serve orphaned and vulnerable children — is being held Sept. 20-22 in Oklahoma City.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: We can all play a role to help vulnerable children in Oklahoma