Three hundred children in our hometown of Palm Beach County have had to be removed from homes that are not safe. Three hundred traumatized kids sit in school each day beside healthy kids with healthy parents and a loving home. Some of them have parents who are addicted to serious drugs. Some of them are not getting basic food and clothing. Some have suffered horrific abuse at the hands of their own mom and dad.
The situation has broken the hearts of some people in Palm Beach County who are determined to give these kids a voice and believe that God will provide a healthy, loving, safe Christian home to each of these kids in foster care in Palm Beach County.
Pastor Shawn Allen, Senior Pastor of Church in the Palms and founder of Take Heart, set out to accomplish the mission of finding a loving home for every hurting child in Palm Beach County. After a life changing experience with foster care and eventually adoption, his heart continued to break over all of the children whom he and his wife could not help. That heartbreak led to the foundation of the Take Heart mission, which is dedicated to placing every child in a loving home.
Partnering with Church United, a fellowship of area churches who have devoted this year’s mission to helping foster children, Pastor Shawn and Jenny Schartner hosted a Take Heart event at Grace Fellowship in West Palm Beach on Sunday, May 22, 2016, showcasing the experience of everyday people who stepped out to provide homes for children in need. Pastor Shawn said, “Churches are coming together on mission. The models is, let’s partner with people who already know what they’re doing, so instead of each church figuring out how we respond to this foster care crisis, let’s partner with people like Children’s Home Society, and Place of Hope and 4Kids. They already know what they’re doing. We just want to come along side them and say, ‘How can we help?’”
The evening opened with Andre Morris, of 4kids, leading prayer, “Lord, we are Your hands, Your feet, to a community that is even more broken, more lost and more destitute than we even realize. I pray that every kid that is in foster care right now will get the chance to not only have a mother and father but that they’ll get to know You the real Father.”
Linda Coffin with Heart Gallery Children’s Home Society, spoke first, “A few years ago, there were between 1,600 and 1,800 children in foster care just in Palm Beach County. We only have 300 licensed foster homes and of those 300 only 250 of them are available. Put the numbers together. We need more help.”
Six people who have opened their hearts and their homes to embrace foster children took the stage to speak about their experience; their call to fostering, the heartbreaks and the rewards they have experienced.
Crystal Harrison, 4Kids
Crystal Harrison also with 4Kids, spoke first, sharing her own experience as a foster child and the tremendous impact one loving couple only seven years her senior had on her life. “I grew up with my mom and stepdad and two younger brothers. We’re all two years apart. By the time I was in middle school we had experienced bankruptcy and they found themselves facing drug addictions. When I was 13 I found out that I had a different dad, on my birthday, from my mom. A week later, my brothers and I were put in foster care.”
It’s the person who knows their identity in Christ who knows that they’re not the Savior. They’re not the rescuer but they know who the rescuer is and we’re all in this journey together.”
The journey of foster home placement wasn’t easy for Crystal. The first home didn’t work out. She was separated from, not only her parents, but the two younger brothers she had been used to caring for all of her life. But one woman’s love, patience and willingness to admit that she didn’t have all of the answers but that Jesus did, changed everything for Crystal. After the compassionate care and persistent love of this women, Crystal began a search for God and now has a vibrant faith, a college degree and a successful career.
Crystal is passionately devoted to advocating for children in foster care. Crystal said, “ It only takes one person. It’s the person who knows their identity in Christ who knows that they’re not the Savior. They’re not the rescuer but they know who the rescuer is and we’re all in this journey together.”
John and Glenda Kellerman
John Kellerman spoke next. His journey in fostering began when he was about to relax and enjoy the good life of retirement. “I’ll tell you my story…about nine years ago, Glenda comes to me and says, ‘I think we’re going to foster and you’re going to be a part of it.’ And I’m thinking, you know, I’m 54 years old, and I’m on the verge of retiring.”
They started by taking classes and then shortly after, brought their first foster child home. “She came to us just before Christmas on the 21st, and she was five days out of the hospital. Five days old. She could fit in my hand. And so it’s been an adventure ever since.”
They go on many trips, that now include Disney World, where they have been a dozen times. “So all the things I’ve wanted to do in retirement I’m doing now but better.”
Glenda Kellerman shared their journey from her perspective. “We have two grown children so when we started our journey of doing this it was not the intent to adopt. We just thought we were going to be a good home for some of these children that were hurting and then they would move on and go to a forever home.”
The system is set up to transition the foster children from one home to the next as smoothly as possible, but things don’t always go as planned. Glenda explained, “They are supposed to have time to get used to the next person they are going to, but that doesn’t always happen. We had one time when a grandparent flew in from out of town and within one hour we’re supposed to [let go of] a child where we’re the only ones that she knows. We have to transfer these little ones over to them. So it is rough at certain times but the blessings are so much better. And God just gives you the grace to do it.”
Two dentists, Debbie and Gary Titus, from Orlando came down to speak at the Take Heart event. Their journey in foster care adoption started twenty years ago. Debbie started as a Guardian Ad Litem counselor and was drawn in more deeply after an encounter with a five year old girl.
And I was sort of taken back. And I walked away and I thought, ‘My gosh! She’s five years old and she’s trying to recruit her own mom.’ I think I never got past that.“
“There was a moment when I went to visit one of the little girls who was one of my cases and she was five, and I’ll never forget that she looked right at me…[tweet_dis] I had just met her, and she goes ‘Well how ‘bout you? You look like you could be my mom.’ [/tweet_dis]And I was sort of taken back. And I walked away and I thought, ‘My gosh! She’s five years old and she’s trying to recruit her own mom.’ I think I never got past that.“
Debby and her husband have adopted seven children, cared for many more and are passionate spokesmen for foster children, driven on a continuous mission of inspiring everyday people to open their homes to children born to other parents.
When asked what people can do to support foster parents, she was quick to respond, “We have a friend who’s taken it upon herself to make dinner for us once a week. Oh my gosh. I think she’s an angel! It’s just amazing. Once a week, she brings a really nice dinner. It’s wonderful because I don’t have to cook, but also to know that somebody cares…that we’re not alone and somebody’s saying, ‘I believe in what you’re doing. I can’t do it myself, but I can cook.’ That’s what she says when she comes to help.”
Other ways of helping include babysitting or donating clothes and toys to the foster children. She suggested reaching out even if the need is not obvious. “They might look like they have it all together, but they don’t.”
Luke and Jenny Schartner
Taking the microphone next, the youngest of the six speakers, Luke and Jenny Schartner, shared their journey of fostering. Luke began, “Sometimes when you’re sitting in a seat like this and you hear stories like this, you’re like, ‘I’m so far from being at the point where I would have that many kids or any kid in my house that doesn’t belong to me.’ We were definitely in that same spot. We were sitting in a seat over there during a normal week-end service and something in the sermon came up, and we both kind of looked at each other and felt a tugging on our hearts.”
Luke shared their journey of adopting a child from a Haitian orphanage. After five attempts at adopting a child from a foster home in Haiti and the crushing disappointment of being told that they were too young, hadn’t been married long enough and were not eligible to adopt children from Haiti, Jenny persisted.
“We looked at this family who, again, is in a third world country with very few resources; a family of four at that time taking care of nine other kids. They have a three bedroom house, no electricity. They did have running water, but you can’t drink it. And we’re thinking, ‘We have everything. We have everything here in the United States. We need to pursue bringing a kid into our house. This is do-able.”
From a place of feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing a child into their home and being told they were not qualified, they began thinking, “Okay, we can think about it.” One day they met with a 4Kids representative at a local Dunkin’ Donuts, who detailed the process of fostering children in Palm Beach County.
Luke shared the response he and Jenny had at the meeting, “We were looking at each other, and Jenny was like, “Okay, we’re going to do this.”
“And I was like, ‘Okay, we’re going go to the classes.’ That was the next step, and we did it.” Through the program at Place of Hope, Jenny and Luke were licensed as foster parents, and Place of Hope continues to support them on their fostering journey.
At the close of a very emotional evening, guests were treated to the musical talent of the two hosts of Take Heart, Jenny Schartner and Pastor Shawn Allen, who shared their musical gifts with the audience. Talented twelve year old, Taylin Wheeler, also led a song in worship, closing the Take Heart presentation with a voice that wowed audience and completed the evening, hopefully planting a seed to the Christian community to care for our children here in Palm Beach County.
Meet Mike in this one minute clip, who came to Place of Hope at the age of twelve and found the family that he always needed.
If you would like to know what types of children are in need of foster care, how long will a foster child be in your home, if parenting experience a requirement, of if people who are single can foster children, visit Place of Hope’s FAQ’s page.