Not Just an Annual Message
Scripture states that God wants His followers to care for orphans (James 1:27). But that directive doesn’t mean every believer should become a foster or adoptive parent. There are many ways to care, and Timberline Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, is discovering new ones all the time.
“We are wholly surrounding these families, so they are known financially, physically, and spiritually,” says Kari E. Stewart, missions pastor of Timberline’s Welcome Child Orphan Ministry, a wraparound ministry for foster, adoptive, and kinship families. “The whole church has to be prepared to support these families.”
Stewart, who, with her husband, Jeff, has nine children — six of them adopted — helped launch Welcome Child at Timberline 12 years ago. In 2018, the church adopted the CompaCare model of COMPACT Family Services. “It brought a lot more structure to what we were already doing,” says Stewart.
In the second quarter of 2020 — amid COVID-19 social distancing protocols —Welcome Child served 176 children from 70 families through grocery delivery, gift card donations, and delivering arts and craft kits to foster families’ front porches. Those creative efforts supplemented Welcome Child’s standard practices of encouraging families with quarterly ice cream or pizza gift cards; connecting them with respite care, baby sitters, drivers, mentors, and tutors; and assisting financially with family and child counseling and marriage retreats.
“We find felt needs and figure out how to meet them,” says Stewart of the wraparound ministry model.
A tenet of that wraparound care is integration with Timberline’s other ministries to ensure the whole congregation is learning about the needs of foster and adoptive families. Before the pandemic hit, Timberline had an average weekly attendance of 6,800.
“There needs to be intentionality when you invite and serve families with foster children,” says Stewart, 57. “There needs to be awareness in youth ministry and children’s ministry.”
The integrative approach also helps with volunteer recruitment and outreach to families in need. For Zach and Maddie Knowles, both 28, who have been fostering since November 2018, it accomplished both.
“I was volunteering in the high school ministry when we began fostering and learned about Welcome Child,” says Maddie Knowles. “Now we lead the foster and adoptive family support group.”
“This can’t be something your church talks about once a year,” says Stewart. “People need to have this in front of them all the time.”
To keep the needs of families at the forefront, Welcome Child invites the entire congregation to volunteer for projects throughout the year. Its biggest awareness-builder is filling backpacks with school supplies. Every year, 500 backpacks are distributed to foster and adoptive families, and new volunteers are introduced to Welcome Child.
“It’s a gateway to service and involvement,” says Stewart. “We always offer a low step of engagement, then a next step, and a next step.”
Welcome Child’s mission is about serving the entire community and offering multilevel support for the good of vulnerable children and families. That means the support doesn’t stop when foster children are reunified or permanently placed. For instance, of the six children the Knowleses have fostered over the past 18 months, four have been reunified with family and Welcome Child continues to support those children and their biological families, according to Maddie Knowles.
The mission extends to supporting and partnering with area nonprofits and county agencies, too. Timberline makes its facilities available for meetings and trainings and Welcome Child has sent breakfast, massage therapists, and snow cones to county children and family services offices, all in an effort to make caseworkers and staff know they’re appreciated for the work they’re doing for vulnerable children.
“It’s vital that the church reach out to the local child welfare staff,” says Stewart. “When they’re in meetings, they remember that we can help them meet needs.”