A Special Needs Inspiration
Meagan Waldo typically spent holidays as a child visiting Hillcrest Children’s Home, where her grandfather Joe Jackson Sr. served as administrator for a decade, ending in 2003. That led to a lifelong desire to help foster kids find a permanent home.
After graduating from Evangel University, Meagan, 33, has worked as a special needs teacher and in a long-term residential facility that had 40 special needs children residents.
But on a more personal level, Meagan and her husband of 12 years, Brock, have adopted three kids to join their two biological children.
Brock and Meagan met at Oak Grove Assembly in Springfield, Missouri, where they became involved in children’s and youth ministry while college students. Brock, 35, attended Central Bible College at the time.
The couple had a biological daughter, Breanna, now 11, but then had trouble conceiving again once they returned to their native Little Rock, Arkansas, area. They fostered a 6-month-old baby, Isaiah, for two years before adopting him in 2014. Isaiah is now 8.
During that span, Meagan became pregnant with Levi, born with a simultaneous brain bleed and blot clot in his brain. Levi, 7, has mild cerebral palsy, a condition Meagan traces to her being diabetic.
Because of the risk, the Waldos decided not to have any more biological children. But they wanted a larger family. Meagan and Brock searched the website of The Call, which acts as a faith-based mediator between the Department of Human Services and families interested in foster care and adoption in Arkansas.
They also checked out Project Zero, a nonprofit organization that connects kids whose parental rights have been terminated with a permanent adoptive home. Project Zero founder Christie Kaye Erwin has been a friend of Meagan’s since her son and Meagan attended high school together. Erwin, 60, and Meagan connected at a deeper level later when their adopted children attended the same elementary school.
“Our goal is to have zero kids waiting to be adopted,” says Erwin, who, with her husband, Jeff, has four biological and two adopted children, ages 12 to 33. Since 2011, Project Zero has helped over 850 kids find forever families, including children with developmental disabilities, those who have been through extreme trauma, and sibling groups. The Project Zero heart gallery contains not only professional portraits of the children, but also short films in which they tell their stories in their own words.
As Meagan scrolled through the Project Zero pages of the hundreds of children needing a forever family, she stopped upon seeing Vashti. The special needs girl had a host of medical troubles, including scoliosis, chronic lung disease, and a rare genetic chromosome condition. But Vashti had been placed in the gallery’s sibling group section, meaning she needed to be adopted with her younger brother, Josiah.
Meagan didn’t think Brock would consent to adopting a pair of children to go along with the three kids already in the home.
Unknown to Meagan, Brock’s heart also had melted when he on his own saw the Vashti webpage. He had no idea Meagan had been interested in the pair until he broached the subject.
“Are you joking me?” Meagan exclaimed. “I’ve been praying for these two for a long time!”
The siblings moved into the Waldo home in August 2018 after parental rights had been terminated. Vashti had just turned 3, with Josiah almost exactly a year younger. Their adoption occurred in May 2019.
Vashti came into the home frail, on oxygen most of the time, unable to walk, and taking 13 medications regularly. Since becoming part of the Waldo family, Vashti has been hospitalized three times with breathing issues and undergone six surgeries. That includes a trio of operations on her back. She now is able to stand up and breathe much easier because rods inserted into her back have opened up her airways. She rarely needs supplemental oxygen these days.
Although Vashti had been placed in a caring foster home before the adoption, Erwin says the Waldos have made a profound impact on the girl.
“There is a drastic difference in Vashti being placed in a permanent family and having a name,” says Erwin, who has fostered children for 19 years. “It has transformed her and given her a future.”
The Waldos attend The Church at Wellington in Little Rock, where Meagan’s father, Joe Jackson Jr., is senior pastor. Brock, who is an ordained Assemblies of God minister with a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry, is missions director at The Church at Wellington.
In addition, Brock is a full-time police officer in Maumelle, a city of 18,200 located 17 miles northwest of Little Rock.
All the Waldo children attend a private school where Meagan teaches. Two of the family’s children have developmental disabilities and two have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
“Our hands are full right now, but God hasn’t told us we’re done adopting,” Meagan says.
At the Arkansas District Council in 2019, the Waldo family providentially sat in front of Jay Mooney, executive director of COMPACT Family Services, the umbrella agency that oversees Hillcrest Children’s Home. At the district gathering, Mooney — who as a pastor in the 1990s met Meagan’s grandfather during his time of leading the home — told the couple how he marveled at their positive interaction with the kids.
In another divine appointment a short time later, Mooney “happened” to stop at the Little Rock restaurant where the Waldos held an adoption party for Vashti and Josiah. (Mooney frequently commutes between his Springfield home and the COMPACT campus in Hot Springs, Arkansas). The encounter and ensuing conversation convinced Mooney that COMPACT must branch out and open an emergency home for developmentally disabled foster kids.
Those efforts came to fruition in October 2020, when COMPACT established a specialized emergency program. In an effort to help the children learn and grow, the ministry provides a reassuring environment subsequent to their removal from abusive and neglectful circumstances.
A special cottage is equipped with a crash-and-bump room, a sensory room, and a calming room for children who regularly find themselves in a fight, flight, or freeze response when no real threat exists. Rather than trigger sights and sounds that lead to anger, defiance, fear, or withdrawal, the cottage has bedrooms with weighted stuffed animals, compression sheets, and noise-canceling headphones. Mooney, 59, commends his staff for providing excellent care.
“Since we’ve opened this facility, we’ve served children with Down syndrome, autism, medically fragile kids who can’t walk, and one who is deaf,” says Mooney. “These kids have a troubled past, but God has a distinct purpose for each one.”