Two UM Pastors Collaborate to Help Children Find Forever Families
Rev. Amy Bezecny and Seminarian LyAnna Johnson Smith share a passion for foster children, adopted children and all those who care for them. Knowing the sobering reality all too well, they are eagerly busting adoption myths, educating parents and congregations, and providing resources and encouragement in the process.
Michael’s arrival forever changed the lives of Rev. Amy Bezecny and husband Steve. “We thought the journey to adoption was arduous and couldn’t wait until that precious day when our son would join our family,” she recalls. “We soon realized, however, that this was just the beginning of days filled with the hope and fear, laughter and tears, exhaustion and joy involved in raising a child from a hard place.” An adoptive mother, ordained deacon and current Fellow at the Hope and Healing Institute, Amy is compelled to help foster/orphaned children, and she has recently linked arms with LyAnna Johnson Smith to leverage a collaborative ministry alliance designed to benefit children across the greater Houston area.
Adoption Areas of Focus: Different but Compatible
Amy is developing an Adoption/Foster Care Ministry that will enable many area churches to become aware of foster children’s need for more foster and adoptive families, learn how to welcome these families into their congregations and offer specialized support. “I believe as more people see the church welcoming these children and families, more people will step up to help because they will know they are not alone in raising and nurturing these children,” she explains. She is convinced that many congregations want to help with this need but are not sure how to help or where to begin. “It’s not all or nothing,” notes Amy, “everyone can’t adopt or foster a child, but all of us can do something, however small or large.”
She is particularly concerned for the children who are not adopted by age 18. “The Houston Chronicle recently ran an article about the tragic and hard road these children face as they deal with challenges in healing from deep loss, grief and a sense of abandonment,” she adds.
Lyanna adds, “According to an Amarillo Globe article that ran last year, within one year of aging out, two-thirds of all former foster youth end up incarcerated, homeless or dead. That’s insane, and completely unacceptable.”
As Amy and Lyanna become more versed as resource consultants, they are eager to bring an educational program to churches and organizations interested in caring for the adoption/foster care children and families. In fact, Amy and her husband shared their expertise as keynote speakers at the recent “Relatives as Parents” Conference. “Our breakout session titled “Correcting while Connecting” was set for 25 people,” she adds, “and we had to turn away people once the number exceeded 50. This convinced me that new and prospective parents, and grandparents that are parenting again, are starving for tools, techniques and any help they can find when it comes to parenting children that come from difficult circumstances!”
LyAnna and her husband were licensed foster parents from 2011-2013, but now have focused their efforts on reforming the system instead of serving as full-time foster parents. Having worked in politics before going to Seminary, she understands the importance of systematic change in order to really address a number of the core problems with the foster care system. LyAnna won an audition and delivered a TEDxSMU talk on the subject last October. (The video can be found here: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Fostering-Hope-LyAnna-Smith)
Heart Gallery Comes to Houston
LyAnna, on track for ordination as an Elder, and her husband, Whet Smith, are bringing a very special ministry to Houston called Heart Gallery (www.HoustonAreaHeartGallery.org) The Houston Area Heart Gallery is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing professional photography portraiture services and fine art exhibits in support of finding permanent homes for waiting children. “It also raises awareness about children in our own backyards that are modern day orphans,” she explains. “These aren’t kids that are in a far away land, forgotten by their society. They are our children who many of us have forgotten right here.”
“Our mission is to help connect waiting children and forever families,” she adds.
“Many people are afraid that the biological family will be able to regain custody at some point in the future, and that fear keeps them from even considering adoption through foster care. The fact is that any child on the Heart Gallery site is legally free for adoption. There are currently more than 1,400 children waiting for adoption in the Houston area.”
LyAnna’s first photo shoot in March effectively helped chronicle the profiles of 58 children that long to have forever families. “It was a testament to the power of community and collaboration. CPS, the photographers, the volunteers, the foster families, and everyone came out to help these kids find forever families. This would be impossible without this kind of cooperation. I can’t wait to see how the pictures that we captured that day will lead to a profound change not only in the life of a child that was in foster care, but also the family that adopts them. ”
Pilot Program Starting with Eight Churches
Amy was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from Houston Endowment, which will help supplement a 3-year pilot program for adoption and foster care related training and support that will begin this September. Eight congregations of various sizes, locations and demographics have been identified as first-year participants in the training program. These include Calvary Community Church, Iglesia San Mateo, First UMC Katy, Servants of Christ UMC, St. Luke’s UMC, Houston, St. Peter’s UMC and two others pending final commitment. See her video here.
Action Steps: How You Can Help
- Churches open to hosting adoption related presentations or events with the help of Amy and Lyanna can call or email.
- Photographers who would like to assist Heart Gallery in creating profile portraits of children can contact Lyannaj@gmail.com.
- Individuals who would like to assist with the curriculum development or training plan (by coming alongside Amy as a partner for any or several pieces of the program) or assist with a specific foster care/adoption small group event.
- Make tax deductible financial contributions to this emerging ministry made out to Hope and Healing Institute.
- Churches individuals, or organizations can help sponsor the Heart Gallery by sponsoring the purchase of canvas prints (@$25/child) or easels at $35.
- CONTACT: Amy at 713-542-8986 firstname.lastname@example.org (Amy Bezecny) or Lyanna Johnson Smith at email@example.com.
Leadership Lessons Along the Way
Tackling an issue this deep and wide in a comprehensive way has been a challenge for Amy, but one her passion will not abandon. Her research indicates many foster and adoption related 501c3s that are making a very specific difference in their own way, yet the numbers of foster children are not decreasing noticeably. “I believe what is needed is a more comprehensive program, but that brings such a wide net it is often hard to know where to start when I walk into my office.” To that end, she highly recommends having an advisory council or advisors of some sort for brainstorming, venting, and prayer support. “It is important to recruit advisors who are strong in areas where you know you are weak.”
“I have this vision and an outline of the plan, and would welcome other leaders to come along side us and be a part of developing the components and implementation of any or all of the moving pieces,” adds Amy. See details on how to plug in in some way at: http://www.txcumc.org/fostercareandadoption.