Pastor New Year’s Resolution: Help Churches Address Foster Care Needs
By Lindsay Peyton
Rev. Amy Bezecny has a few New Year’s resolutions for the non-profit she founded, Cultivating Families. The organization seeks to inspire faith-based communities to get more involved with helping foster and adopted children and their families. This year, she hopes to bring even more churches on board to continue to address what continues to be a pressing need.
Looking back on 2019, Bezecny said, Cultivating Families accomplished some remarkable feats. She counted 1,871 volunteers who served 1,591 foster children and their families.
“On the other hand, it was a hard year,” she admits.
Part of the problem is the dire need. In the Greater Houston area alone, Bezecny estimates there are about 5,500 children in state care, with 1,500 of those available for adoption.
She founded Cultivating Families after learning that there were 4,000 faith-based communities in the same area. She was confident that congregations could help. “No one can do it alone, but everyone can do something,” she said.
Bezecny, who had also adopted a child, knew firsthand the struggles foster and adoptive families face. Spending time with her son also brought home the need to help other children.
While attending seminary at SMU Perkins School of Theology, Bezecny served in children’s ministry at St. Luke’s UMC. The congregation allowed her to extend her work to include adoption. Eventually, she was able to create the nonprofit in 2016 and to reach out to all faiths in the Houston area to help.
Hurricane Harvey, however, made fundraising difficult. “I can’t grow my numbers without additional funding,” Bezecny explained.
Still, Bezecny feels there is potential to get that funding and grow Cultivating Families. “If I can do this, what if we could bring in a few more people with a passion for these children? We could be that much further ahead as a whole community,” she said. “The whole point of this is that it spreads and grows.”
While she is aware of the hard work ahead, she has faith in what Cultivating Families can do to make a difference. “I am really hopeful for 2020,” she said. “I’m going to lean into God and hope others come alongside us for this journey.”
Bezecny invites congregations in the Texas Annual Conference, where she is based, to join her this year in her mission. One easy way to start is to contact her for a structured prayer she offers – or to host an adoption and fostering support group at church.
Cultivating Families also offers “Learn and Serve Projects” – which provide an introduction to the foster care and adoption community. The projects include assembling first night kits and backpacks, as well as building beds and sewing weighted blankets.
In addition, churches can host Cultivating Families events – like the Adoption and Foster Care Decision Course or the Trauma-Informed Volunteer and Child Care Worker Training.
Bezecny explained while some church members might go on to become a foster parent, others can opt to be an advocate or to simply join a prayer group. “There’s something everyone can do,” she said. “They can help.”
A number of Methodist churches in the conferences are already taking advantage of Cultivating Families services and resources. For example, Katy Sabayrac, family ministries director at Westbury UMC, said the congregation hosted a decisions course last year.
“It was a great experience for everyone,” Sabayrac said. “Some went through with adoptions and others, after that course, realized it wasn’t a good fit for them. It was a great opportunity for people to learn about the journey without completely diving in.”
Westbury UMC also has an adoption support group with about 20 members. “Cultivating Families has given us a lot of resources, so no one has to spend hours digging them up,” Sabayrac said. “That is a great help.”
She takes comfort in knowing that Bezecny is in the United Methodist Church. “She is from our conference,” Sabayrac said. “This is an awesome resource we can lean on.”
Whitney Peper, pastor of care ministry and courage worship at St. Peter’s UMC in Katy, said the church works with Cultivating Families for its monthly adoption support group and a number of mission projects.
Peper is also an adoptive parent herself and knows how important the support group can be. “Having families that have walked the walk or are walking alongside you in your spiritual setting is great,” she said. “They are able to be there with us and to pray with us.”
She encourages other congregations to explore getting involved with Cultivating Families. “Not everyone is called to be an adoptive or foster parent,” she said. “But this is a great opportunity to get exposed to it – and then grow. Even if you just do something small, it can be a stepping stone.”
Michelle Hall, pastor of congregational care at Christ Church Sugar Land UMC, said helping foster and adoptive children is an important role for the church. “It’s because they’re our children,” she said. “We have for various reasons children who have no sense of belonging. How do we support them?”
Hall said Bezecny has provided an action plan churches can follow to provide that support. “Often times we become overwhelmed with, ‘But I can’t fix it,’” she said. “The call isn’t to fix it. The summoning is about together, we can make a difference.”
Christ Church Sugar Land has participated in all of the Cultivating Families service projects. “There are so many ways the church can be a valuable link to helping kids,” Hall said. “There are things we can do to make the community as compassionate and loving as possible.”
Hall said Cultivating Families offers a way truly serve children in need – and that everyone can play a part to help. “Kids do not ask to be brought into this world; they grow up in the circumstances they are in,” she said. “How do you make an impact? That’s by helping a child who has very little to say, if anything, about their plight in life.”
Bezecny said there’s a lot of ways church members can help – from supporting families who adopt to joining a mission project at their congregation. In addition, there are volunteer and donor opportunities on the Cultivating Families website.
“You start with a child,” Bezecny said. “A child can’t live alone in a world. They need a family. A family can’t raise a child alone. They need a faith family. A faith family can’t do it alone either. They need a guide. That’s where we come into the picture.”
Becoming a foster or adoptive parent can be a difficult journey, Bezecny said. Even being a church for those families can seem daunting.
“Is it something you should do? Can we love and take care of children who may not love us back?” Bezceny asks. “Those are hard questions. But aren’t we that way with God sometimes? We’re God’s children, but don’t we hate sometimes? Don’t we take Him for granted?”
That doesn’t stop God, she added. “God never, ever leaves us,” she said. ‘God sends us help. God forgives us. He always welcomes us, forever. As a faith community, that’s what we need to remember.”