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The Story Behind Safe Families in Madison County

Has your heart ever been torn to shreds after reading a tragic news story about a child who suffered because there weren’t enough people who cared?  Have you ever wished there was something you could do about it?

I’m going to tell you a story about how a tragic story broke our hearts in such a way that it would change our actions.

Quite a few years back, when my husband still had a desk job, he managed to pass the hours by keeping up on current news stories. My husband is a musician with a bit of a bleeding heart and many times he would come home and share a particularly difficult story that would cause us both to lower our eyes in despair because there was simply nothing to say. There was one article in particular about a boy named Robert whose story left a mark.

The story was tragic. Robert, 7, had been court mandated to have visitation with his mother, although his father had fought hard for full custody.  On one of his mandatory weekend visits, he was so severely beaten by his mother’s boyfriend that Robert died. My husband read about his kind disposition and how he was known to be a sweet child who always gave his teachers lots of hugs.  When I gazed at his 2nd grade picture, his innocent little face even reminded me of my own son.

This story broke my husband in a way I hadn’t seen before; it was the icing on the cake for him. We had struggled through quite a few other tragedies in our life that year, including the death of a high school friend and a family member, but for some reason this little boy did him in.  I could see the depression sink in as he struggled to reconcile the tragic reality of our world with his faith.

This little boy left a spot on our souls. His story left us with the feeling that living this life for the pursuit of the almighty dollar or even for just ourselves wasn’t enough.  Something in us changed.

A few years passed by.  During the summer of 2012 I offered to let my neighbor’s daughter come over and play with my kids while her dad worked.  She liked our house so I let my neighbor know she was always welcome. Eventually the little girl started coming over with her cousin.  I could tell things weren’t very stable with the little girls’ cousin and she would say things like, “I think my house is a hotel…” I didn’t ask many questions, but let my neighbor know the girls were welcome anytime for as long as they needed to stay.

The girls would spend the night and stay whenever they needed.  My husband—remarkably—was ok with this. He was patient with these girls, loving and kind. We happened to be in the middle of a huge bathroom tear-out and the cousin became curious, following my husband around the house as he worked on completing our bathroom project.  I was blown away by his patience and willingness to allow her to help him.  He didn’t know what her life was like at home, why she was living in a hotel, or if she had a daddy or not.  But he showed kindness to the young strangers in our home that summer.

Little did we know that allowing a few neighbor girls to spend time with us was laying the foundation for something bigger to happen. We were being prepared for the moment when my neighbor’s sister would call us because she was at the end of her rope and thought perhaps we could be of some help. We were being prepared for the moment God would call us to be a Safe Family so that we could provide a temporary home for the little girl (and her younger brother), who had been living in a hotel while their mother worked hard to get back on her feet. It was our opportunity to act, to do something about all those tragic news stories.

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Our girls have become tightly bonded since they met the summer of 2012

Right now, in Madison County, there are kids on the brink of abuse and neglect because their parents are in crisis.  Maybe they can’t find work.  Maybe they were evicted and facing homelessness.  Maybe there is no one they can depend on.

Safe Families is unique in that the parent chooses to place their children in the home of a “safe family.” Doing so gives the parent time to get back on their feet and in many cases deflects the need for the foster care system.  Safe Families is a movement of compassion that returns the church to the forefront of caring for the weak and the needy.  Safe Families is a faith-based 501c3 organization that is not funded through state, but through churches, grants and benevolent people.

Consider how God may be promoting you to get involved–maybe you can volunteer your time as a host family, or maybe your talent as a professional, or maybe even your treasure.  Our family never would have guessed that over three years later we would still be tightly bonded to the mother of the little girl we helped.  You can check out her story, and others like it, HERE.  You never know how your life might be changed when you choose to open your heart, your home and your resources to families that are in crisis.


Emma Johnson

Director, Safe Families for Children/Madison County