When Garrett and MaryBeth Culver volunteered to take care of a little boy while his single mother searched for a job and housing, they weren’t exactly sure what they were getting themselves into.
As a Safe Family, the Culvers received training from Arrow to take care of children while the child’s parents or guardians get back on their feet. They learned about our Safe Families for Children program while at Lakewood Church, and were the first family in Texas to become certified, so they didn’t have much reference for what being a Safe Family would be like.
A year after their first placement, they describe the experience as life-changing and overwhelmingly positive.
The first child they took in, and one who remains close to their hearts, is 8-year-old Michael*.
Michael’s mother was struggling to find a job, and could no longer afford their extended-stay hotel room, forcing her to live in a shelter, and she didn’t want Michael to be in that environment.
That’s where the Culvers came in. Even though Michael was older than they’d agreed to take and went to school 40 minutes away from their house, they knew they were the only certified family in the area available to help him. When Alison Morriss, our Safe Families Program Coordinator, called asking if they would take Michael, the Culvers agreed.
Garrett, MaryBeth and their three kids instantly connected with Michael. He endeared himself to Garrett and MaryBeth, and became fast friends with their children.
“He was such a well-behaved, well-mannered kid,” MaryBeth said. “If the girls were bickering over a seat, for example, he would give up his own seat without saying a word.”
But caring for Michael was not without challenges, the largest being the distance to his school. Luckily, they had support from Alison, who arranged a pick up for Michael from school several times, and was always a phone call away when the Culvers needed advice.
Michael’s poor grades posed another problem. MaryBeth would drill him with math problems during car rides, but Michael would try to worm his way out of the work. MaryBeth and Garrett were adamant he stay on top of his school assignments.
Eventually, Michael started making better grades. According to his teachers, his social skills and eye-contact with adults also improved.
Meanwhile, Michael’s mother was also working her way towards success. She secured a job and an apartment, and a little more than a month after Michael arrived, it was time for him to go home.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Michael, but the Culvers knew he and his mother would remain in each other’s lives. Michael and his mom visit the Culvers on holidays, and the families even recently took a camping trip together.
“As far as we’re concerned (Michael and his mom) are our family,” MaryBeth said. “We don’t have family in the state, so we’re trying to build ours here.”
Besides expanding their family, the Culvers’ motivation for becoming a Safe Family grew out of their personal struggles while growing up. MaryBeth was a single mother at 19, and Garrett’s family was homeless when he was in middle school. They knew they wanted to help people through the hard times in their lives, just as they had been helped by family and friends.
“Some single mothers, I just want to shake and say ‘You can do this!’” MaryBeth said.
Since Michael’s stay with them, the Culvers had one other Safe Family placement that recently came to an end. They said the experiences have made them better people.
“Being a Safe Family brings out the best in us, and it brings us closer together,” Garrett said. “We’re just hoping this program will snowball.”
While receiving help from a Safe Family, birth parents or legal caregivers maintain full custodial rights of their child, and are encouraged to participate in decisions regarding their child’s care while the circumstances that led to the crisis are addressed. To learn more about becoming a Safe Families, visit www.arrow.org/safe.
*The name was changed to protect the child’s identity.