April 9, 2015

Dozens of students from schools all over Pennsylvania recently gathered at Arrow’s Stand Up Youth Leadership Conference in State College to combat harassment and bullying.

The conference is designed to give high school sophomores and juniors the leadership skills they need to make a difference in their schools and communities. Throughout the three-day event, they attended seminars, learned about their unique leadership styles, and developed plans to implement anti-harassment programs in their schools. The students came up with basic concepts before the conference started, then used the event to flesh them out. The projects varied widely, from awareness campaigns to mentoring programs, and beyond.

Andrea Czartoryski, who coordinated the conference, said one of her favorite student project concepts was an interactive art exhibit. The students planned to build large cages to represent different sorts of abuse, such as cyber bullying or domestic abuse, and have live actors inside. Keys to the cages would either be outside the cages to represent how peers must come together to support victims, or inside the cages to represent how victims must sometimes empower themselves to leave their abusers.

Students from another school that serves grades K – 12 recognized the large spread of ages could make the student body feel disjointed, and planned a mentoring program to proactively connect younger and older students, which would in turn create a culture in which bullying isn’t tolerated.

“We set the bar really high, but I think that gave them the motivation to dig deeper and think about more than planning a nice project, but really think about themselves in terms of leaders who could create actual change,” Andrea said.

Participants said they enjoyed the conference, especially meeting with students from other schools, bouncing ideas off one another, hearing from guest speakers and having time to themselves to delve into their projects.

“I don’t feel limited to one thing,” said Omar, a student who attended the conference. “I can be free and get my thoughts out.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’m also learning about myself and my classmates.”

The students won’t be on their own as they go back to their respective schools. Mentors from the conference will work with them to see their plans implemented over the remainder of this school year and the beginning of the next.

In November, the schools will turn in a final progress report to tell how their projects impacted their schools.

“We hope all of our teams got a good sense of where they are going with their projects so they can go back to their schools and get started,” Andrea said

February 12, 2015

Blogger Liz Curtis Faria, a former social worker, graciously allowed us to repost her blog entry about a troubled foster child, desperately reaching out for someone to love him. Unfortunately, his story is not unique. Thousands of children in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted right now, and are at risk  of meeting the same fate as him. The boy in the story was never adopted, and we can’t help but wonder how much differently his life could have turned out if a family would have taken a chance on him.



upset boyIt was something about the phrasing that got to me. Something about the cadence of his words, the staccato of his speech.

“Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.”

It is an odd turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

He was buckled into the backseat of my Toyota, still too little to sit up front. At seven he had already moved more times than the total number of years he had been on the earth. And this time, like the times before it, he moved with his belongings in a trash bag. A suitcase, at least, would have added a small degree of dignity to the whole affair – to being “placed” in another and another and yet another foster home before reaching the 3rd grade. Trash bags break, you know. Trash bags can’t possibly support the contents of any life, and certainly not a life as fragile as this.

They break from the strain, eventually.

This move was harder for Stephen than most. It was a home he thought he would stay in, at least for awhile. He had felt affection there. When I went to pick him up, after his foster mother gave notice that he could no longer stay, he came easily with me; head down, no reaction on the surface of it. It was only when he got into my car that he began to sob the kind of aching sound that leaves you limp in its wake.

He could barely get out the words. Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

Months later, in a repeat scene (another foster mother, another removal), he would put up a fight. He would run around the living room, ducking behind furniture, refusing to leave. But on this night he had no fight in him.

That was Stephen at seven.

Nine-year old Stephen grips his report card in sweaty hands. We’re headed to an adoption event, where we will meet families who want to adopt an older child; families who do not automatically rule out a boy like Stephen with all of his long “history.” And he wants to impress them, these strangers. He wants to win them over, and so he brings his good report card along as tangible proof that he is a child worth loving.

A child should never have to prove they are worth loving.

Twelve-year old Stephen tells me that I’m his best friend. I’m his social worker, and he should have a real best friend, but I don’t say this to him. We’re at a taping for Wednesday’s Child, the news spot featuring children who are up for adoption. Stephen is engaging on camera. Maybe somebody will pick him this time. Maybe he is offering just enough evidence, at twelve, that he’s a boy worth loving. And he is lovable, truly. But it is not enough. A family never comes.

Years later, long after I’ve left the agency, I get an email from my old boss asking how I’m doing, and ending with a short P.S. Stephen is in DYS lockup after running away from his foster home. You need to adopt him.” My stomach drops. I’ve had this thought many times. I should adopt him myself. But I don’t.

I heard about his murder from a friend who had seen it in the news. Shot outside a party over some foolish dispute. Dead at 18, dead just as he became a man. Not my Stephen, I prayed. When I realized that it was really him – that it could be no other – I sobbed gripped by the kind of anguish that leaves you limp in its wake.

What have we all done? What haven’t we all done.

The newspapers ran very little about the murder, as if it were an afterthought. Barely worth a mention, really. Anonymous strangers posted nasty comments online: “Just another gangbanger,” they said. You don’t even know him. You don’t know the first thing about this boy. You don’t know that as a child he would trace letters into my back with his finger to pass time at the doctor’s office, asking me to guess what phrase he was spelling out. “I ♥ U” he traced between my shoulders, the last time we played this game.

Stephen had been wrong, that night in my Toyota. His mother did love him, in her way. She was there, at the funeral. She greeted me kindly. I think she knew I loved Stephen as I knew she did. We both failed him in the end, and that joined us I suppose. Neither of us could give him a family.

There were no photos from Stephen’s childhood at the funeral home. No images of the green-eyed boy with the sweet smile to remind us of what had been lost. There were no pictures of Stephen with his brothers, and so I printed up snapshots of the four boys together, taken on a supervised visit, and brought them to the funeral to give to the family. It was something I could do, against the larger backdrop of nothing I could do.

There were very few social workers at the funeral, and none of Stephen’s many foster mothers. Were they even told he was dead? Stephen spent more of his life being raised in the system than out of it. If you claim legal responsibility for a child, you best show up at his funeral. You should show up when he dies. He was yours, in a way, wasn’t he? You owe it to him. And if he did not belong to you, then who did he ever belong to?

His mother was there, at least. His mother who gave birth to him. I hear the echo of his voice from those many years ago.

Somebody does love you Stephen. I want to tell him. But it’s too late.

Stephen was the one, for me. The one who embodied all the failures of a system so broken that to heal it would take far more than the casts that heal the literal broken bones of the children growing up within it.

They break, you know. These kids we leave behind. Eventually they break.

You can learn more about fostering and adopting through Arrow at https://www.arrow.org/foster.

You can find Liz’s blog at www.amothershipdown.com and her Facebook  page at https://www.facebook.com/amothershipdown.

*Stephen is a fictional name for a real boy the world lost.


November 24, 2014

Sitting around the dinner table enjoying chicken noodle soup, the Senofsky family shared their “highs and lows” for the day.

For the youngest, 6-year-old Abigail, the highlight of her day was being with everyone at the table, from her adoptive mom and dad, Lori and Nick, to her three siblings and her nanny, Hannah. Her low was that a bully at school told her to “shut up,” which hurt her feelings.

But even though hurtful, the quip is mild compared to the traumas Abigail has experienced in her short life.Nick reading Bible at bedtime

She and her siblings, 11-year-old Samantha and 7-year-old Daniel, were placed in Lori and Nick Senofsky’s care in September of last year. Their previous foster parents told the children they would adopt them, but then things fell apart, leaving them even more wary, especially Daniel.

When Daniel threw a toy and accidentally broke a picture in his new home, he immediately broke down and hid, fearful that Lori and Nick would send him to yet another foster home. Samantha, the eldest, estimated that she had been in at least 10 foster homes, some with Abigail and Daniel, some split apart from them.

The result is that the three are working through issues that most adults can’t even begin to imagine.

However, before even meeting the kids, Lori and Nick were committed to adopting them, giving them a permanent, stable home.

“We believe that God gave them to us,” Lori said. “There was no plan B right from the start.  We trusted God to pick our three biological kids, and we trusted God to pick our adopted kids too.”

With patience, love and faith in God, Lori and Nick are seeing God begin to heal the siblings’ hearts from their feelings of abandonment and betrayal.  Their official adoption in July was an especially important part of the healing process.

Lori and Abigail hugging“They were very wounded,” Nick said. “You can take all the classes you want, but until you live it, you can’t imagine what it’s like.”

One of the most difficult problems the children are overcoming is their nightmares. Lori and Nick have relied on God to grant their children peaceful sleep. They even anointed the children’s beds, and have taught them to pray for Jesus to take away their nightmares before going to sleep.  Lori said the prayers have helped with their nightmares tremendously because they empower the children to ask Jesus for help, and not feel like victims and live in fear.

“For me, it was a miracle,” she said.

Prayer plays a huge role in the family’s life constantly, not just at bedtime. When the kids are having a bad day, Lori has a group of supporters she texts to ask for prayers.

The couple’s 17-year-old birth daughter, Lauren, and 22-year-old birth son, Will, have been another huge help in caring for their new siblings. Both have made sacrifices in order to spend time with them. Lauren sacrificed time with her friends or dates to watch them, and Will even decided to live at home instead of on his own so the three would get to know him.

However, there was still a need for another set of helping hands, especially so Lauren could a chance to enjoy her senior year of high school to its fullest, so Lori and Nick hired a nanny, Hannah, to help out.Senofsky Family portrait

“Hannah really saved our family dynamic,” Nick said.

Lori, Nick, Lauren, Will, Hannah and other family and friends have come together as a team to help the siblings, and they’ve shown dramatic improvement over the past year. They are doing better in school, their fears have lessened and their behavior continues to improve.

Along the way, Lori and Nick have grown spiritually.

“We’ve experienced God in a way we never had before,” Nick said. “All you can do is depend on God. My faith has really deepened.”

But more importantly, the kids “have a stable home, a lot of love and a better shot at a future,” he said.

July 31, 2014

Our Maryland girls are giving back to their community, and making some new friends along the way.

Six girls from the Crossroads Transitional Living Program have formed a partnership with Genesis Healthcare Center, a nursing facility in Baltimore.

On their first visit a few weeks ago, they socialized with the seniors and played games with them, and residents enjoyed their company so much that the girls were soon invited back.senior hands

For their second visit, they decided to put on a talent show for the residents. The girls, sang, played piano and read poems for the residents, but the highlight of the show was a line dance the girls did together. One 90-year-old woman was inspired to get out of her wheelchair to join in the dancing.

Melody Baker, program director for Crossroads, said the girls benefit from the interactions, too. She said the girls genuinely enjoy spending time with the residents, and are excited to spread smiles and laughter at the center.

“The girls get affirmation from the residents,” said Melody Baker, Crossroads program director. “The girls are very talented, and they love to perform, so it’s just a good fit.”

In their two visits, the girls have already started to bond with the seniors. The Genesis Activities Coordinator was so impressed with the joy they brought to the residents that she scheduled them for monthly visits.

“A lot of the residents are older, and don’t have family, and some of the girls don’t either so, it’s a great opportunity,” Baker said.

Baker said one of the life skills girls learn at Crossroads is to give back to their communities, and volunteering at Genesis is a perfect way to teach the girls about service. In the past, they’ve also volunteered at local soup kitchens and the humane society, but the partnership with Genesis marks their first ongoing project.

“A lot of times people do volunteer work around Christmas and Thanksgiving, but there are people in need all year round,” Baker said.

The Arrow Crossroads Community is a home for girls who are “aging out” of foster care to learn life skills for successful independent living. At Crossroads, they receive individualized assessments and training, therapeutic services and multidisciplinary treatment planning. Through progressive goal achievements, girls are able to earn the privilege of moving from a dorm-style setting to the less structured life of a cottage before leaving for independent life as adults.

May 24, 2014

Originally posted at showhope.org

GUEST POST: Why does God call people to adopt?

This might seem like a question with an obvious answer. But sometimes, stating the obvious is a good thing.

For us, the call to adopt was heard relatively late in life. In fact, it was about the time we’d decided we were done growing our family the biological way. Yes, we’d told God we were His, and surrendered our plans to Him, but no more kids, m’kay?

Adoption was not even on our radar.

Almost 10 years later, we have adopted 7 children from China. Our beautiful brood has grown from 4 to 11. The Lord has done a mighty big work in our little family.

But why? Why are some of us called to adopt?

When we accept Christ as our Savior, He calls us to join Him in His story of redemption. In fact, Jesus tells us to “Go…” For each of us that is a unique directive, and for some of us, that is adoption. And when God calls us to adopt, I can testify… He can use it to transform us in a big way.

5 Reasons God Calls Us To Adopt:

1. For the orphan. This might seem painfully obvious, but oh my, does the Lord do an amazing work in the life of a once-orphaned-but-now-beloved-child. And please don’t miss this: when we adopt, it’s God’s idea. It is God that’s going in – and He asks us to join Him. If we try to get into the driver’s seat, it can breed self-righteousness and back-patting. And God wants to use all things to draw us closer to Him, not elevate ourselves. The beautiful thing about being God’s assistant in this thing called adoption is that is you get go join in His work, get your hands dirty, see the way the Lord transforms and yet He holds up both ends. He begins the work – way before He invited you in – and He promises to finish it. And then He gets the real glory. There is nothing I have experienced in my 45 years that compares to witnessing a child bloom in a forever family. It’s a beautiful thing.

Continue Reading HERE

May 14, 2014

Originally posted on The Gospel Coalition Blog by Chelsea Patterson.

Apart from the gift of my salvation, earthly adoption is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I was an orphan—both physically and spiritually. My story began in Romania with a 19-year-old unwed girl who wasn’t able to take care of me. The Lord sovereignly chose adoption for me. I am blessed that a man and a woman from the United States made a decision that radically altered my life forever when they traveled across the world and chose me as their daughter.

I was rescued from a life void of love and care and freely given a new life beyond my wildest dreams. Adoption is immensely personal, because I was specifically chosen, sought out, bought, declared to have all the rights and privileges of being a member of a new family, and most importantly, loved beyond belief.

As I pause to meditate on my adoption from Romania, I cannot help but meditate on an even greater adoption.

Greater Adoption

Earthly adoption, while incredible, must be viewed as a representing God’s greater adoption. My adoption was a result of sin—the fallen nature of man and the specific sin of my birth parents. The greater adoption redeems from sin.

Whom did Jesus intentionally seek out while he was doing his earthly ministry? The sick, the outcast, the children, the sinners—those whom most Americans shy away from, those whom most Americans build their perfect little lives in order to avoid. We don’t want to “get dirty,” we don’t want to love until it hurts, and we don’t want to sacrifice. But that is what Christ has called us to do.

The Great Commission is beautifully and accurately displayed in adoption. God commands his followers to go into all the world making disciples. The Lord has called his church and his people to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. John Piper said it well when he taught, “The gospel is not a picture of adoption, adoption is a picture of the gospel.”

If the Lord chooses you for adoption, and you repent and trust in his finished work of Jesus on the cross to atone for your sins, you are adopted into his family. As a result, you receive the King of the universe as your Father, you are granted full access to come to him, and you are called his own.

Unconditional Love

God did not choose to adopt you because of anything you did, for we are completely undeserving of his great adoption. As a helpless baby in Romania, I could not do anything to prove that I was worthy of being adopted. I could not work my way into my earthly father’s heart. I could do nothing but accept and enjoy the gift of adoption. As God’s child, there is nothing you can do to make him love you more, for he has already given the greatest gift—his Son.

Delight in the greater adoption. Live as one who knows you have God as your Father. You were purchased by the precious blood of Jesus, redeemed from sin, and offered an eternal inheritance.

Every February, my family remembers my adoption day. We exchange flowers, hugs, tears, good memories, and love. Like other former orphans, I consider my adoption day a cause of great celebration. But how much greater and more worthy of celebration is our salvation and the greater adoption! Praise the Father that you are his own. Meditate on the implications of this great adoption for your life, the life of the body, and for those who don’t call God their father. Thank the Lord that he redeemed you, encourage your brothers and sisters with the truths of the greater adoption, and seek to share this redemption and love with those who aren’t yet God’s children.

Translate »