“It was 5 pm Friday May 12, 2012 when two boys showed up on my driveway. And I became their dad from minute one. But 7 months later, they left our house because a judge decided that a grandma who was previously not an option was now an option. It was heartbreaking.”
For Adrien Lewis and his wife Cynthia, this was their first experience of foster care, and it was the kind of tragic ending that all adoptive parents fear. But it was not the end of the journey God had called them to. In the midst of their grief, they helped the grandmother get set up to care for the two energetic boys. Then they continued to open their heart and home to foster children until eventually they met the three boys who would permanently join their family.
Overnight, the Lewis family grew from three kids to six and they couldn’t be happier about it. “Our lives have been transformed inside and out,” Adrien says. “We know what love is now like we couldn’t have known any other way.”
Caring for Real Needs
The story that started in their home has turned into a passion to help people all over the country care for the most vulnerable children in their midst. Today, Adrien is the Chief Innovation Officer of CarePortal–a platform of the Global Orphan Project.
CarePortal connects agencies with local churches, activating a volunteer network to meet the practical needs of children and families in crisis. CarePortal’s innovative website makes it easy for churches and individuals to respond in real time to needs uncovered by child welfare workers.
“CarePortal is the connecting technology that drives action”
Since CarePortal was established in 2015, over 160,000 kids have been served–an estimated $53 million in economic impact.
CarePortal is one of the many resources available to ĒMA advocates as they provide the full spectrum of support to moms. For many who come through our doors, family separation is a real possibility. But the ĒMA program focuses on prevention and strengthening families so children don’t need to be placed in foster care.
Navigating a Broken System
Adrien knows firsthand how complex the child welfare system truly is, both from his experiences inside it and as someone outside the system trying to bring help. “If you expect it to be simple, you’re going to continue to be frustrated,” he says.
It may not be possible to change the system, but we can adjust our perspective and adopt values that help us navigate it.
Proximity is key
People have to be in a position to meet real, practical needs. The most requested items on CarePortal include beds, dressers, living room furniture, and car seats. These resources help stabilize the home environment for children and their caregivers. But they can also mean so much more. “When mom gets that crib, mom is getting some hope,” Adrien says.
Proximity is also the heart of the ĒMA Advocates program, which connects every mom to an advocate who journeys with them for ten weeks. The power of this personal relationship cannot be overestimated.
Empathy is essential
This is an important reminder for anyone on the frontlines of child welfare. Case workers can often be a convenient target for anger or frustration, but at the end of the day they are in their role because they want to help.
“For most people in child welfare, they feel a calling,” Adrien says. “They want to make a difference in the lives of hurting people. Unfortunately, the system has a mind of its own.”
Empathy is also needed for families in crisis. “The majority of kids in foster care do not land there because they have horrible, abusive parents,” Adrien says, admitting this was his own misconception at first. “The truth is, the majority of kids are there because of neglect due to poverty.”
Adjusting the narrative and reminding yourself that every person involved has value in the eyes of Christ can help increase empathy.
Hope is being built
It can be frustrating to live with your eyes wide open to the grim realities of the child welfare system. Living in genuine empathy can be emotionally draining too. But we shouldn’t give up.
Amazing things are happening as the church rises up to partner in caring for the vulnerable. CarePortal is proof of that. It is one bridge connecting people who care to those with real, urgent needs.
“When I lose hope and start to feel like it’s not worth it, I need to get re-grounded in what God thinks,” Adrien says. “My efforts and actions to love my neighbor matter for eternity, even if they don’t change the outcome of that person’s life today or ever. It still matters. What you’re doing matters.”
We are seeing hope built and nurtured at ĒMA too. Every step we take with a mom is one step towards building trust, making different decisions, and ultimately changing a family’s story.
This article adapted from a video interview of Adrien Lewis and Charlee Tchividjian. Watch the video here.