There were superheroes on the field at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock Saturday – Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, some others. And then a lot of real ones.
The comic book characters – those were actors. The real ones were people like Bryan and Stephanie Emmerling, who are adopting their second daughter after fostering her for the past year-and-a-half.
The Emmerlings – he a FedEx delivery driver, she employed by a mortgage company – were among thousands participating in the Walk for the Waiting. The annual event raises money for three faith-based organizations serving children removed by the state from their biological families because of abuse, parental drug use or other reasons. The CALL works with churches to recruit foster and adoptive families. Project Zero connects potential adoptive families with children whose parents’ rights have been terminated. Immerse Arkansas primarily provides support to children who are aging out of the system without being adopted.
The Emmerlings, who live in North Little Rock, started the process of becoming adoptive parents after they attended their first informational meeting with The CALL on Valentine’s Day 2013. They earlier had learned they could not have children biologically.
They opened in September of that year, and by January their daughter, then age 4 and now named Kayden Grace, had moved into their home. When they moved into a new house, they realized they had an extra room and decided they needed to fill it, so they opened as a foster home on Sept. 13, 2016. Two days later, Kallie Rae, then age 4, moved in. It was her sixth placement since that April, and when she couldn’t return to her biological family, they decided to adopt her.
“They just need consistency and love, and that’s what we gave her. And she’s a completely different kid today than she was on Sept. 15 when we first met her,” Stephanie said.
Like Kayden, Kallie changed her name, and she picked it out. Actually, it’s her third since moving into the Emmerlings’ home.
“For six months, we called her by the wrong name because that’s what she told me her name was, and then when I got her birth certificate to register her for her school, I found out what her real name was,” Stephanie said. “And I asked her, ‘Why did you tell me this was your name instead of this?’ And she said, ‘Because that name makes my belly hurt.’”
Two other superheroes, third graders Addison Norman and Ross Martins, raised more than $15,000 selling cookies and lemonade in six weeks, making them the top individual fundraisers. The schoolmates at Little Rock’s Baptist Preparatory School decided to combine their efforts three years ago and have since raised $30,000. Addison’s family has adopted two children and has fostered 17, and currently is fostering a four-month-old.
As of Tuesday, this year’s Walk for the Waiting had raised about $234,000 to be shared between the three organizations, which certainly will put it to good use. Project Zero has helped 500 young people find a home. Immerse Arkansas served 45 young people last month. The CALL has recruited more than 1,800 foster and adoptive families – two-thirds of the families recruited traditionally in the last 10 or 11 years, according to its executive director, Lauri Currier. More than 900 children have been adopted by families originally recruited by The CALL. It’s about to launch a chapter in Miller County (Texarkana), it’s 46th county.
But there’s still much work to do. As of April 18, 4,729 young people were in foster care. Currier, herself a superhero, said half the children ages 6 and above are in group settings. Research shows children do better in a family, so about 1,800 more homes are needed. At the end of fiscal year 2017, 701 children were available for adoptions.
It is, as Currier pointed out, a “messy” ministry. There are many heartwarming stories, and many heartbreaking ones. Adoptive and foster families volunteer for challenging situations. Unlike Superman, they are not invulnerable.
But Superman isn’t coming to anyone’s rescue for a very good reason: He doesn’t exist. Thank goodness this isn’t really a job for Superman. Thousands of children just need real people – FedEx drivers and mortgage company employees whose only superpowers are extra beds in their homes and lots of room in their hearts.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.