God sets the lonely in families…Psalm 68:6
As a nonprofit, faith-based organization with a heart for vulnerable children, Promise686 is dedicated to serving as the “hands and feet” of Christ, with a vision to live out the promise God makes to his children in Psalm 68:6 — to remember the lonely and to fulfill their deep desires to belong and connect as family. Ultimately, its hope is to see every child grow up in a safe, loving, forever family.
A movement born in Johns Creek, Georgia, Promise686 launched at Perimeter Church in 2007. Initially, the group’s primary focus was to raise awareness about adoption and to break down the financial barrier countless adoptive families face — including many in their own congregation at that time — by providing them with grants to help cover the tremendous costs of the adoption process. As their efforts grew, the organization earned its official 501(c)3 status and began offering grants to families outside the walls of its own church. As expansion came for the ministry, so did a realization for its directors and volunteers: It was time to reach beyond adoption grants and into foster care.
According to figures released by Promise686, more than 140 million children are considered orphans worldwide, with 400,000 of those living in the United States. Each year, more than 250,000 children enter the U.S. child welfare system, and more than 23,000 age out of foster care.
The foster care system itself is notorious for conditions that often feed into an unrelenting, unending cycle in which kids face family breakdown, placement in an unfamiliar home, and disruption in every facet of their young lives. Too often, this is followed by yet more disruption, leaving many children to age out of foster care without a lasting sense of family, which can have a devastating impact on their futures.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
- HUMAN TRAFFICKING: 70% of human trafficking victims in the U.S. spent time in foster care.
- INCARCERATION: In several states, 65% of inmates aged out of foster care.
- HOMELESSNESS: There are currently 2 million 18- to 24-year-olds living homeless in the U.S., many of whom spent time in foster care.
- PREGNANCY WITHIN A YEAR: 71% of young women become pregnant within one year of aging out of foster care.
—Information provided by Promise686
Still, when the state finds it necessary to intervene, Promise686 believes that is also the time for the church to intervene. While there are 400,000 children in foster care, there are more than 300,000 churches across America, each with many families who could make a difference in the lives of those children.
With a mission to mobilize church communities to care for vulnerable children, Promise686 began partnering with private agencies to bring awareness to the needs of those in Georgia’s foster care system, which soon cultivated a relationship with the Division of Family & Children Services. As the organization worked to equip the congregations of churches across Georgia to care for local foster families, its strategy became threefold: prevention, intervention, connection.
- Help prevent children from going into foster care by supporting biological families in crisis.
- Intervene when a child does go into foster care by recruiting and caring for local foster families.
- Connect children and families by providing adoption resources.
In order to meet those goals, Promise686 developed a model called the Family Advocacy Ministry, or FAM, which guides churches to successfully put this grassroots plan into action to meet specific needs in their own communities.
There’s no denying that fostering is not easy. According to statistics provided by Promise686, the national average of families who quit fostering within their first year is about 50%. To be a foster parent is an emotional commitment that requires time, money and sensitivity — and without support, that role can feel nearly impossible.
That’s where FAMs come in. In fact, when supported by a Promise686 FAM and its community, 90% of families continue fostering into a second year. Currently, 281 churches in Georgia are part of the Promise686 FAMs network, though its reach extends across 34 states, serving more than 1,300 churches nationwide.
In early 2023, Promise686 set its sights on coastal Georgia, led by Area Director Lisa McCaslin and FAM Specialist Caroline Johnson. After first establishing the program in Chatham in March, where 16 churches have since partnered, Promise686 launched in Bulloch County on September 26. Since then, at least 10 local churches have signed up to establish FAMs in their own congregations.
THE ROLE OF FAMILY ADVOCACY MINISTRIES (FAMs)
- Recruit and equip families to care for at-risk kids
- Serve foster and adoptive families, and biological families in crisis
- Advocate on behalf of families and vulnerable children
- Minister to families and meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs
—Information provided by Promise686
"So many churches want to help, but they just don't know how to help," said Johnson, who works closely with churches as she walks them through the process of planting and then growing their FAMs. "Obviously, this is a big ask of churches, to start a ministry, (so) we have a ton of resources — we basically give them a plug-and-play model of how to do this. Our role is to coach and equip churches to do this, so it's not something else the pastor is taking on, or the children's pastor — we're looking for a lay leader in the church to oversee this."
Once established, these church FAMs often create volunteer-led Care Communities, which offer both prayer and tangible support to adoptive and foster families by delivering meals, doing laundry, mentoring kids, providing transportation or childcare, even accompanying them to court.
FAMs also have access to the Promise686 CarePortal, an online platform that allows local representatives of government welfare agencies and certain charitable organizations to input the physical needs of families in crisis. In Bulloch, the growing list of agencies with access include the Department of Family and Child Services, as well as Foundation Resources Center and Choices of the Heart pregnancy resource center, where Johnson is a former case worker. These agencies are responsible for fully vetting the need before entering it into the system, which then alerts participating churches within a certain radius, who can claim and then fill that need.
"They get to respond and say, 'Yeah, I can get that crib' (for example), and then the church members actually get to deliver it to the family in need as a point of connection to build a relationship, invite them to church, whatever it may be," Johnson said. "It's meeting a physical need, but it's also meeting that relational need."
Through this, the network is able to provide both preventative support for struggling, at-risk families before the state deems foster care a necessity, as well as support for families who are welcoming children into their homes after foster care becomes necessary.
"It's really a connection of resources," she said. "It's bringing that need into proximity of the churches so that the churches can be in proximity of those people."
One of the first of these local needs was filled by members of Southbridge Community Church, who purchased and delivered a stove for a grandmother who had taken in three granddaughters. At the home, where they met with and prayed with the woman and her family, volunteers learned that she was also in need of a bed. A few weeks later, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church provided her with a queen bed frame and mattress, and Trinity Presbyterian Church purchased pillows and sheets.
"Providing safe sleep is a huge thing, for both adults and children," Johnson said, noting that beds, bed frames and Pack 'n Play portable sleepers for kids have been among the most commonly requested items. In fact, for a child at risk of being placed into foster care because he or she lacks a proper place to sleep at home, a simple twin bed can make all the difference.
In another recent case, New Hope Hubert United Methodist Church members provided baby bottles for a family and covered a portion of their rent.
“It can be something as simple as a security deposit for an apartment,” she said. “So many of our kids and families are just living with circumstances and situations (in which) they just got a bad hand, and they can't control that. I think anyone who has ever lost a job, or gotten COVID, or received a cancer diagnosis or any kind of difficult diagnosis can understand that. They may not have been one paycheck away from it, but a lot of families are.”
While the needs vary, all are thoroughly evaluated and approved by the agencies before being entered into the portal, and all donations, which are 100% tax deductible, go directly toward filling them.
“Even if it is a need to pay rent or a power bill, we're never giving that money directly to the person in need; we're paying it to the provider. We're calling Georgia Power and making a payment or dropping off a check,” Johnson said. “We do want to be careful that we're not enabling anyone and that we're actually helping the situation.”
Since beginning Promise686’s mission in Region 12 — which includes Chatham, Bulloch, Bryan, Effingham, Liberty and Long counties — in March 2023, 90 requests had been entered into the CarePortal as of mid-November, and 70 of them — nearly 80% — had been met. According to Johnson, 153 area children have been served through these efforts, with $97,270 in total economic impact, a figure that takes into account not only the approximate value of the donations but also the costs saved by keeping families united and children out of foster care.
The church-and-state partnership between the faith-based organization and government agencies including the Bulloch County DFCS office and its director, Victoria Horton, is key to the program’s success, and Johnson praises Horton and her staff for the incredibly difficult work they do to provide services, resources and aid to local families at risk. Still, she says, the ultimate goal is for these families to have so much support that DFCS intervention is no longer needed.“We appreciate what they do, because what they do is so hard. We have a lot of initiatives to give back to our DFCS workers — but also we would love to put them out of a job,” she said with a smile. “I'd also love to be out of a job.”
HELP THE MISSION
- GIVE: Visit promise686.org/donate for ways to give.
- SERVE: Go to promise686.org/FAMs for information on starting a Family Advocacy Ministry at your church to care for kids in Bulloch County, or contact Caroline Johnson directly.
- CONTACT: Caroline Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org | (706) 816-7208
- FOLLOW: Promise686 Coastal Georgia on Facebook | Instagram