Mary Carol Pederson Fosters Hope for Arkansas Children
Family means everything to Mary Carol Pederson. Her days are consumed with thinking about children, mothers and fathers—healthy, happy families. She is not only considering the well-being and happiness of her own children, but thousands of others through her life’s work with The CALL. The CALL, a non-profit organization aimed at recruiting and training Christian families to foster children, started its official work in 2007 in Pulaski County. The passion behind the mission began long before that though. The CALL’s Co-Founder and Pulaski County Coordinator Mary Carol Pederson and her husband of 18 years, KATV’s Jason Pederson, foster parented a young boy named JB, to whom they lovingly refer as their “bonus son.” They credit that experience with inspiring them and enlightening them to the true crisis shortage of foster parents. The Pedersons have two biological children, Spencer, 14, and Shelby, 12. Mary Carol’s passion for her own children and family has a positive lasting impact on hosts of others.
Mary Carol shares her heartfelt story about the work of The CALL. She says, “We are not all called to foster or adopt, but we can all do something to help children locally in foster care. What will you do? And if not you, who will?”
Little Rock Family: How has being a foster parent impacted you?
MCP: We became certified as foster parents to help care for JB. Having him in our home was a life changing experience. The biggest challenge was just that initial step to trust that whatever happened, God was in the middle of it. Fear of the unknown is the biggest enemy to people becoming foster parents. There were so many huge blessings for us in the experience…to get the feeling that we were partnering with God to show His unconditional love to JB.
LRF: What were some of the challenges of starting The CALL?
MCP: Several people came forward to ultimately make The CALL possible. I remember in the early days, we would show up to plan, and we would smile and look at one another because it was as if all we had to do was show up, and God in His grace was providing all that was needed. However, there were moments in the beginning when I would feel alone, and that I was the only one that was obsessed with making this movement huge, but it wasn’t true. I was never alone, there were always others working toward this.
LRF: What are some of the rewards of your work?
MCP: The favorite part of my work is hearing how families are helping children to heal; how foster families are supporting reunification with birth families and mentoring those biological moms as they regain custody of their children; seeing teenagers being adopted. I could go on and on. The biggest reward to me is that over 1,000 children in the Arkansas foster system have now been welcomed into Christian families because of the work of The CALL.
LRF: How has this work impacted you as a person?
MCP: I call this work “my obsession named The CALL.” This work is demanding. My husband is a great teammate in this. As a mother, it has made me realize how blessed I was to have parents who loved me, provided a stable, nurturing, and loving home, and were there for me. It helps me realize how blessed my children are too.
LRF: Describe how The CALL works.
MCP: In cooperation with the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services, The CALL recruits, trains, and facilitates support for Christian foster and adoptive families. Our focus is to make the certification process more user-friendly through the use of volunteers and staff. We hold Informational Meetings in area churches, and use volunteer trainers to hold the state-required training in a convenient two-weekend format. We shepherd families through the paperwork process, and connect them with others from their church family for support. Plus, in Pulaski County, The CALL has 3 “CALL Malls” run by volunteers that provide free, consignment-quality clothing to area foster parents, and two monthly support groups for foster and adoptive parents.
So many people say, “Oh, I could never foster a child because I couldn’t let them go.” If you feel that way then you are a perfect person to foster because that means that you love children with all your heart. Foster care is not about us. It is about meeting the desperate needs of children in our community, and that involves sacrifice. However, as I have talked with family after family, the blessings that come from loving these children and seeing them blossom in your home far outweigh the sacrifices. Also, in these economic times, people believe that they can’t afford to care for an additional person in their home. However, DCFS provides a reimbursement stipend monthly ranging between $410 and $500. The children are covered by Medicaid, as well as additional help that is available.
In Pulaski County, there are 500 children right now in the foster system, and with only 190 available foster families to care for them. Statewide, there are 4,000 children in the foster system, and only about 1,000 families to care for them. As a result, children are being placed in emergency shelters, sibling groups are being split apart, and children are being shifted from home to home with no stability.
The CALL’s model has been highlighted multiple times on Capitol Hill. We have consulted with many states because of the effectiveness of our program in raising up foster and adoptive families primarily through the use of volunteers in cooperation with DCFS.
LRF: What ways can someone support your work?
MCP: If someone has ever considered becoming a foster parent, I think that is probably a God-given prompting. It’s so countercultural to take a leap of faith, to sacrifice our own comfort and control in order to help a child or teen who desperately needs a family to take them in.
As far as serving in other ways, people can serve as adoptive parents of children who have had parental rights terminated and are waiting for a family. Or, people can volunteer as a mentor or sponsor of older youth in the foster system that need someone in their corner watching out for them. People can serve as volunteer drivers to help transport children to and from school, to and from supervised visits with birth parents, and then be reimbursed for mileage. People can serve as a support person for an existing foster family—helping with babysitting, meals, transportation, etc. People can help The CALL recruit more churches to raise awareness about the need for families for these children. They can also volunteer with The CALL as church liaisons/reps, trainers, office aides at DHS, encouragers to families going through the process toward certification, provide baby items and clothing, become trained to be a CASA courtroom advocate for a child or sibling group in the foster care system, and be a mouthpiece to help raise awareness about the need for families in their circle of influence. We also need more people to help financially.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about fostering, adopting, or volunteering, The CALL holds monthly informational meetings on the third Monday of each month. In November, our CALL Info Meeting will be 6:30-9 p.m. Monday, November 18 at Grace Lutheran Church, 5127 Hillcrest Avenue, Little Rock.
One key fundraiser for us is the Walk for the Waiting which will take place April 26, 2014 at War Memorial Stadium.
For additional information on the statewide efforts or how to get involved with The CALL, go to TheCallInArkansas.org or call Executive Director Lauri Currier at 823-0607.