Coming home stories tend to spark feelings of joy and merriment, especially around the holidays. The soldier that makes it home just in time, the grandparents reunited with loved ones after dicey winter travel – whatever the situation, it’s hard not to have those heart strings tugged with such sweet tales. Now imagine the child who has no loving place to call home or the couple who would give anything to have a child of their own. The holidays may be especially emotional in these types of situations.
A new Saline County nonprofit is working to reverse that trend. Haven Refuge was established to foster children in need and match children with permanent homes when circumstances lend themselves to that happy ending. Land has been purchased in Alexander to build Haven Refuge homes for foster children.
The organization was started in January by Laura and Jeremy Postlethwait of Bryant, who have been married eight years and have had an open foster home since January 2013. Haven Refuge was incorporated as a nonprofit with the state of Arkansas in May. Jeremy is founder and president, and Laura serves as co-founder and vice president.
Jeremy has been working with children for nearly 10 years and by day also is a pressman at a local printing company. Laura grew up in the childcare industry, as her parents own American Martial Arts in Bryant. She is also a registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“My mom was always helping someone and never hesitated to bring someone home in need,” Laura said. “Helping others is just what we’re supposed to do.” Jeremy learned the value in helping others through his church background. The couple is now members of Indian Springs Baptist Church in Bryant.
As they established their married life, having three biological children between them, they began feeling the call to foster children. “Foster care is so overrun in the state,” Laura noted. “There are about 5,000 children in foster care and only 1,500 homes.”
The Postlethwaits have become known for having many children in their home at one time. Stephanie Emmerling recalls the first time she met her now-daughter, Kayden. “I thought she was another of Laura’s nieces,” Stephanie said. “She’s always had so many kids with them, be it foster, bio or family, so I didn’t know at that time that Kayden was a foster. When Laura told me she was a foster and was available for adoption, we jumped on the thought of adopting her and I called our adoption specialist and hers and here we are.”
Kayden just turned 7 in September. She was adopted by Stephanie and her husband, Bryan Emmerling, when she was 4.
Life with Kayden has been a fulfilling match, Stephanie said. The family has had its ups and downs, naturally, but overall Kayden is a “great kid,” her mother added. “She’s such a blessing and looks so much like us that people find it hard to believe she’s adopted. Kayden knows she’s adopted and she doesn’t mind telling her story when asked.”
Kayden is the Emmerlings’ only child, but the family is open for fostering and adoption. “We are currently praying for God to send us our next little love.”
The Postlethwaits currently are fostering three children. In all, they have fostered 21 children. Some of those times were just overnight, and 10 months was the longest stay so far, Laura said. The main reasons for children being placed in the foster system are drug use and neglect by parents, she noted.
“Typically, parents are given a year to year and a half to get rehabilitated,” Laura said. “Sometimes, they’re never rehabilitated and give up their parental rights. A lot of times, birth parents don’t have a lot of support and they need help breaking the cycle of neglect.”
Being a foster family has its challenges, Laura noted. The key to balancing the mix of family dynamics is to take breaks between placements. “Our biological children have to be on board. We give them breaks and make a point to give them individual time as well, because many of the children we take are 6 and younger, which can be very time-consuming.”
Helping foster children work through trauma is also a challenge, but it’s so rewarding when the kids make a positive shift in behavior, Laura added. “Seeing their progress makes it all worth it. For example, two kids we had just moved back with their moms. When they came to us, they did not look in your eyes and displayed no affection. When they left, they were laughing, giggling and carrying on like more normal kids.”
The biggest need for Haven Refuge so that it can fulfill its mission “to provide a safe home that gives Christ-inspired hope to foster children” is funding to begin construction of family-style homes on the 5.3-acre site in Alexander. The goal is to have at least eight homes with house “moms” and “dads” in their respective gender-specific homes. Laura noted they will being with one family-style home, concentrating on sibling groups.
The fundraising goal right now is $25,000. Haven Refuge has held some fundraisers with local partners and plans to host more. “Our minds are blown away with how quickly the organization has been established and the support we’re receiving from the community,” Laura said.
To keep up with the latest events and developments, follow Haven Refuge on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HavenRefuge.