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Local Non-Profit Makes Saving Children, Families Its Mission

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Andy Cook (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

Promise686 is a volunteer organization dedicated to providing pathways for churches to help children and families engaged in the child welfare system.

In the United States there are more than 400,000 children in foster care, according to a report from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The same agency reported that in 2019, parental rights were terminated 71,300 times in the U.S., effectively ensuring that they will not return home to their biological parents.

Looking upstream, there are around 650,000 investigated and confirmed cases of abuse and neglect in the nation. Here in Georgia, there are approximately 12,000 children in foster care, according to the state Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS).

The national child advocacy organization, the Children’s Defense Fund, estimates that in the United States a child is removed from their home and enters foster care every two minutes.

To put it plainly, this is a big problem.

The child welfare system of the United States is under serious strain and organizations such as the DFCS are facing unprecedented challenges in helping children. Luckily, they aren’t doing it alone. Enter Promise686, a volunteer organization dedicated to providing pathways for churches to help children and families engaged in the child welfare system.

“To the degree that we can enter the story, and our work is to call churches to enter the story sooner, then their journey doesn’t start,” explained Andy Cook, president and CEO of Promise686. “The truth is that in spite of so many well-meaning and wonderful people trying to help in the child welfare system, the longer a child is in that system the worse their outcomes are.”

Cook found himself at the helm of this organization by way of his own personal journey of adoption. Cook and his wife Martha adopted two Ethiopian children in 2008. In the years since they added a third biological child and most recently adopted a set of five siblings from right here in Georgia. Today, Andy and Martha are parents to 10 children that range from age 8 to age 22.

At the time of their initial foray into adoption, Cook was working in administration and teaching at Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners. He was on the cusp of a drastic career change and was preparing to take the LSAT before pursuing work as a lawyer.

“It was all driven out of a heart that wanted to see justice alive, specifically for kids,” said Cook. Eventually, after discussions with his wife, he realized that what he wanted to do was bigger than 40 hours a week: it was an integration of these values into his daily life.

Birth of a ministry

At the onset of this process and daunted by the logistical and financial implications of adoption, the Cooks learned of and applied for an adoption fund organized by their church, Perimeter Church. Though they began the process with “$15 and a prayer,” by the time 13 months had passed the Cooks had managed to raise $40,000 with the help of the church, fundraisers and garage sales.

After their successful adoption in Ethiopia, the leaders of Perimeter Church approached Cook and asked if he would consider spearheading a ministry to help other prospective adoptive and foster parents in the community. That initial ministry is what would later grow to become Promise686.

“The simple objective for Promise686 is to plant ministries in local churches that will care for kids. That’s the idea,” said Cook. “If we can raise up leaders in churches who will become conduits to care for children in their community, that’s a win. We want to make the idea of a FAM — a Family Advocacy Ministry — an element of every church’s DNA.”

Citing a specific verse from The Bible, James 1:27, which states that pure religion is tied to caring for widows and orphans in their distress, Cook spoke of the unique connection between the church and children in the community. He has always been interested in the relationship of church and the government, noting that they are often at odds. One area where they can do great things, however, is in the service of children in need. In working with DFCS and case workers, Promise686 can identify and provide support to families and children in various stages of government intervention.

“There are really three strategic roles for this ministry. One is that we would prevent children from coming into foster care by serving their biological families really well. Two, we would intervene if and when children do come into care by raising up new foster families and wrapping around these families for the longevity of their placement. The third is to connect children and families for everyone. Prevent, intervene and connect.”

Above and beyond providing financial assistance, the Family Advocacy Ministries (FAMs) arranged by Prom-ise686 are educated in methods to cultivate a community which provides new adoptive and foster families with support. That support can look like meal calendars, donations of furniture and clothing, coordination of transportation or babysitting. Sometimes these placements can come about in 24 hours or less, and in those cases a local mobilized community effort can make all the difference for these families.

“The church really is a conduit for the care of local children. If you saw it as a business model, our primary clients would be those churches because they have the infrastructure as institutions to do amazing work. They have a mobilized and ready group of people who have a scriptural backing for why they want to move in this,” explained Cook.

While Cook’s personal journey has been that of an adoptive parent, something which has greatly enriched his life, he also acknowledges that simply entering the welfare system can be devastating for children. That’s why one crucial element of Promise686’s work is to effectively interrupt the process before children are removed from their homes.

Foster care is kind of ground zero in a way for many of the societal problems we talk about.

ANDY COOK

Myriad factors lead to neglect

One common misconception about children who enter the child welfare system which Cook hopes to dispel is that the majority of removals are due to abuse. In actuality, children exit their family homes due to neglect about 80% of the time.

Breaking that figure down even further, neglect can be purposeful but is also often due to poverty, mental illness, addiction or other factors that prevent parents from being able to provide for their children even though they want to. In a practical sense, this can mean a community rallying to gather furniture and clothing necessary to provide adequate care for a child whose parents can afford housing but not furnishings.

Though much of the help that the FAMs engaged by Promise686 provide is financial or logistical, Cook emphasized that it is often a feeling of support and community that makes the biggest difference for parents. “At the end of the day more important than the meal that is brought is the person’s presence at the door. The sense of not being in isolation during this journey, that is big,” he said.

The gravity of the situation for children and caregivers engaged in the child welfare system can’t be overstated. Conditions within the foster care system produce symptoms of PTSD on par with those of combat veterans. Statistically speaking, children who age out of the foster care system without being adopted are far more likely to suffer from addiction and depression, and enter the prison system as adults.

“Foster care is kind of ground zero in a way for many of the societal problems we talk about,” said Cook.

Promise686 is headquartered in a century-old farmhouse on Holcomb Bridge Road. With a staff of only 17 employees and an annual budget of $3,000,000 for 2022, the organization has managed to expand its reach beyond Gwinnett County and across the nation. It currently works with 1,017 churches in 25 states, and in a given year it serves around 7,000 children through its ministry.

In the next two years Promise686 hopes to expand to meet the needs of 10,000 children. It will also be relocating to a new building with amenities that will better suit its needs.

Cook and the team at Promise686 hope to build an infrastructure that can eradicate obstructions that prevent prospective parents from choosing adoption and foster care. They seek to educate and deputize churches and their congregations at a local level to provide immediate and lasting support to families and children.

Beneficiaries of their services can be members of those churches or simply part of the communities around them. Additionally, preventing the removal of children from their biological families adds an element of protection that can intercept trauma and negative outcomes before they ever occur.

Cook spoke of the challenges prospective parents face when choosing adoption or foster care. “I see this space as a zero-entry pool, and yeah there’s a deep end. We have made the mistake in our country of identifying potential adoptive parents and putting them in that deep end of the pool and saying, ‘Oh and while you’re treading water can you hold this child and care for it?’ We have lost parents really quickly and that has really hurt children. The attrition rate of foster parents in America is about 50%, but when a team from a local church wraps around them, the retention rate goes up to 90%.”

While the systemic problems Promise686 tackles daily are huge and often overwhelming, to the children touched by their efforts it can mean the world.

“It’s amazing what our community can do in rallying around families who are the first line of defense for a child,” Cook said. “The dream for our organization is that we would continue to grow and serve more children, and the hope is that we would be super strong in Gwinnett County and Peachtree Corners.”

Those interested in learning more and getting involved can visit promise686.org/fams or sign up for the upcoming Promise Race, a mission-focused, experiential 5K in Johns Creek on April 23. More information and registration can be found online at promise686.org/race

Isadora is a writer, photographer, and designer living in Avondale Estates, GA. She has worked in print for the past decade and has been published in the Atlanta INtown, Oz Magazine, Atlanta Senior Life, and the Reporter Newspapers.

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Doing Good

Water at Work Ministry Partners with House of Light Orphanage

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Water at Work Ministry, an Atlanta-based charitable organization is proud to announce its partnership with House of Light Orphanage.
This is Pastor Lucas who opened the house of light orphanage in 2006 with the goal to care for his own child with disabilities and others who could not receive care elsewhere. Pictured with his is Water at Work’s Executive Director Dan Blevins (a Peachtree Corners resident).

Water at Work Ministry, an Atlanta-based charitable organization dedicated to providing clean water solutions to communities in the Dominican Republic, is proud to announce its partnership with House of Light Orphanage, a haven of care and education to 40 orphans with disabilities.

Together, these faith-based organizations are inaugurating a sustainable water production business to ensure access to safe water for the orphanage residents and the surrounding communities in Ciudad Juan Bosch.

This business will help sustain House of Light’s mission to provide nurture and education to children, many of whom have experienced physical and cognitive challenges since birth and abandonment by their families. 

A dedication and grand opening ceremony for the water plant was held on Tuesday, May 14, with representatives attending from Water at Work Ministries, Rotary International, Be an Angel Foundation, the local Bella Vista Rotary Club, House of Light Orphanage and the local community.  

With the opening of Water at Work’s new sustainable water plant, the House of Light Orphanage will have a consistent and reliable source of clean water to meet the needs of the orphans and the surrounding community, ensuring access to water that is safe for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.

The plant has a production capacity of 5,500 gallons per day, and is designed to be a sustainable business that will generate revenue through water sales. Clean water will be produced and affordably sold in five-gallon bottles in the surrounding communities.

Profits generated by the water business will defray the orphanage’s expenses, thereby contributing to its continued viability and moving it toward financial independence. 

This project is just one more example of how this Atlanta-based nonprofit organization is working to empower and elevate local economies in the Dominican Republic.

Over the past decade, Water at Work has established eight fully-functioning water plant businesses across the DR. Each partners with local churches with the goal of meeting people’s physical needs through water and their spiritual needs through the Living Water of Jesus. 

While many people think of the DR’s pristine beaches and resorts, locals know that poverty is rampant in many parts of the country and countless people have limited access to basic needs, including clean water. With the ongoing crisis in neighboring Haiti, ministries like Water at Work are more needed now than ever before. 

“The partnership between House of Light Orphanage and Water at Work represents a significant step forward in addressing the critical need for clean water in underserved communities,” says Water at Work Executive Director, Dan Blevins, resident of Peachtree Corners. 

“By leveraging sustainable technology and innovative solutions, both organizations will make a tangible, life-giving difference,” he added. 

Water at Work Ministry 
Email: audrie@wateratworkministry.org 
Phone: 404-465-1447

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Community

Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need

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Grandfather's bedroom before and after // photos courtesy of Rooted Interiors

Rooted Interiors, a new non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through design, has announced the completion of its largest transformation project to date.

With a commitment to providing complete interiors to individuals and families emerging from homelessness, Rooted Interiors continues to make a profound impact on communities, one home at a time.

The latest project marks a significant milestone for Rooted Interiors as it demonstrates the organization’s unwavering dedication to creating havens where families can plant roots and thrive.

Through meticulous planning, collaboration and the support of generous donors and volunteers, Rooted Interiors has successfully transformed a once hopeless space into a warm and welcoming home for a deserving family.

At the heart of this project is a single mother, accompanied by her two children and her father, who found themselves in dire circumstances after the mother fled from an abusive partner, forcing them to seek refuge at the Family Promise shelter in Athens, Ga.

Upon securing a new home, however, their relief was short-lived as they found themselves in a space devoid of warmth and lacking the essentials of a home.

With no furniture besides a dining room table, no washer and dryer and a malfunctioning fridge, their daily struggles persisted for three long months.

But Rooted Interiors didn’t just redesign the family’s space, they filled it with love and hope.

Through this project, the organization transformed the family’s house into a sanctuary, addressing not only their physical needs but also their emotional well-being. From carefully selected furniture to thoughtful décor choices, every detail was curated to create a space that felt like home.

“We are thrilled to unveil our latest project, which represents our continued commitment to serving those in need,” said Kristina McCalla, Founder and Executive Director of Rooted Interiors.

“Our Rooted in Renewal Program not only revitalizes physical spaces but also renews hope and stability for the family who calls this house their home,” she added.

Rooted Interiors offers a lifeline to families in need, empowering them to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence.

“This journey is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing interiors; it’s about using the language of design to uplift and restore,” said Kristina McCalla, also Lead Interior Designer at Rooted Interiors.

“Rooted in faith and love, each project is a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a place that reflects their humanity and worth. By providing a thoughtfully designed and fully furnished home, we aim to empower families to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence,” she explained.

As Rooted Interiors continues its mission to fully furnish homes for those emerging from homelessness, this project serves as a testament to the organization’s impact and the generosity of its supporters.

Through ongoing partnerships and community engagement, the organization remains committed to building brighter futures for individuals and families in need. For more information about Rooted Interiors and how you can support their mission, visit rootedinteriors.org.

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Doing Good

Local Non-profit Boy With a Ball Announces Dates for Upcoming Conference

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The Love Your City Conference brings together changemakers and champions from local organizations for an opportunity to grow and learn.
via boywithaball.com

Boy With a Ball has announced that its annual Love Your City Conference will take place May 30, 2024, through June 1.

The Love Your City Conference brings together changemakers and champions from local organizations, the marketplace, missional churches and philanthropy. It’s an opportunity to build friendships with today’s leaders sitting beside you.

The conference will have several main sessions featuring historic leaders and insightful, fresh voices, as well as lively workshops, emerging communities of practice, meals as a group and practical equipping tools.

The weekend culminates with the opportunity to go out and experience Love Your City together in a local community.

Joining the conference are many special guests, including:

  • Tyler Prieb, a missiologist, pastor, and entrepreneur based in NYC,
  • Jerry White, Navigators’ International President Emeritus and
  • Andrew Peterson, an author, founder and the conference’s musical guest.

Click here for more conference details.

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