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Connecting the Dots
One Oklahoma foster care ministry is bringing together the state government and the local church through a unique online careportal, meeting the needs of families across the state.
What do a washing machine, a car seat and a paid utility bill have in common? All of these are requests churches regularly fulfill through 111Project’s online CarePortal. The idea behind the nonprofit’s name is simple: one church, one family, one purpose, all working together to mobilize the church so that every child has a family.
“We have children waiting in offices and shelters, separated from their siblings, because we do not have enough foster and adoptive homes in every community,” says Chris Campbell, executive director of 111Project. “If one church would recruit one foster family every year, it would end the child welfare crisis. We’re never going to end sin or the cycle of broken families. But our hope is that we could have families waiting on children instead of children waiting on families.”
Launched in Oklahoma in 2016, CarePortal is an online tool used by 111Project to bridge the gap between resources and opportunities by equipping local churches to engage directly with the issue of foster care. Churches can view requests that have been vetted by Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) case workers and sign up to meet needs ranging from $50 for a bus pass to a set of bunk beds or a new refrigerator.
These needs haven’t always been met, however. 2011 and 2012 marked the highest numbers of children in the OKDHS foster care system to date, with almost 12,000 children in care. These children were waiting on families — their own or others — due to issues with their primary caregivers including neglect, socioeconomic turmoil, addiction, mental health disorders and abuse.
Overwhelmed by need, Oklahoma’s child welfare system was in crisis. This was the genesis of 111Project. A group of OKDHS workers came together with members of local churches to find a solution that multiplied faith engagement across the state.
Campbell sees the work of 111Project as an opportunity to fulfill the biblical obligation to serve broken families and follow after God’s own heart, as demonstrated in passages such as James 1:27, Matthew 25:35-40 and Psalm 68:5-6.
“The whole foster care movement gives us an opportunity to put our faith into practice,” Campbell explains. “It’s a great unifier of the church and the community, because kids in need are a rallying point to help people belong and make a difference before they follow Jesus.”
Over the past six years, 111Project has helped OKDHS bring the current number of children in the foster care system down to about 6,600 — almost half of what it was 10 years ago — and CarePortal played a major role in the shift.
Cecil Boydston, bivocational pastor of Union Valley Baptist Church in Cookietown, Oklahoma, and a district director for OKDHS, has led his church to partner with 111Project through CarePortal since its inception. With over two decades of experience at OKDHS, Boydston helped open Stephens County as the first in Oklahoma to use CarePortal.
“The impact on families is one of the best things I’ve seen in the 24 years I’ve worked for the state,” Boydston says. “We’ve met a lot of needs that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Campbell is refreshed by the progress the state has made over the past few years, in large part due to partnership with churches.
“I hold my breath every month, worried that the progress we’ve made will go backwards,” he says. “But we have this moment to take a very tangible thing and showcase the church and how the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring light to something that everyone else would consider to be too dark.”
Many Oklahoma Baptist churches are leading the way in involvement. Kevin Bell, For Ada Director at First Baptist Church, Ada, says congregations have met more than 30 of the 42 needs requested in Pontotoc County since CarePortal opened there in 2021.
“We have a bad habit of doing things inside the church, but CarePortal gives us an opportunity to get out of the church building and reach people,” Bell says.
Manita Forney serves as the Tulsa Church Ambassador with 111Project, and she’s passionate about connecting churches to CarePortal because she’s seen its impact in her own church, New Joy Fellowship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
New Joy Fellowship is a smaller ministry that connected with another nearby congregation, Eastwood Baptist Church, through a North American Mission Board project with Send Relief called “Serve Tour.” Area churches made it a goal to fulfill all the requests in CarePortal at that time.
“We coordinated and worked with any church that wanted to be a part of it,” Forney says. “Since that project, we’ve been doing something together every week. Eastwood is predominantly white and New Joy is predominantly African American. But ministry is not Black or white. It’s about coming together so those who are hurting know that Jesus sees them and loves them.”
Brady Sharp, 111Project’s southwest regional manager, says he loves his role of linking churches and leaders to the ecosystem of foster care.
“111Project connects the dots for churches, agencies and families, while CarePortal serves as the vehicle to fulfill the mission,” he says.
Sharp’s family takes this mission personally and met a request that required sacrifice on the part of his two young sons. They had inherited a dresser from their great-grandfather who had recently died. Soon after, Sharp saw a new request appear on CarePortal: a grandfather had taken in his grandson and needed furniture for the boy’s room.
“My sons were pretty attached to it,” Sharp says. “But the opportunity to help someone moved them, so we loaded up the dresser and delivered it. There are small things we can do — like giving up a piece of furniture with sentimental value — to meet a real need. It’s made a huge impact on my own family to be a part of something that’s bigger than us with stuff that’s expendable.”
These examples are only a glimpse of the partnerships and relational opportunities 111Project has created in communities across Oklahoma.
“It’s an exciting time to see the stories and engagement of the local church,” Campbell says. “Southern Baptists are sitting in that front row of engagement and it makes me proud of my heritage.”
With thousands of children in and out of the child welfare system each year, the work is far from over. In June 2022, CarePortal saw a record number of requests from agency partners due to the current economic climate; unfortunately, some of the needs were not met. But Campbell is not deterred by the enormity of the task before his organization.
“For the first time in my life, I can say I have so much hope because of churches’ engagement in this space. We’re fixing this,” Campbell says.
Care at the Click of a Button
Contact a WatersEdge giving professional today to maximize your gift and further 111Project’s ministry across Oklahoma. You can also help mobilize your community or church association by hosting an informational event to recruit foster and adoptive families, or by joining CarePortal at 111project.org.