Local foster/adoptive parenting organization continues to grow.

Beginning with zero dollars down in April of last year, My Father’s Arrows founder Sarah Ellis said the foster/adoptive parenting organization has outgrown the chapel where it operates in Jay. Ellis’ vision for the future includes a store, school, and residence for orphans in Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama. While sharing her dream, two volunteers, Anica Padgett and Linda DePetro shared their experiences with My Father’s Arrows (MFA).

Ellis said in applying for the Impact 100 grant this summer, MFA reported 12 families and 33 children served. She added the state provides aged-out children an unfurnished apartment but without any furnishings,  MFA fully furnished seven apartments. She said everything MFA does is for the orphans. “If it doesn’t keep the orphans at the center, we don’t do it.”

After starting with nothing, Ellis said generous donations include a used truck and a bus used to transport donations and children as well as a playground set worth around $600. The bus, she said, was a 1998 vehicle but had only 27,000 miles. The same gentleman, she said, who donated the bus also donated two trailer-loads of supplies from Tallahassee.

To keep expanding, MFA needs the help of knowledgeable laborers. She said they already have an architect, and are looking for a Christian contractor. “We’re making a home for the hardest to place,” she said.

The name of the organization comes from Psalm 127. “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” As a foster parent of 13 years, Ellis said there were more needs in the community she could help meet.

Now, Ellis said, when she meets people she asks, “What can you do?” She said no matter a person’s personal situation, the needs of foster children and orphans matter. She said, “People believe the state takes care of them, but there’s so much that needs to be done. They need the love of a family. It’s about those attachments.”

From fostering a  sibling group, to acting as a respite family, or providing meals and supplies to foster families, there is opportunity to help. Padgett and DePetro have varying roles with MFA.

Padgett said she and her husband were already considering becoming foster parents and made the decision to go ahead the very day a friend of theirs told them about MFA. She said they have three biological children of their own and have been licensed foster parents for a year. Within this time, the Padgetts fostered five children between two sibling groups.

Padgett said, “You think you know since you’ve been involved, but you’re never really prepared.” She said the first group her family cared for had come from extreme neglect and exhibited “shocking behavior.” They were a trio, one school-aged and two under four years old. She said MFA helped with bringing dinner, blankets, and other supplies. “You have to have a support team…Not one child had a pair of shoes…It was overwhelming, but it was worth it.”

The next children the Padgetts cared for was a pair of siblings. She said  this situation was easier since they were only acting as a respite family for another foster family.

She said after her experience, “I feel like we should continue. We’re making a difference, an impact in a positive way. It’s a community problem. The same kids are growing up in our community.” Echoing Padgett, Ellis said, “You can do something. It applies to incarceration rates, homelessness, economics. You have to train them up, bridge the gap. These kids matter.”

DePetro said she knew Ellis from many years back and reconnected after hearing about MFA on a news program. DePetro said she and her husband don’t have children, but as a nurse she worked with them. Inspired by Ellis’ “What can I do?” speech but nervous about fostering since she had not raised children, DePetro decided to become a Guardian Ad Litem, along with volunteering with MFA. She wanted  to be a voice in court for abused, neglected, and abandoned children. DePetro said, “Be part of the mission. If you can’t be involved or foster, do something.”

Ellis said people ask why the organization isn’t closer to a city. She said. “We’re doing it on purpose. Kids need to be pulled out of the city. This is intentional, this slow, agrarian lifestyle. We want to change their environment to an atmosphere of healing, a slow quiet place.” She did say as MFA serves youth up to 23 years old, there are plans for a location closer to town where the adult-aged can get to work.

Upcoming events with MFA include the recently reported Sasquatch 5k Run/Walk. “Bigfoot will chase you,” Ellis said. In addition, there will be a gala in April of next year at the ImogeneTheater with sponsorship from Boo and Karen Weekley. Ellis said she could not be more grateful for the Weekley’s support.

My Father’s Arrows is located at 12929 Highway 87 North, Jay. The organization can be reached by phone at 490-1055, by email at info@myfathersarrows.org, on Facebook, and at www.myfathersarrows.org.