Life with Gracie: ‘We were already kinda in crazy, what’s one more’

The house on Montcliff Drive is unusually quiet now. Four of Tiffany Taulbee’s children are away at school. Only Maddox, her 2-year-old, remains, playing on her lap.

In just a few hours, the kitchen will be a den of energy, homework and after-school snacks again but minus the three other children for whom Taulbee provided a safe place until just a month ago.

It’s hard to believe that any mother of five children aged 2 to 13 would voluntarily open her home to three more, but Taulbee, well, couldn’t help herself.

“That’s just how God wired me,” she said recently. “I have a heart for helping people.”

Imagine what our world would be like if all of us did.

In the beginning, Taulbee, a 40-year-old pediatric nurse, and her husband, Andrew, a fiber optics salesman, considered becoming foster parents, but the fact that the Cumming couple had so many at the kitchen table disqualified them, she said. When a friend told her about Safe Families, that big old heart of hers knew it was God making way for her gift: caring for others.

Taulbee followed up, she and her husband went through the requisite training and background checks and in 2009 began providing a safe haven for children of parents in crisis, parents who needed time to try to heal themselves.

“We felt like we were already kinda in crazy, what’s one more at the dinner table,” she said.

With that the Taulbees became part of a 14-year-old network that allows Safe Families, a national nonprofit, to place children with caring families free of charge until their parents are able to care for them again.

Last year alone, its Sandy Springs partner, an arm of the Bethany Christian Services of Georgia, placed 55 children, including three that went to the Taulbee home.

Marsha Reiter, coordinator of Safe Families for Children, gets to witness the transformation taking place in these families’ lives every day.

“I have a front-row seat to see families helping families,” she said.

The goal, Reiter said, is to keep children safe and out of foster care.

“Many families in Atlanta are socially isolated, and their extended family is nonexistent, or unavailable or unable to help,” she said. “We create extended families through a community of devoted volunteers who offer support in a time of need and reunite children with their families in a stronger home environment.”

Since signing on as a safe family, the Taulbees have stood in the gap for a half-dozen moms, including 25-year-old Jessica Cook.

The mother of three, whose mother abandoned her shortly after giving birth and whose father died when Cook was 11, found her way to Safe Families last year after her time at the Atlanta Mission expired and she had no one else to turn to for help.

“I wanted a fresh start,” she said. “I didn’t have a job but I couldn’t even look for one because I didn’t have transportation. I was getting nowhere.”

After several stops and starts, broken promises and abusive relationships, Cook finally has hope.

Taulbee not only took her children in, but their community group from North Point Community Church, where the family are members, provided food, clothing and transportation for the young mother and her children, furnished a basement apartment Taulbee helped her secure down the street from her home and encouraged her to get a driver’s license. One of the Taulbees’ neighbors recently donated a car.

“I got a job but not the best-paying job and I’m in the process of finding an apartment, so I’m still a little stressed,” she said. “But so much has changed. I’m a lot happier.”

What makes Safe Families particularly unique is families like the Taulbees volunteer their time and are willing to open their homes to complete strangers. They feed their children. They help with homework. They provide 30- to 45-day reprieves — sometimes longer, sometimes shorter — to parents teetering on the edge. Some have lost their jobs. Some are fleeing abusive relationships. Some need help caring for their children.

“People are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” Reiter said.

The goal this year is to place 100 children, but more volunteer families and churches are needed.

“I’m having to turn down calls for help because we simply don’t have enough families,” she said.

Volunteer families go through an extensive screening process that includes state and federal background checks, a home study and safety check and must be open to ongoing visits.

“These moms absolutely care for and love their children,” Reiter said. “Just as our host families are volunteers, they are voluntarily entrusting their kids to us, so this extensive screening process is our way of making sure their kids are in good hands.”

Over 94 percent of the children return to their parents once their living situation has stabilized. Of the remaining 6 percent, some are reunited with another family member, a few are adopted or, in rare cases, turned over to the Department of Family and Children Services.

Anyone interested in becoming a safe family should call Reiter at 770-274-3408 or email her at

Taulbee, 40, believes God calls us to help those less fortunate than we are. Turns out for them, Safe Families was the perfect way to fulfill that calling.

“With this, you get the chance to help the entire family, not just the children, because you’re able to develop a relationship with the mom and mentor her if needed, ” she said. “It’s also been a good experience for my own children to see us help others and realize how fortunate they are.”

Taulbee said she had taken a break from the agency when her fourth child became a busy toddler but was happy to be on board again.

“We decided to start again last year because God was just nudging me, plus the kids were older,” she said. “I prayed for the kids we could help the most. It’s been amazing.”

Source: The Atlanta Journal Constitution