Stories of Hope

by Russ Hightower, Kansas SFFC Chapter

It started out as many intakes. Juana, a young 17-year-old high school student, was referred to us by a community resource partner. She was a mother to a precious 1-year-old, Natalia, and was about to have her second child. A Parent Educator from Bright Futures provided the referral as there was no extended family to care for little Natalia while her mom was hospitalized. Bright Futures serves families who are at imminent risk of losing their children to the state. 

One of our volunteer families quickly stepped in to care for Natalia and walk with Juana as she prepared for the birth of her second child. When the meet and greet happened, it was apparent that mom was visibly anxious and precautious, feeling vulnerable, and even a bit fearful—and rightfully so. Strangers meeting for the first time as recipients of radical hospitality are often unsure of the process! Juana’s 1-yr-old, Natalia, clung to her mom looking distraught but also curious.

Our Safe Families team began to do what they do best: provide intentional compassion seasoned with grace and empathy. Warm introductions and conversations started as the next steps were thoughtfully and lovingly explained to mom. Those faces of anxiety, precaution, and initial fear were replaced with comfort and ease, trust and smiles, and some gentle laughter, too, as our meeting ended. Protective body language was replaced with caring gestures, handshakes, hugs, and watery eyes. And little Natalia provided glorious giggles as a host, Tiffany Schmidt, held her in her arms while we played peek-a-boo. The relationship had begun.

Tiffany jumped right in to support Juana taking her to doctor’s appointments and surrounding her with a compassionate community. Then, on the morning of November 6, little Axel arrived safely into the world.  Over the next six days, the Schmidt family – Brian, Tiffany, and their three children, Alli, Brian, and Claire (Circle of Support) served up extra helpings of generosity topped with radical hospitality. Even Juana’s father, Manuel (Papa), got to visit Natalia at the Schmidt’s home and meet the family. In the two-hour visit that followed, they FaceTimed with Juana and Axel. And while Natalia delighted in being held by her Papa and seeing her mom and new brother on the screen, my eyes became fixated on the little sign on the coffee table – Love NEVER FAILS. 

After discharge from the hospital, Juana and Axel joined Natalia in the Schmidt’s home so they could be loved on and watched over for just a few days. Tiffany continued to take them to doctor’s appointments and assist in securing other community services for their safety and well-being. Our Circle of Support team including Parents as Teachers staff also visited the Schmidt’s home. The Schmidt’s children and even their friends loved on Natalia and Axel and got to know Juana.

Tiffany showed Juana how to get Natalia on a consistent schedule, learn how to bring food to her mouth, drink from a sippy cup, and form better sleep habits. Juana watched and listened and was soon able to replicate what she had learned with both of her children. She became empowered and equipped to parent two children.

Of course, there were some sleepless nights, too, as Tiffany and Mom cared for the little guy in the early morning hours. On the calmer nights, Tiffany and Brian lay tearfully awake wondering what the future was going to hold for this family that they had fallen in love with. And there were the rare, calm, and quiet times when Tiffany and Juana were able to relax and enjoy conversation, laughter, and deepen their relationship over a cup of coffee. A special connection had been built even after the hosting was finished.

Tiffany continued her support by checking in with Juana and her family, taking her and the babies to doctor’s appointments, and serving on our larger Circle of Support for the family that included Parents as Teachers, DCF, Juana’s school, and Safe Families for Children staff and volunteers. Juana and her children also attended Alli’s choir concert that would soon follow. And when Thanksgiving came, Manuel, Juana, and her two babies were seated around the Schmidt’s table with their extended family. 

An important detail was left out, but intentionally so. Juana and her family don’t speak English – and the Schmidt family doesn’t speak Spanish. But we were very blessed to have Cary and one other in our larger Circle of Support who were fluent in Spanish…or better yet, fluent in words of grace, compassion, and love as we all had tried to become. And, with the help of translator apps, the Schmidt family did learn and gain some fluency. 

So, does love need translation? Safe Families for Children doesn’t think so. We are so grateful for volunteers like the Schmidt family who said “yes” even when there were language barriers. We believe that radical hospitality, disruptive generosity, and intentional compassion need no translation because Love Never Fails.