A Safe Space

By Susan Bean Aycock

Isaiah 117 House Provides Temporary Haven for Kids Awaiting Foster Placement

For children removed from abusive homes, respite may come in the smallest of things: a hug, a soft stuffie or a quiet place to just be.

The larger things are harder to talk about: a secure place to sleep, enough food and a feeling of safety around adults.

Waco’s new Isaiah 117 House — opened last month — meets both those small and large needs for children in the short but difficult transition period while they’re awaiting foster placement. It’s located in the “Baylor Bubble,” although its specific address is not publicized for security reasons.

Child Protective Services [CPS] is charged to remove children from their homes when they’re in imminent physical danger, often on a tip-off by medical personnel or teachers. And there’s a sobering name for the social services intervention that grimly says it all: removal day. The child may be removed from immediate danger, but they’re also removed from everything they know.

“Our hope is to serve every single child in McLennan County on removal day so that they never have to visit the CPS office while they’re waiting to be placed with their foster family,” said Janay Morgan, location leader of the Waco house. The local house is part of a national 501c3 nonprofit organization comprising 57 locations across 13 states and only the second location to open in Texas, after the Dallas area.

Isaiah 117 House provides temporary care — up to three days — for kids as CPS caseworkers scramble to find foster placement after removal. More than 200 children were removed from their homes in McLennan County last year, according to Sarah Miller, Texas State Director of Isaiah 117 House.

“Our three-part mission is to reduce trauma for the kids on removal day, lighten the load of the caseworkers at CPS and empower foster parents and kinship placement [with other family members], said Morgan.

The organization’s name comes from the Biblical scripture Isaiah 117, which exhorts the community “to take up the cause of the fatherless”. And the Waco community has stepped up to that mandate in a big way.

Isaiah 117 House is funded privately, with no state or federal funding.

“Local businesses and contractors have used their gifts and talents to truly bring the home to life,” said Morgan. The list of local donors includes more than 30 businesses, nearly 20 churches and numerous individuals and civic organizations, but even in such abundance, several major donors stand out:
• Harris Creek Baptist Church, who made a significant monetary donation to start the project;
• General contractor Ricky Hamblin of Hamblin Construction, who spearheaded the new build and donated his services;
• Walker Furniture, who supplied all the furniture for the house; and
• Sunrise Rotary Club, Farm + Yard, and Leadership Waco, who funded the backyard playscapes and future basketball court.

Waco’s house features two bedrooms sleeping up to four children each. A cozy living area transitions to a full kitchen with a long table, where kids can eat or color, and caseworkers can do paperwork. An adjoining mini apartment accommodates meetings or overflow sleeping for two more children. Warm colors dominate, fluffy pillows abound and toys and coloring books are plentiful. A large backyard is full of brand-new play equipment. The huge attic Giving Room is stocked with bins of new clothes and toys that are constantly replenished.

“Every aspect is designed to send a strong message to a child who has just been removed from their home that they are not alone and that they are loved,” says the organization’s website. “From the colors to the furniture to the items we have available, every aspect is sending a message to that child that they are important, they are seen, that they matter!”

Children have open access to snacks and meals; receive a week’s set of new clothes down to shoes and underwear; and leave with it all in a new bag when they’re placed. With empathy for a complete lack of control over their situation, they are given the power of “yes” to choose their toothbrush color, favorite toy, pajama style or cookie flavor.

“Every piece of this beautiful home has a story and a purpose, and for that we are thankful!” said Morgan. “This house is a full community project and act of love.”

Opportunities to contribute are plentiful, from trained volunteer positions to groups pledging to keep “Buddy Bins” of new clothes and supplies stocked. For more information, to donate or to find out how your church, organization or family can be involved with Isaiah 117 House in Waco, contact: mclennanTX@isaiah117house.com.