Sunset Hill is the hospitality home of Sunnybrook Cares, a ministry supporting foster families.
By Suzanne Walker
Lee and I became foster parents in 2015, while we still lived in Clinton, MS. We had one biological daughter, Esther. I worked part-time from home, and helped start a foster/adoption ministry at our home church, FBC Clinton. My college roommate worked with 200 Million Flowers and was the lead person for the Heart Gallery. She then worked for MS Children's home and was our licensure social worker. It was very much a step of obedience to become licensed, as we had different plans. We were originally licensed with MS Children's Home as a therapeutic home, and we had a little 18-month old, C-bear, placed with us as soon as we were licensed. She was with us for 18 months, and during that time my husband finished his residency at UMMC and accepted a job in Tupelo. We only looked at jobs in MS so C-bear could stay with us.
C-bear was reunited with her biological daddy in October of 2016, after our move to Tupelo in July of the same year. We joined FBC Tupelo and immediately started a ministry with the main focus being a support group for foster families. Because of this and my connection with the Heart Gallery, our hearts and home stayed open for foster care. I saw a picture of the White siblings on the Heart Gallery Facebook page in October of 2016. There were 6 of them pictured, ages 14-2. I called my husband at work. When he didn't answer, I went ahead and called the inquiry number. We were told another family had expressed interest in adoption, and that there was a 7th sibling who was only 9 months old. We visited them at the Baptist Children's Village group home in Waynesboro where they had been for over 2 years. After a second visit, they came for an overnight visit to Tupelo in December. At the end of December, their social worker was told to fast track their case, as they had been in foster care over 7 years. If she couldn't find an adoptive home in 6 months for all 7, the judge would separate them into adoptive homes. We were informed the other home wasn't licensed and CPS couldn't wait. All seven moved into our home in January of 2017.
After the state-required 6 month foster period, the social worker began the paperwork process of adoption. The adoption was finalized on November 29, 2017. Today, we have a 17-yo, 15-yo, 14-yo, 12-yo, 8-yo, 7-yo, 5-yo, 4-yo, and I had our second biological child this past January (a total surprise).
In early 2019, a sweet friend told me she had recommended I get invited to "Reboot," a retreat at Sunset Hill. Shannon Pool contacted me with the dates and asked if I was interested. I didn't hesitate and immediately blocked the dates off on my calendar. At Reboot 2019 I met 7 other adoptive/foster moms who had the same struggles, desires, and love for children and Jesus. We spent the entire weekend sharing, crying, laughing, and praying together. Shea and Philip, the hospitality home coordinators, took care of every detail and allowed us to recharge and take comfort in new friendships and the promises of God.
These ladies are dear friends to me now. We are in a group text that shares prayer requests, struggles, encouragement, and much-needed empathy. The struggles of foster care and adoption are unique. There is a loneliness that exists in the midst of this particular kind of parenting that few are willing to discuss. When you gather a group of people who share a very deep emotional daily walk, the healing power of community is indescribable. At each turn over the Reboot weekend, I was floored with the generosity and giving nature that defines Sunset Hill's purpose. We came back as a family for the family camp-out they hosted in January of 2020, and my children still talk about it as one of their favorite memories.
I suppose it would be naive to say my dream is for there to be no more foster children in our state. And I'm encouraged by the awareness that seems to be building, for both the need for foster homes and the need for support for those families. I do think there is significant room for the support of foster parents. Many think a one-time meal or Christmas party for foster children is adequate "support." But the deeper need lies in creating a system of support, where foster families can find resources easily, take breaks from daily life, and be in constant contact with others who understand what it’s like to open your home to strangers (social workers, foster children, bio families, etc). Foster parents don't need a thumbs' up kind of support, they need a hand-holding support, from people who will walk through the joys and pain with them.