I want to share a story with you today. This is not just one person’s story; this is the story of many. We often see the orphan crisis as something too big to do anything about and too far away to reach. Neither is true. As you read, I don’t want you to focus on the size of the problem; I want you to think about the size of your opportunity and to realize the power of your reach.
In the world today, according to UNICEF’s report, there are a staggering 140 million orphans. The causes are numerous. In Yemen, for example, there were 600,000 orphaned children before the war. Just a year later, Sanaa Riyadh al-Quarr, director of the orphan’s section for the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, estimated at least 50,000 more Yemeni children had lost their parents. That was in 2015. The numbers now are unknown.
But is this just a problem in developing nations? We like to think it’s not an issue here, because this is America. But the statistics—and the stories—paint a very different picture.
Yes, this is a problem across the globe. But it’s also an issue right here, in our own communities and neighborhoods. Due to a variety of causes – such as parental death, drug usage, and physical or sexual abuse – many U.S. children end up in foster care. According to the National Foster Care Youth Institute, over 23,000 teens “age out” of America’s foster care system every year with no family to belong to and no place to call home.
Of the teens who age out of the foster care system this year, 25 percent will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 70 percent of girls will be pregnant before age 21, only half will be employed and 20 percent will become instantly homeless. Many others will end up in prostitution or in prison – that is, if they don’t commit suicide.
With 114,000 children waiting to be adopted in the U.S., the sheer number is gripping. But the number is not just the size of the problem; it’s part of the cause of the problem. You see, numbers are numbing. When we hear statistics, we’re often quick to feel compassion but slow to take action. When faced with the overwhelming numbers, as Doug Sauder, author of “The One Factor” wrote in 2008, we are “paralyzed before we take a step.” We assume that one person can’t make an impact big enough to warrant the effort. So we do nothing. And meanwhile, more and more children are in need of loving families.
Let’s look at an organization that is using an effective public relations strategy to overcome the numbing numbers and give a face to adoption. The Heart Gallery, a program of A Family for Every Child, utilizes the power of photography and journalism “to capture the individuality and dignity of children living in foster care” and to “raise public awareness about their needs.”
Cathy Maier, the Heart Gallery’s founder, had the idea in 2001 to create inspiring portraits of children waiting for adoption. “At the time,” Maier explained, “social services agencies had to use whatever images of the children they could get, and most were as inspiring as a driver’s license photo.” Maier hosted the first exhibit of art-quality portrait photos in Santa Fe, and more than 1,200 people attended the first opening. Since then, the Heart Gallery has opened branches in nearly every state and has helped hundreds of children find homes.
For a moment, take a look at this picture of a boy named Crosby from the Oregon Heart Gallery. He is 12 years old. He loves Legos (he has over 1,000!), making art and crafting. He also loves playing outside and being athletic. He’s curious, bright and thoughtful. Right now, he’s available for adoption. He needs a family. He’s not just another number; he is a life. A person just like you.
It’s time we face the reality that these kids only have hope through people like us. As John Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” We can learn from the Heart Gallery’s effective public relations strategy and apply it in our own lives.
There are three things that you can give to make a difference: your voice, your time and your heart.
GIVE YOUR VOICE
In your wallet or purse, keep a photo of a waiting child from the Heart Gallery. Pull out the picture when you’re visiting with others and share the child’s story. Many adoptions begin with an idea that is planted by seeing a picture.
GIVE YOUR TIME
Volunteer as a professional photographer for the Heart Gallery. I’ve never volunteered for the Heart Gallery before, but in the process of researching for this article, I decided—“Why not?” So, I’m going to contact my local branch this weekend to offer my photography services. Perhaps you can join me. If you’re not a photographer, here’s a list of other ways you can help.
GIVE YOUR HEART
One of the biggest ways to give your heart is to adopt! Certainly not everyone can or should adopt, but I encourage you to seriously consider if you could take that step.
. . .
By the time you’ve finished reading this, another 40 children have been orphaned. You can’t save them all; but you can help one.
As Edmund Burke once said,
“No one makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he knows he cannot do everything.”
You are only one person. But each of these children is also only one person. One is not just a number now. It’s a child. Each child has a story, a face, a need to belong and be loved. Whether or not you can help all of them is not the problem. This is the issue: Will you help the ones within your reach?
Featured photo: source