Sponsoring Relationships That Matter

June 22, 2017

Amy Brown and her family first encountered Justin* as a teammate.  One of the Brown’s sons and Justin played baseball together for a summer.  She recalls watching the boys on the field and wondering if there might be a way her family could do more to invest in the life of the young man from Palmer Home.

But as the season ended, the school year arrived, the next sport began, and the clamor of a house with four boys left little time to return to her thought.  As Christmas approached, the family found themselves waiting in the chilled December air to watch the local Christmas parade. As the Palmer Home float passed by, the family spotted Justin and shouted hello, but one detail stood out to Amy.  That night, she couldn’t get the image out of her mind: Justin, standing near the back of the float—alone.

Shortly after the parade, Amy attended a Bible study where the leader shared a verse about helping orphans, encouraging participants to apply the words to their own life. She immediately thought of Palmer Home’s Hernando campus, not far from their home.

“I talked to my husband, and he said, ‘let’s do it’, not really knowing what ‘it’ was,” Amy recalled.

Having grown up in Columbus, she was familiar with Palmer Home for Children’s commitment to caring for vulnerable children. So she contacted the organization and started a conversation about how their family could do more for Justin. “We really wanted to do more relationally than financially,” she explained.

Because the Brown family had already begun a relationship with Justin, becoming his sponsor was the natural next step. Things started slowly. Once a month, Justin spent a weekend with the Browns as they all got to know each other. Soon, weekends transformed into a week at Christmas, vacations to the beach, and eventually grew to include Justin younger brother Henry*.

“We’ve had such a good relationship with him,” said Brown, “but it’s not always been easy. We’ve had growing pains, but we treat him like he’s ours.”

For three years now, the Brown family has included Justin in family trips to the lake house and the beach in the summer and deer and duck hunting the fall. He’s also a part of everyday activities like going to the ball field or playing in the backyard. But the relationship doesn’t end there—the Browns spend time in Josh’s world as well.

“We make a point to go at least one or two of Justin’s [football] games every year,” said Brown. Justin’s houseparents support him and make an effort to be at his games, but with eight children to care for, it’s difficult to make every single event.  “It’s hard on a kid when no one is there cheering for him,” Brown knows. Together, they hope to make sure that never happens.

When the Browns are out with Justin, Henry, and their four biological sons, they are inevitably met with questions like, “Are they all yours?”. At first Amy was unsure how to respond. Now she just smiles, laughs and says, “yes”.

In the end, Justin and his brother Henry are just two young men who want someone to show up and love them for who they are.

“It’s not about the big stuff,” said Brown. “We fill in the gaps to show what an ordinary family looks like. We are not called to be their parents. They have a mother and a father. There’s another role to show them people love them.”

Amy’s thoughts also extend beyond the immediate future for Justin and Henry. She mentions the boys growing up and their life after Palmer Home.

“Family is a broad term,” Brown said. “We don’t want them to feel like they are on their own. We want them to know they have a place to come back to.”

For the Brown family, choosing Justin (and Henry) to sponsor was an obvious choice. For other families interested in following in their footsteps, Palmer Home suggests visits to campus and discussions to help match a child to the right sponsor family. Although the Browns had the beginnings of a relationship with Justin, they still underwent the necessary background checks, interviews, and similar processes that all sponsors must go through.

“Palmer Home really takes great care to make sure sponsors are serving for the right reasons,” Amy added.

Sponsorship relationships look different for each child and family.  It doesn’t always mean spending a week at a time with a child. Sometimes it means showing up for school events or taking a child to eat in a restaurant with your family.  Most often it means being present and supportive in the life of child or teen, assuring them they are neither alone nor forgotten.

“Really, really pray about it,” Amy advises anyone considering the process. “Don’t be afraid of taking the step to call or go to their website to learn more. Palmer Home is willing to match what you’re comfortable doing. Doing something is better than doing nothing.”

*names changed to protect privacy