Meet Jonah’s Journey Caregivers Amy & Ben Shelton
Growing up in the Columbus area, Ben and Amy Shelton were very familiar with Palmer Home for Children. In fact, Amy’s childhood home was not far from Palmer Home’s campus. The couple had been involved both as donors and volunteers for many years, but had not heard about Palmer Home’s foster care program, Jonah’s Journey, until about a year ago.
“That is kind of a funny story,” said Amy. “We received information by mail, saw it on Facebook, and had a friend in Sunday School make an announcement about Jonah’s Journey all in a very short period of time. It was like the Lord was sending us a flashing arrow.”
As is a common theme with couples considering foster care, Amy was the first to express interest. Once she shared her conviction with her husband Ben, the couple began to pray about it together, and the calling grew stronger. Soon, they knew they needed to take the next step.
“Prayer, lots of paperwork, prayer, and more prayer,” Amy recalled about those next few months of preparation. In addition to prayer and paperwork, the couple’s caseworker played a large role in their journey to become caregivers.
“We created a strong relationship with our caseworker. After the intensive interview process, she knows more about us than our closest friends,” laughs Ben. “She has inspected every square inch of our home, knows our pets by name, and knows how we came to know the Lord. She knows us well—well enough in fact to find the perfect match for our family.”
Once their application, home study, and Whole Child Initiative training were completed, the Sheltons learned that their caseworker already had a child in mind for their family. Michelle* was a young girl who had been living at Palmer Home for Children for several years, but the caseworker believed she was ready and would thrive given the attention and structure a single-family home could provide. The Sheltons were excited to realize they had already met Michelle through their church. To make the adjustment from living in a cottage with eight other children to living with a foster family as smooth as possible, the Sheltons first became Michelle sponsors.
Michelle’s houseparent explained sponsorship to her and asked if she would like for the Sheltons to become her sponsors. The idea was met with enthusiasm all around, and Michelle soon spent her first weekend with Ben, Amy, and their biological son. They loved Michelle as part of the family immediately.
The Shelton’s experience is fairly typical of the way Jonah’s Journey operates in conjunction with Palmer Home in the state of Mississippi. Not every Palmer Home child will be placed with Jonah’s Journey, but the ability to live in a single-family home is an ideal next step for some children. The transition also allows Palmer Home to maintain their priority for keeping larger sibling groups together on their campuses.
For most foster families, the process of blending the family is ultimately a positive experience for both the caregivers and their foster children. Yet every Jonah’s Journey family faces some challenges along the way. When asked about their personal experience, the Sheltons said the most challenging part of the process is the transition.
“You want so badly for the child to feel loved and for the process to go seamlessly. The reality is that transition is not only hard for the child, but the family as a whole. Everyone is learning how to live with each other. The transition requires much prayer and patience,” said Ben. “The reward comes in seeing the smile on the face of a child and knowing in some way you are a part of that joy. Suddenly, you forget all that paperwork and those strains of transition, and you are reminded you are in this to help change the life of a child.”
Palmer Home and Jonah’s Journey work in tandem to support and equip sponsors and foster families. Training through the Whole Child Initiative addresses four key areas impacting a child’s life- education, emotion, physical and spiritual. Caseworkers provide ongoing assistance and conduct monthly visits to ensure development is progressing.
“We are so blessed to add our foster daughter to the family. We were able to sponsor her for six months prior to her moving in,” said Amy. “She spent every weekend and holiday with us during that time to help with the transition process. She brings us so much joy, keeps us on our toes, and never leaves us with a dull moment.”
*name changed to protect identity