When Dr. Andrew Baker, director of the Mitchell Center for Leadership and Ministry, finished his doctoral degree, many people asked him what he would do with his free time. He and his wife, Amy, instructor of communication sciences and disorders, agreed they would take that time to do everything they could do to be a foster family in the state of Arkansas. For more than three years, the Bakers and their kids — Julianne, Maryella and Isaac — have been opening their home to children across the state in need of one.
On Tuesday, May 16, the Baker family was named the Arkansas Foster Family of the Year, which was awarded by the Department of Child and Family Services. Along with the Bakers, other families, employees and volunteers were recognized at the luncheon.
“It was one of those things where any of the people in that room could be chosen as the foster family of the year,” Amy said. “For whatever reason, we were chosen this time, which is an honor, but I think it is also recognition of the DCFS people we have worked with.”
Amy said the recognition goes beyond just their family to all families who foster children. When the Bakers receive a foster child in their home, many times the child’s family works hard to get their child back. For Andrew and Amy, this is just as much of a recognition for those families who have worked so hard to be reunified with their children.
Andrew and Amy grew up in families where caring for children was always a priority. That care of people from their parents shifted into their family’s foster care efforts today. Julianne said she feels like being a foster care family is not any different than the families of her peers.
“It’s just the normal,” Julianne said. “[My friends] have family — they’re biological, most of them. I have family — they’re not all biological. And that’s different, but it’s normal.”
According to Andrew, the family’s foster care efforts are largely driven by their faith. He referenced James 2:13, which says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
“For me personally, my faith drives that mercy is at the heart of everything we do,” Andrew said. “We’re in foster care to be the advocates of mercy. Our role as a foster family in Searcy, Arkansas, I believe, is to be a presence of mercy and to offer that mercy to our neighbors.”
When all is said and done, Andrew said being available to care for these children is as simple as being willing to answer Jesus’ call to love others.
“When Jesus was asked what’s the most important thing, his answer was quick and to the point,” Andrew said. “You love God and love your neighbor. You don’t get to choose your neighbor. You just get to choose if you’re going to be one.”