Author - Erica

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» Do supplements really work?
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» Saying yes… our family is headed to Ethiopia
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» Bete Hosanna : Bringing hope to teen girls in Ethiopia
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» Boys’ Trip to Houston in the 2019 Mazda CX-5
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» My life didn’t turn out how I thought it would.
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» Family Getaway at Tradewinds Island Grand St. Pete Florida
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» Dollywood Season Pass – Bring a Friend Free
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» Orlando Fun in the 2019 Mazda CX-9
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» Home for Christmas, Nashville 2018
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» National Adoption Month

» Do supplements really work?

I probably obsess a bit too much about my personal health. The obsession is the product of inheriting some less than stellar genes and having some interesting medical struggles at a young(ish) age. Additionally several people, including kids, in our family have some variation of the MTHFR genetic mutation. Something that freaked me out to begin with, but no longer worries me. A bit of research and understanding and paying attention to bloodwork has helped us utilize supplements and diet to counteract the effects of having such genetic mutations.

We have also come to understand that health and healthy living is not one size fits all. Many of the methods that were recommended to me personally, to lower my hereditary high cholesterol didn’t work. I had to really pay attention to what worked for me by trying a lot of different things. In the end a mostly vegetarian diet, cutting out dairy, upping cardio, taking a raw multivitamin, adding fish oil and working on inflammation specifically made the numbers drop. Addressing inflammation through diet was one of the last frontiers for me and it seemed to be the thing that really tipped the scale.

The question posed in the title of this post is “do supplements really work?” In our experience they absolutely do. This has been backed up by significant changes in our bloodwork. Even our children have had full panels done. I encourage you to do this for your kids too! We learned so much about how their bodies were processing nutrition and what they needed and what they didn’t. There was a drastic change in their deficiencies after I targeted their supplements and diet to their needs. Here’s the thing about kids though… mine are certainly not picky, but they also aren’t down to eat some of the weird concoctions I whip up to meet their nutritional needs. Supplements help us meet in the middle by filling in the gaps left by the American diet and our food sources.

To get to the point, here are the supplements that we currently use that are working well and showing results confirmed by blood work and how we feel on a daily basis. We specifically choose whole food and in some cases raw whole food vitamins. Overusing synthetic vitamins can cause their own slew of problems. Some of our most pressing issues were low amounts of B12 and D.

Erica’s Vitamins:

Ultimate Omega by Nordic Naturals
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Women’s Multi
(I take only a half dose of this per day)
Dr. Ohhira’s fermented probiotic
I switch probiotics all the time, as it’s best to continually expose the system to different strains, but this is a really good one I currently use
Green Superfood
This helps to ensure that I get plenty of greens and helps detoxify

Calvin’s vitamins:

Turmeric with Curcumin
Gaia Daily Wellbeing for Men
Garden of Life spray B12

Lola and Liam:

Doterra Kids Multivitamin Chewable
Nordic Naturals Jr.
Renew Life Kids Probiotic tablets
Renew Life Kids Digestive Enzyme (when needed, after consuming dairy etc.)

Charlotte and Elliott:

Amazing Grass Capsules (they take 3 capsules)
Mary Ruth’s Organic B12/D3
Nordic Naturals Jr.
Renew Life Kids Probiotic tablets

» Saying yes… our family is headed to Ethiopia

I’ve shared a bit about the work I’m involved with in Ethiopia here and there on the blog. For the past several years I’ve gone without my husband and children and as Ethiopia has solidified it’s place in my heart I have yearned to share that more deeply with my family. Our son, being from Ethiopia, has consistently shared a desire to be more involved as well. Last week those things collided with a need for me to spend a month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over the summer. Within hours of assessing the need our family decided to say yes to packing up for a temporary relocation to Addis Ababa.

Now begins the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional preparation. As well as the task of fundraising a portion of our trip expenses. We are thankfully in a place where we have prepared and don’t need to raise 100% of the expenses but we do have to get to work on the rest. We have set up a page that allows for tax-deductible online donations and are prepping for several fundraising pushes including an online auction, selling items from our home and doing some extra work as we can pick it up.

What will we be doing? America World, my employer, just opened a home for teen girls who have aged out of the government orphanage. We will be working daily with the girls to support their emotional and spiritual needs while working to implement a life skills curriculum that I am working on with several volunteer leaders. We will also work with in country staff and help facilitate the volunteer teams that visit and work during that time.

This is exciting on so many levels. We will be serving as a family, caring for some pretty incredible girls, spreading the gospel and growing as a family all at the same time. It will be our joy to share our journey with all of you!

» Bete Hosanna : Bringing hope to teen girls in Ethiopia

I recently returned from another trip to Ethiopia. I’ve shaken the jet leg and processed the images of my son’s beautiful first home. This trip was unique among trips because this time, I was house hunting. House hunting for a home to house teen girls aging out of the government orphanage in Addis Ababa. A home that we have named Bete Hosanna. Bete, is house in Amharic… Hosanna means rescue. The house of rescue. Not because we are rescuers… but because we are the rescued thanks to what Jesus has done. And because of that great love, we cannot look away from what we have seen.

One of my amazing volunteers Melinda Salle shared the following:

“Images of their beautiful faces flash through my mind a hundred times a day. My team was forced to leave them in January. We left them alone and in the poorest living conditions I have ever seen. We circled around each of them in prayer that night as we left them in the dark, scared and feeling probably more alone than they had ever felt in their lives. I realized in those moments that no one had ever taken care of these eleven precious girls. Eighteen years old and not a soul in the world who cared. No mother had ever cautioned her about the dangers of the streets. No father had ever counseled her on how to spend or save her hard earned money. No one had protected her from evil or harm or taught her how to protect herself. No one had taught her that she was created for a purpose by the God of the Universe who never leaves or forsakes. There was not one adult who cared to say goodbye or walk her out as she struggled to carry her meager belongings and walked out the gate of the orphanage completely alone. How many of us remember the day we got dropped off at college with our cute bedding, some pictures for the walls and a rug? Our parents double and triple checking that we had everything we could ever possibly need as they left us with food, clothing and a credit card “just in case”. The contrast is so stark I can hardly bear it. These girls are the definition of strength, beyond what we can understand.  They have NEVER had anyone believe in them, encourage them or defend them. They urgently need people who are in their corner. People who believe in them and love them and pray for them.  People across the globe who are willing to give up additional comforts in order to change the entire life of an eighteen year old girl whose only options may be prostitution, drugs or death. Please consider entering in to these girls’ lives. As someone who has personally looked into the eyes of each one of them, I pray that you will not be able to forget this story, just as I am never able to “unsee” what God showed me there that day. Please join us in fighting for justice and hope for each one of these eleven.”

The work with Bete Hosanna exceeds any challenge I have ever taken on. Our girls need hope and healing and those things will be hard fought for. The girls spent their very first night safely in the home this week and big emotions and challenges are settling in. I hope you’ll consider partnering with us in prayer and perhaps supporting in a small way. I look forward to sharing more as we wade into the deep waters.

» Boys’ Trip to Houston in the 2019 Mazda CX-5

When one of your son’s best friends wants to go to an NBA game for his birthday, you go to Houston! After six months of planning, we introduced our good friends to some of Houston’s best offerings, leaving them wanting more after the trip. The 2019 Mazda CX-5 crossover took us up, through, and down Houston’s Beltway and Interstates this time around.

Here are a few things we especially liked about the car followed by a rundown of our Houston adventures:

Design – We are still in love with the redesign that continues to improve from 2017. The interior comfortably seats five even with a group of crazy boys that tend to extend their arms and legs in all directions.

Interior – The interior of the CX-5 gets better each year. Every detail is well thought out, making everything in arms reach without having to take your focus off the road. The heated leather seats are offered for the front and rear seats to make everyone comfortable in the coldest winter months.

Safety Features – With a group of rowdy kids, it’s easy to lose focus to detail with the additional distractions. That’s more reason to appreciate Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. At just the right times when parking, the Mazda would display multiple angles of the vehicle to assist with parking.

Houston can be a stressful place to drive with lots of traffic and lane closures. The CX-5 made the drives fun and enjoyable. The attention to detail and response of the car make you feel in control and safe at all times.

Houston Boys’ Trip Highlights and Destinations:
After the plane ride, the boys were pretty restless so we booked it straight to the Museum District to visit Houston’s Children’s Museum. This has always been a favorite so my boys were excited to introduce their friends to this one. Anyone can safely plan a three-four hour trip here.


After running around for a few hours, the boys were starving. We headed to for a ten minute drive to find The Pit Room, a not-so-secret BBQ restaurant in Montrose.

There’s no wondering why this spot made Texas Monthly’s list for Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas. At the time of our visit, the line was not too long and went quickly. The environment is nice with a large outdoor seating option during the warmer months. We had some hungry guys so we went for The Feast, which feeds 4-6. The brisket was tender and the jalapeño sausage was a favorite. Make sure to macaroni and cheese as one of your sides. The George Jones’ hits on the house speakers come at no extra charge.

After a lazy Saturday visiting with family, our quick weekend birthday trip would be topped off with the Rockets facing the Magic for a Sunday night game. We showed up early to watch players warm up and maybe get an autograph or two. The Rockets do an incredible job from the way the employees greeted us, the family-friendly environment they promote, and the high standards they put on production quality. In short, the birthday game did not disappoint.

Before the big game, we visited BuffBurger in Montrose. Where do I begin? The smell is great when you first walk in, it must be the wood fire grill. The beef is high quality from Ranch 44 and tastes like beef should. The parmesan truffle fries were perfect say the least. We definitely ate more than we should’ve.

Kids eat free on Monday and Tuesday (with purchase of a regular dine-in meal). The Little BuffBurger was a big hit. We opted out of the soft drinks to indulge on the great selection of ice cream.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-5
For our trip, this car was perfect. We didn’t require a ton of storage since we were only staying for two nights. The gas efficiency and option for Sport mode are great for daily use. Houston driving always keeps you on your toes, and the Mazda’s safety features helps you focus on the important things when it comes to navigating the streets. We love this car as much as we love Texas, and that’s a big deal.

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2019 CX-5 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» My life didn’t turn out how I thought it would.

How many conversations have you had lately that started with a similar statement? I remember making a lot of plans when I was growing up. Dreaming up a life, a house, some make-believe kids. Some of those dreams panned out exactly as I had hoped they would. A gentle husband by my side, two cherished children from other nations and two carried in my very body. Every week I buy groceries, without counting the cost, and feed them their favorites. But some dreams just didn’t come true. Maybe I tried and failed and in some instances I didn’t even come close. Maybe a choice or decision took me further from my dreams than I had hoped it would.

Many influencers have spoken into this void, telling me, telling you, to chase those dreams down, wrangle them and make them happen. They tell us we are powerful and in control. I’m an advocate of taking steps to make things happen, but I can’t get on board with the idea that we can control everything that happens to us. Because we can’t.

I’ve seen the world, just like you have. It’s full of heartbreak, death, sickness, joy, success and surprises… both good and bad. Attempting to control life is a futile effort. We are one phone call away from disaster. It’s a hard reality. And one that fully exists in our broken world.

Our expectations and dreams in such a world can break us. And that’s what it really comes down to. Expectations and how we project those onto other people, our family and ourselves. How, then, can one adjust their dreams and expectations?

As a Christian, I have to take a hard look at myself when it comes to this question. What’s in my heart? What should and shouldn’t be there? Are my dreams a benefit to me, or others? Am I trying to control my surroundings? It’s sobering to make such examinations.

Proverbs 16:9 says “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

When I feel like I’m fighting the course of my life this verse is a reminder to look to the one who holds the plan. When I look at life and lament that it didn’t line up with my dreams, I’m reminded that it’s impossible for me to live any other life but this one. I’m not in control, and that’s a sweet freedom. Releasing expectations, loving others and obediently stepping forward is freedom. Embracing God’s plan and love for me… is freedom.

Life didn’t turn out how I thought it would… but I’m more confident every day that it’s actually much better.

» Family Getaway at Tradewinds Island Grand St. Pete Florida

This November we spent three days exploring Universal Studies and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m going to save my thoughts and tips on that experience for another post. Today I want to share about our beach time that we tacked on the end of our time in Orlando. There are several gorgeous beaches within 1-2 hours of the Orlando area. After braving Disney for seven straight days a few years back we came to realize that we enjoy our vacations a lot more if a little sand and sun accompanies the endless lines and $12 ice creams.

Enter St. Pete beach, approximately an hour and a half drive from Orlando. St. Pete is a quirky, eclectic area outside of Tampa that offers everything from hand-rolled cigars to boardwalk ice cream, cuban food and high end beach resorts. For this stay we opted to check in with Tradewinds Island Grand resort. Tradewinds is comprised of two resorts, The Island Grand and Guy Harvey Outpost. Together they make up over 31 acres of prime beachfront fun. As we experienced firsthand there is plenty to do for families. Tradewinds offers a kids club, water sports, beach front pools, entertainment, fine and casual dining and family friendly suites. Our suite met the needs of our entire family AND the grandparents.

Tradewinds offers an experience that, while not all-inclusive, does include quite a bit. For example, cabanas and chairs on the beach are offered at no additional charge. Guy Harvey outpost also hosts a nightly beachside fire and smores experience at no additional charge. Other “free” activities include the massive High Tide water slide, surf wipe-out and paddle boats. There is also a daily schedule of poolside activities like bingo, which we all enjoyed.

Tradewinds offers various packages to help families add in a few extras. We did opt to try out adventure bands for our kids. This is essentially a little wristband that allows them to purchase snow cones, painting activities or other small attractions around the resort. If your child can keep up with money they may not need the band, but it worked well for our older kids who are only in the 9-11 year old range.

We spent time at Tradewinds Island Grand just as the off season was kicking in, late November. This meant lower crowds and plenty of beach space. It was just the dose of sunshine we needed as Nashville was headed into the 30’s that week. We’ve heard that a major renovation is on the horizon for this property and we are excited to see the suites and rooms get a refresh!

Bottom line, we highly recommend Tradewinds Island Grand and Guy Harvey Outpost for a beach vacation that has something for everyone. It’s family friendly with adult-only pools and areas as well. Best of both worlds!

» Dollywood Season Pass – Bring a Friend Free

Use promo code DWINSIDERS16 at dollywood.com to save yourself $10 on each one-day ticket you purchase

It’s no secret that Dollywood has more to offer than could ever be experienced in just one visit. The many festivals and holiday events have us coming back for more all year long. Just one reason why we love having a season pass! Our favorite feature of season passes, however, is the Bring-A-Friend-Free (BAFF) tickets we receive with our season passes. 

We reserved our Season Passes in advance this year and received an EXTRA set of BAFF passes for the magical 2018 Smoky Mountain Christmas. This extra set of passes gave us a golden opportunity to kick off Christmas break with great friends. Wearing out our kids at the BEGINNING of break was a priority this year. We also needed to distract our youngest as the Christmas countdown was far too much for him to handle any longer, haha.

Our children loved experiencing the park through the eyes of their buddies. It made familiar rides extra magical as they worked to position themselves at the front of Wild Eagle or participated in soda drinking contests at Aunt Grannys, all you care to eat! Shows, treats and train rides all became new again with the addition of besties! 

TIP: We love to pack small snacks and eat them throughout the day. We then enjoy a 4pm early dinner at Aunt Granny’s. The cost is not much higher than a typical quick service and it’s a great bargain for kids 9 year old and under. Eating at 4pm helps avoid the dinner rush, and it saves us money because we opt for 1 meal at the park rather than 2.

 Aunt Granny’s is also all you can eat comfort food and our kids tear it up.

The BAFF passes certainly allowed our kids to have an extra dose of fun, but Calvin and I weren’t left out. We had just as much fun riding Fire Chaser in the dark and kicking back with another couple to watch the kids ride when we had our fill of thrill rides.

Firechaser Express

Our plans for 2019 are already developing around introducing close friends to Dollywood and enjoying even more unforgettable multi-family memories. There is still plenty of time to purchase season passes for 2019. It’s a year you don’t want to miss as the highly anticipated opening of Wildwood Grove looms in the distance. Just imagine bringing your closest friends to experience a whole new expansion at Dollywood! I, for one, cannot wait.

» Orlando Fun in the 2019 Mazda CX-9

After a year of planning, our family escaped the Nashville cold to visit sunny Orlando! We started with Universal Studios and ended in the Gulf at St. Pete Beach. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 not only fit the six of us, but we managed to pack in a week’s worth of clothes and vacation memorabilia in the back. We drove the 2018 model earlier this year and we love the changes, inside and out, that the 2019 model has brought.

Here are a few things we especially love about the 2019 Mazda CX-9:

Seats Seven – This might sound like my 2018 test drive and review but there are not many vehicles that can fit a family like ours. The CX-9 is compact but we can still fit our dog, an extra family member, or friend.


Interior – The interior of the CX-9 is just as sleek and sophisticated as the outside. Everything you need is within arms reach allowing you to control the temperature, radio, etc. without distracting you from the most important thing, keeping your eyes on the road. One of my favorite additions since last year’s model is the ability to see who in the second and third row is buckled (or not).

CarPlay – We love the fact that more and more cars are working with Apple’s CarPlay. The ability to have the Apple interface makes an unfamiliar car feel familiar immediately. I can quickly type a destination on my phone and at the same time see the route on the larger display the dash offers.

The Advanced Heads-Up Display displays the speed limit, your current speed, blind spot warnings and more right onto your windshield. The Birdseye view magically pulls up an aerial view of the car on the dash display when backing up or parking. No more playing guessing games with how much clearance you have on those awfully tight spots.

Conclusion about the Mazda CX-9

We had a blast driving through Disney and Universal parks and surrounding areas in the CX-9. Our drive to St. Pete beach an hour away allowed us to test the longer commute. The comfort and the handling of the car made the trips feel painless and quicker than they actually were. This vehicle could work for a family of six but would be ideal for a family of four or five. The extra room on a daily basis would be nice and comfortable with margin to add visitors or extra luggage for the longer trips.

Special thanks to Mazda USA for allowing us to test drive the 2019 CX-9 Grand Touring. As always, these opinions are my own.

» Home for Christmas, Nashville 2018

Nashville has a lot to offer when it comes to the year of less. If you haven’t been following along, 2017 for our family has the been the start of attempting to buy less stuff, but instead have more experiences together together. The year of less is slowly turning into a lifestyle of less. Our family is spending another December at home (for the third year in a row) and we’ve found lots to look forward to in doing so. Here are a list of events we are especially making plans to attend in December.

1. SCHERMERHORN SYMPHONY CENTER

The Schermerhorn is a breathtaking venue that feels special no matter what you’re there for. For the last couple of years, we’ve attended Dave Barnes’ Christmas show, which we highly recommend. This year we’ll be going to Home Alone in Concert (performing on 12/5 and 12/6)! Experience John Williams’ delightful score performed live (by the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Symphony Chorus) while the movie is shown on the big screen.

We’re also excited about a Very Merry Christmas with Dave Barnes (12/2), Drew and Ellie Holcomb’s Neighborly Christmas (12/17 and 12/22), and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Big Band Holidays with Wynton Marsalis (12/7). Also Handel’s Messiah (four performances to choose from), which has really become an annual holiday tradition for many families.

Full schedule and tickets available at NashvilleSymphony.org

2. NASHVILLE’S NUTCRACKER
Nashville Ballet has performed Nashville’s Nutcracker for over 10 years. This has become a huge tradition for families, with fifteen performances to choose from. Our (young) family especially loves the early afternoon show so that we can grab dinner at Milk & Honey after the show!

Visit magical lands with the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King, the Nutcracker, the Dancing Bear and many historic characters from Nashville’s past.

Nashville’s Nutcracker will be at TPAC’s Jackson Hall for fifteen (15) performances:

  • Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 2, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, December 21, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Friday, December 21, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 23, 2018 at 1 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 23, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets available at NashvilleBallet.com

3. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

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The only cold temperature we enjoy is from the Nashville Predators ice. Our kids love hockey when it comes to the food, the chants, and the crazy fans. Liam still loves singing (and shaking it to) Tim McGraw’s “I like it I love it” every time the home team scores.

There are plenty of home games in December to check out. Tickets available at Ticketmaster.com

4. Marvel Universe Live!

If your kids can’t get enough of the Marvel movies or too young to watch them, this live performance might be a fit for your family. Witness cutting-edge special effects, aerial maneuvers, pyrotechnics, martial arts, motorcycles stunts, and vast video projection in this completely new thrilling adventure.

Seven shows available from December 6-9. Click here for tickets

5. Dollywood – Smoky Mountain Christmas

If you’re home but willing to drive a few hours, Dollywood should always be in consideration! Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas featuring Glacier Ridge is the most beautiful holiday addition yet. There’s no better way to spend your holiday season, and there’s no place quite as uniquely beautiful as Dollywood.

» National Adoption Month

It’s National Adoption month. A time to celebrate and advocate for adoption and foster care. It’s also a time find our place in caring for the millions of orphaned children who will never be adopted due to varying situations.

As you may already know, we’ve been through the adoption process twice; once in Ethiopia and then in China. Our son was just eight months old when we brought him home and our daughter was 5 1/2 years old. You can read more about those stories and “older child” adoption by clicking here.

I also work for an adoption agency, America World Adoption Agency, as the Director of Missions and have the privilege of sending skilled teams to support and enhance care for children and teens living in orphanages overseas.

Today, as someone who is deeply connected to the plight of orphans I would like to provide a few resources for those of you who have heard from God, but don’t yet know how to get involved in the Biblical and holy mandate to care for orphaned children.

International Adoption

International adoption has steadily declined in the past few years. Corruption, politics and long timelines have taken their toll on this process. Yet, there are still ethical programs with waiting children who are in need of forever families. China and India adoption programs both have countless waiting children. Children in these programs have minor to moderate medical needs and can thrive with the love of a family and access to medical care and specialists. Our hearts break when we see the number of children waiting with vision impairments and blindness. We have seen first hand how a child can thrive with access to Braille and vision services.

Learn more about the India program here and the China program here.

Domestic Adoption

There are several avenues to answer the call to adopt domestically. Families can contact their local agency or work with a consultation organization like Christian Adoption Consultants. Foster to adopt is, of course, another option for families hoping to adopt domestically… but I advise caution to anyone who becomes a foster parent with adoption as their primary goal. While adoption is often an outcome, it should not necessarily be the goal for foster families.

Foster Care

In 2016-2018, records show that 437,465 children are currently in the foster care system, and this number is projected to grow. Foster care is meant to be a safe, temporary solution for children when their parents are working through a number of challenges. More than half of the cases in the foster care system have the goal of reunification. If you are interested in becoming a safe, nurturing place for a child in crisis click here to learn more about how to access resources in your state. There are also private programs that offer safe places for children such as Safe families and Jonah’s Journey. These programs may be a better fit for some families.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship can often be a life-giving and life-saving tool for children living in difficult situations. Sponsorship can provide an education, medical care, supplemental nutrition and much more. Here is a list of sponsorship programs I recommend.

Ethiopia City Kids

Amazima

Save the Children  (both U.S. and International)

If you and your family are looking to grow your family through the gift of adoption, become foster parents or simply support a child who desperately needs it I hope you found some great resources above. If you have any specific questions please reach out to me or use the comments section below.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal