The 11-year-old stood before the stage at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock May 18 and waited to hear her name, Hannah Cranford.
On July 5, 2011, she had waited to hear a judge say the same thing.
That was the day she learned that her name had been legally changed, and she had been adopted into her permanent family.
She had come to live with David and Becky Cranford in November 2008 as a foster child. For 2.5 years, she had bounced between two worlds – the Cranfords’ stable, loving environment, and the one she’d been born into – never knowing which she would occupy permanently. Finally, Hannah’s birth mother ran out of second chances, and the Cranfords were allowed to adopt her permanently.
Her life today is nothing like her early childhood, but Hannah has not forgotten where she came from. On May 18, her name was being called because she had collected almost $5,000 for Walk for the Waiting, an event that raised money and called attention to the state’s 4,000 foster children and particularly to the 500 children waiting to be adopted into a "forever family."
Walk for the Waiting (walkforthewaiting.org) was jointly sponsored by three organizations: Project Zero, which raises awareness about adoptions; The CALL, which mobilizes churches to adopt children; and Immerse Arkansas, which offers services to some of the 250 children who age out of the state’s foster care system each year without ever finding a permanent home.
About 800 people participated in Walk for the Waiting with Hannah. Together they so far have raised $230,000 to expand projects like the Arkansas Heart Gallery, an online photo album viewable at www.theprojectzero.org that features children waiting to be adopted.
To a casual observer, those pictures might depict cute kids, and gosh it would be nice if they could find a home. For Hannah, they represent the same path she was traveling before the Cranfords made her their own. She raised the money by sharing her story on a professional-looking video that she and her dad posted on the event’s website and distributed through social media.
"When I heard about Walk for the Waiting, I just cried because I wanted to help the other children because I felt sorry for them because they were waiting for their family, just like me," she said.
Foster families agree to take in children growing up in environments of abuse, neglect, drug addiction, etc., on a temporary basis – temporary meaning sometimes years. There are about 1,200 foster families in Arkansas – far less than needed for 4,000 children.
It’s a tough job. You must be willing to welcome a child into your home and raise them as your own, knowing the state’s goal is send them back to their biological family as soon as possible. As the state’s website puts it, "It requires giving the gift of unconditional love to children and youth who may never have experienced love of any kind and who may not know how to accept it."
The Cranfords were awakened to the need for foster families through The CALL’s involvement with Little Rock Church, where they are members. David was past age 50 and Becky was nearing it. Their past efforts to have children biologically and to adopt had failed, so they decided to be foster parents instead. Hannah was their second, and as Becky said, "You get attached to them very quickly."
"We didn’t go into it to get a child," she said. "We went into it to help children and fell in love with Hannah."
Good thing, because Hannah was waiting.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.