ABOVE: Mark Smith and his family pose for a portrait. // SUBMITTED
By Mark Smith
I was once a lesser-known competitor in Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling league, which featured household names like Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
After leaving the ring for good, I wrestled with a different matter: whether or not to become a foster parent.
Many years, 15 foster kids and two adoptions later, I can say the experience outshines any sports highlight. Making room for children in need of housing has expanded and illuminated my outlook on life.
In Tennessee, the need for foster parents is clear. The state’s Department of Children’s Services reports more than 8,600 kids are in foster care, and currently there are only about 4,500 families willing to provide them homes. The opioid epidemic is increasing the number of children entering the foster system. From our experience, we know that foster families for sibling groups and older kids especially are needed. Additionally, kids over eight years old have only a 20 percent chance of being adopted.
Like many, I was hesitant at first to consider fostering and was unsure about bringing unknown children from potentially tough life situations home to live with my wife and our biological kids. However, the more I learned, the more my perspective changed.
Our journey began after my daughter befriended some girls at church who happened to be in foster care. They spent time at our house, and we became inspired by their character in the wake of adversity. We looked into becoming a foster family and were pleased to discover a strong support system.
Some say parenting doesn’t come with instructions, but foster parenting comes with significant resources. The not-for-profit organization we foster through, Centerstone, employs therapists, case managers and care coordinators who are always available to help. Children in foster care may have experienced trauma or neglect, but we have a team from Centerstone working together with our family to strengthen every aspect of each kid’s well-being: mental, physical, educational, social and spiritual.
Seeing a young person excel — whether he or she is your biological, foster or adopted child — is immensely rewarding. I’ve repeatedly seen the simple investment of time and love result in the thrill of a kid’s improved scores at school, award-winning creative expression, confidence to travel, to try new things and to pour talents back into the community. One of our adopted sons reversed years of failing grades and now plans to serve in the United States Army.
For all I may have taught the children we have fostered, what they teach our family is just as important. Their bravery and resilience remind us not to let fear get in the way of living. We have opened our home to children of many different backgrounds. All who walk through the door are family.
Everyone wants to make a difference in this world. Foster parenting is a powerful way to do that. It will change a child’s life, and it will change yours for the better as well.
Mark Smith and his wife Brenda live with their five children in Fayetteville, Tennessee. They foster children through Centerstone Therapeutic Foster Care (centerstone.org/fostercare).