Kimberly Curlin, the Director of the Wake County Chapter of Safe Families, discusses the mission of Safe Families, which is to bring together families in need with churches and host families who can assist them in times of crisis.
Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters.It will come as no surprise that many families across our state are facing hardships of many kinds. As caring individuals who are called to love and serve our neighbors, we have compassion for these families and want to help, but the fact is that we often find ourselves ill equipped to meet the real needs of those in crisis.
With this in mind, you’ll be happy to learn that North Carolina is home to a wonderful outreach ministry that surrounds families in crisis with caring, compassionate community. “Safe Families for Children” works to create a world where children are safe and families are transformed by bringing together families in need with churches and host families who can assist them in times of crisis.
Kimberly Curlin is the Director of the Wake County Chapter of Safe Families, and we are pleased to welcome her as our guest today. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill and then living in the inner city of Chicago, Kimberly brought her passion and vision for connecting families in crisis with supportive neighborhood churches back to Raleigh and Wake County, and she quickly helped to launch Safe Families in and around our capital city area.
With that, Kimberly, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
KIMBERLY CURLIN: Thank you so much John. It’s a pleasure to share this time and to be able to share across North Carolina the mission and vision of Safe Families.
JOHN RUSTIN: Kimberly, as we begin our conversation, I’d like to ask you to share a little bit about your story and how you became involved with Safe Families.
KIMBERLY CURLIN: It started way back at UNC-Chapel Hill as a freshmen, when I went to Intervarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference. It was there that the world’s needs were laid out in front of us in a compelling way. I was exposed to needs that I wasn’t aware of before and I was eager to become involved somehow. So in missions, we talk about some sending and others being sent. And I really wanted to be sent and actively engaged. And particularly, God gave me a heart for the Spanish-speaking community, and women who are in difficult circumstances such as domestic violence. The Lord allowed me to spend a year in Bolivia engaged in community development ministry there. Then, after getting married, spent a little over eight years in Chicago’s Mexican inner-city neighborhood. So, you’re graphically neighboring with neighbors who were dealing with complex at-risk situations like financial stress and early parenthood, violence and family dysfunction. It helped me learn a deeper meaning of “Love your neighbor” so, that was really transformative. And loving our neighbors there meant being present for them, and faithfully, slowly, walking through life together, all of us on a journey, including us. And it wasn’t about fixing problems. So, we learned a lot in those years. And John, you’re probably familiar with Christian Community Development Association. One of their philosophies is re-neighboring. So there in inner-city Chicago, we were part of a community of people intentionally living there to actively engage in the neighborhood. So while there, I started having children and motherhood definitely altered my life and my capacity for ministry. I couldn’t quite get out the door and involved with other people to the same degree I had before. So we ended up moving out of the inner city and into a Chicago suburb. But when we left the inner city, we discovered Safe Families because two families in our new church were involved as host families. And it seems like, yet again, another beautiful way for God’s people to re-neighbor and to be active with struggling families, particularly single moms. I wanted to help these moms by hosting their kids temporarily, and since it was in-home hospitality ministry—and again, I was mentioning that I didn’t have time to go serve at a tutoring program, something where I was having to leave my house because I had little children and I was home schooling—so we jumped onboard as a host family. But we moved back to Raleigh in 2013. It took me a few years after moving to settling in, but in 2016, I finally reached out to the national office up in Chicago to ask them if Safe Families was here in North Carolina. That’s when they connected me with Steve Marshall who had just begun catalyst work across the whole state. So Steve is a pastor near Wilmington and he is a longtime friend of Safe Families’ national director, Dave Anderson. In fact back in 2003, Steve was living in Chicago and helped Dave first launch Safe Families. So, Steve laid the groundwork. He started the North Carolina chapter of Safe Families through the national alliance. Basically in 2016, I joined his efforts as the Raleigh coordinator.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great Kimberly. Thanks for sharing that. I think it will be evident to our listeners, just the passion that you have to reach out to those in crisis who need some assistance, and to really find practical ways to help meet those needs. So what specifically, for the benefit of our listeners, is the mission of Safe Families for Children?
KIMBERLY CURLIN: Safe Families for Children hosts vulnerable children and creates extended family-like support for desperate families, through a community of devoted volunteers who are motivated by faith to keep children safe and families intact.
JOHN RUSTIN: Kimberly, what kind of family situations does Safe Families seek to serve?
KIMBERLY CURLIN: All of the situations we seek to serve are “upstream,” we like to say. Upstream meaning preventative: When a parent is entering a crisis, and before abuse or neglect can occur. Foster care steps in when abuse or neglect has happened, or it has been suspected, but these situations are up the stream from there. So when a parent is experiencing serious stress like unemployment, domestic violence, isolation as a parent, lack of a safe social network, hospitalization, unsafe living situations or homelessness. […] We have been able to serve, for example, a family who was staying at one of our local homeless shelters and she needed to deliver her baby but didn’t have a safe place for her children while she went into the hospital, and the shelter can’t keep those kids while she’s not with them. So we were able to host those children while she delivered her baby and then delivered the children back to her once she got back to the shelter. So it’s those situations, where abuse and neglect is not happening but the family does not have the margin, does not have the social support to fill in in times of need.When one of us has new baby our mom comes to visit, or a sister, someone comes to fill in for us, but there’s so many families who don’t have those people so we want to be like extended family that they don’t have for them in those situations.
JOHN RUSTIN: Talk about the importance of building a connection between families in need and their local neighborhood churches that really want to plug in and find a way to help serve?
KIMBERLY CURLIN: So the church has the greatest resource, which is people. It’s a community of people, and people who are devoted to loving God and loving others. So the church really needs to be in the space of loving their neighbors who they might not know but they can get to know through this connection point of Safe Families. I mentioned re-neighboring before. It is a problem that, too often, we live in neighborhoods where families in crisis don’t live next door. So we need a bridge across that gap. Initially, God created the concept of family. And of course, the church wants to support families in every way we can because we know that God is honored in this design of family. So protecting children, loving their parents, and helping kids remain with their parents is really gospel work and it’s the work of the church. In child abuse prevention, we talk about the five protective factors. One of those is social connections and another is concrete support. The church can provide both of those. So intervening at critical times, we prevent harm to children and we give parents the space and support they need to get back on their feet. Really, this is not about fixing it for the parents. It’s about hosting children while the parent is achieving their goals that they really want to achieve. So they are working to make life stable and we’re just offering this—again the extended family-like support—while the parents are really working hard. So the church can absolutely contribute to family stabilization and preservation.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. It seems like individuals, neighbors, and churches who get involved in this can provide a personal level of care that, maybe in some cases, government or large state programs or national programs can’t do. How does the work that Safe Families do compare to government programs or other maybe more formalized programs that we may hear about.
KIMBERLY CURLIN: It goes back again to people and relationships. This is hospitality. And while we need some government programs—and there are Christian ministries that are programmatic such as offering classes, life skills, job training, those kinds of things. Those are essential—but the Safe Families niche is home-based hospitality. Jumping back to what is essential. We do actually need foster care because sometimes abuse and neglect does happen. But if we can step in relationally and partner ahead of time, then maybe we don’t need foster care. Safe Families is very flexible. There’s no absolute formula. There’s a model that I can explain, but there’s no formula, so every relationship looks different. As a church serves a family together, they can adapt to what the particular needs of this family are and the strengths of that family, and work with that in a flexible way.
JOHN RUSTIN: Kimberly, talk a little bit about the impact that Safe Families, from your experience, has on the individuals that volunteer. I certainly expect that there are benefits both for the parents and the children of families who are in crisis and who receive the services of this ministry, but what about the impact it has on those who are serving?
KIMBERLY CURLIN: Great question. Safe Families is built on the theology of biblical hospitality, which is radical and difficult. So this is not easy, for sure, to invite a stranger into our midst and all their needs that are involved in that. And you blend together both our own brokenness as volunteers and brokenness of our new friends. And this is a formula for a lot of trusting the Lord and growing through that stretching. I would say, first hand, we hosted a couple of times when we were up in Chicago and it also, I would say, it helped me grow in being more flexible, in adapting and changing with the personality and background and story of the children that were in my home. Instead of our family having to do things our way, we were able to flex, whether it was different kinds of food we were eating or different ways of just doing life, maybe not being so hurried. We were certainly changed in that process. Biblical hospitality, of course, is so different than just the hospitality of having friends over to eat dinner, watch a movie. This type of inviting a stranger in and making them like family. One other way that we grow is because we serve as a church family. So the Safe Families model involves not only a host family, but also some other volunteer roles, like a family coach and family friends. So the church is learning to do this together and there’s transformation and growth involved in that as well.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s such a great picture of the love of Christ and how He really causes us to invest in each other’s lives and to go beyond our comfort zone to really have meaningful relationships and serve others, even if it does make us uncomfortable sometimes, or takes us to places that we don’t necessarily expect. Kimberly, I know that many of our listeners are interested to learn where they can go to find out more about Safe Families for Children, and also to get connected, and determine if there’s a local chapter in their own area. How can they do that?
KIMBERLY CURLIN: Our website is https://safe-families.org and currently there is a Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte webpage which you can access at that main national website. Also, those three cities: Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte, have Facebook pages. So if you like Facebook, you can access information there. If you live in a different area than Raleigh, Durham, or Charlotte, and you would like to consider catalyzing Safe Families in that area, I urge you to reach out to the national office at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a grassroots movement and it grows by people taking the baton and running with it. So if you’re hearing this and you’re feeling led to make this happen in your area, just reach out to them and they will coach you through how to start this in your city.
JOHN RUSTIN: With that, Kimberly Curlin, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today and for the great work that you’re doing at Safe Families in Wake County. And again,just want to encourage our listeners to look into this and to get involved with Safe Families in their community.
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