Fostering Hope In America comes to Paducah


Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - Tyler Rearden

PADUCAH, Ky.- Abandonment, hopelessness, and fear are all emotions one group of teens is forced to face twice. It happens the first time when they're ripped from their families and placed in foster care. It happens again when they age out of the system at 18. It's a badly broken system that leaves thousands hopeless and unprepared.

According to statistics from Project Meet Me Halfway, 30,000 teens age out of foster care in America every year, and the majority become homeless. Half of all women who age out at 18 will become pregnant with in a year. One in four will spend time in jail before their 20th birthday, and only half of all teens who age out at 18 will graduate from high school. That's why a local church is partnering with a woman who refused to become a statistic,and they're using her story to foster hope.

 "Imagine yourself at seven years old, living with your mom and your dad, and being taken away from the only reality that you ever knew," said National Inspirational Speaker Davina Merritt. For her, that scenario is no stretch of the imagination. It's her real life. She was shuffled through Kentucky's foster care system and said she would have been lost if not for a special high school teacher who cared enough to keep her accountable. "She instilled belief in me that I didn't have. She was probably the first person in my life that said I believe in you," said Merritt.

She was never adopted and aged out of the system when she turned 18. She said, "I just knew that I had to make a go of my life and stay focused."  That focus has taken Merritt and her message of hope across the nation and now to Paducah.

"We want to be able to help the ministry of Davina and reach the foster children and parents in this area," said Southland Baptist Temple Pastor Jimmy Franks. Merritt is partnering with Pastor Franks and his international organization Hope For The World. For the first time, they're reaching out to foster families in our area. Merritt said, "They're confused, they're frustrated, they're angry, and they're sad. Every emotion they face, I address. I let them know there's hope."

The outreach isn't just for foster kids and their families. Considering the social and health obstacles she's overcome, Merritt says hope is something everyone could use a little more of. She said, "Now I have more of a sense of urgency for change... to really reach out and give others hope, peace, joy, and comfort where I just share my love with them."

The Fostering Hope For America event will be at Southland Baptist Temple in Paducah on Saturday, March 30th, from 10 am until 3 pm. It's free and open to everyone.