By Rena, Safe Families for Children client, and Katie, Safe Families for Children program coordinator
An unexpected COVID-19 diagnosis
Rena: I wasn't experiencing many of the COVID-19 symptoms, but knew I wasn’t feeling well.
It was my birthday, and I was sick for most of it. I didn't end up feeling any better, so I was admitted to the hospital the next evening. I was in a lot of pain and was told my liver was failing.
Doctors were telling me I would have to be moved from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a liver transplant. I didn't know what to do. So, I contacted one of my friends, asking her to get in touch with Katie from Safe Families for Children.
Katie: Rena and I worked together through Safe Families for Children this past July. We already had a relationship, which I think, in hindsight, was part of God's story. God knew way back in July that this was all going to unfold, and He was preparing our relationship for what was ahead.
I got the call from Rena’s friend on Wednesday morning and was able to get to the hospital within an hour to meet with Rena. From there, it was a matter of identifying volunteer Host Families and getting Rena situated where she was; we really believed her liver was failing. Rena was tested later that day for COVID-19 as a precautionary measure.
Rena: I didn't expect anything like this. The doctors tested me for the coronavirus simply to rule out that possibility before transferring me to Ann Arbor.
It was four days later when the doctor told me, “We've got the results, and you're positive.” It took my breath away. I didn't know how to process it.
Katie: The doctors discovered that it was the virus causing Rena’s body to react the way it did. All I could think was, How can I support Rena? I knew she would need care for her four youngest kids, so I immediately contacted a few Host Families—not knowing how they would respond to putting their own families at risk for contracting the virus. I was focused on finding families that didn’t have a timeframe on caring for these kids. We weren’t sure how long Rena would be hospitalized.
When I met with one of the volunteer Host Families, they prayed over me and our community, for all the uncertainty around the world. This Host Family looked at me and said, “You know, now is the time. Put me in, coach. This is why we signed up for this. This is something that God has called us to do, so put me in.”
That really resonated with me because it's such an uncertain time in our world right now. If caring for vulnerable families is our calling, this is exactly when we need to step up to the plate and offer our gifts of compassion and hospitality.
Building relationships through Safe Families
Rena: I remember when a Bethany counselor gave me a Safe Families for Children brochure. I never thought I would need it, so I just tucked it away.
But when I experienced a rough separation from my husband, I thought, I really need some help maneuvering through life right now. I was alone, overwhelmed, and didn’t have any help.
I love my children more than anything, so it was a big step to think about handing them over to someone else—even though I knew it would help me get things in order to better care for them in the future.
I was second-guessing myself, but the moment I talked to Katie—when I heard her voice—I felt such a sense of peace. She explained how Safe Families works and answered all my questions. She told me that they work with wonderful families who want to help. This is their passion.
When you're in a position like this, not knowing what the future holds, it’s scary. But Katie showed up with open arms, ready to help me and my kids. She gave me peace knowing that my children are safe, while I focus on my healing.
Creating a strong family network
Katie: Rena’s kids are resilient, and I believe that's a reflection of her parenting. But we didn't know how long the kids would need to be with their Host Families.
It was an urgent ask. Thankfully, I was able to identify volunteers that had the capacity to say yes to hosting Rena’s children for an indefinite amount of time. Three different Host Families welcomed Rena’s children—4 years old, 21-month-old twins, and 10 months old—into their homes.
Rena: I remember feeling terrible, knowing these families were now exposed to the virus and would need to be quarantined. That’s one of the first questions I asked Katie: Are the families upset with me?
She told me it wasn’t even a question for them. No one spoke a negative word about my positive test result. They were still willing to help, and that really blessed my heart—that they cared enough about me to make such a sacrifice.
This is all very recent, but we’ve become a tight unit, and we’re trying to go with the flow. We’re all working together.
Katie: We're taking it day by day. We’ve all banded together and said, “We're even more of a team now.”
Our number one priority is taking care of these kids and supporting Rena. And, honestly, that's the heart of Safe Families: building a community around people that are isolated.
Rena: Isolation has been difficult for me. I went from having a house full of children to being alone all day, every day.
A couple of times, I've reached out to the Host Families and asked them to love on my babies a little more or to share pictures of my kids with me, and they’re always quick to do so.
They’re constantly showing their intentionality for me and my family. I never have to worry or wonder, and that's such a relief.
Quite often, they reach out to me before I even connect with them. They’ll ask how I’m doing or how my night was, and I truly appreciate that. I try to remain positive in a time of isolation. It’s nice to have people that can come alongside you and say, “We’ve got your back. We're here for you.”
It makes me feel safe. It’s like we're family now.
Katie: The goal of Safe Families is always to bring kids home to an even more stable environment than what they came from. So, we’re helping Rena regain her health, so we can bring her babies home as soon as it’s OK to do so.
That’s going to be an emotional day, in the best way possible.
The long-awaited reunion
Updated June 15, 2020
Katie: On May 4, Rena was announced fully recovered from COVID-19, and her children finally came home! My mom works for a local radio station, so she brought the vehicle to play music in the street. The local fire station even brought two firetrucks to lead a social-distanced parade.
Everyone who had helped in any way during the eight weeks Rena was quarantined came out to celebrate. The entire day was filled with emotions, and I’m just so grateful for the Safe Families network that wrapped Rena with loving support through this crisis.