When Ron Hauenstein started volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission’s shelter for homeless women in 2008, he had an encounter that would change his life.
Hauenstein had stopped at the dollar store to buy toys for the kids staying at the shelter. One 7-year-old boy grabbed a toy, ran around the parking lot and came back.
He asked if Hauenstein had bought the toy for him, with his own money. When Hauenstein said yes, the child responded, “You must really like kids.”
Hauenstein was left wondering what the rest of the boy’s life must have been like for a small toy to mean so much. What he heard in the boy’s question was, “I finally found an adult who likes kids.”
Almost a decade later, Hauenstein is starting a new organization, the Spokane Fatherhood Initiative, to get the church involved in finding solutions for fatherless kids like the ones he worked with at UGM.
The group, called SpoFI for short, will take a three-pronged approach to care for children: recruiting more foster and adoptive parents, promoting Christian mentoring opportunities, and helping to build better fathers.
“Fatherlessness is the root cause of all of our social problems,” Hauenstein said. “The church has to lead the way.”
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who spoke at the kickoff, said he sees the effect of absent parents regularly on the job.
“A lot of crime is because kids don’t have that good, solid family background,” he said.
When he talks to young people charged with crimes, he often hears the same thing: “Where’s your mom? ‘Working.’ Where’s your dad? ‘Not around.’ ”
SpoFI’s first push is a campaign called Spokane 127, named after James 1:27, the Bible verse telling the faithful that God’s idea of pure, faultless religion is to “look after widows and orphans in their distress.”
The goal is to recruit 127 new families willing to take in vulnerable children and families, whether through adoption, the state’s foster care system or Safe Families for Children, a Christian nonprofit agency that connects people with vulnerable families who might need temporary housing, transportation or other support.
“We have lots of lost and broken and desperate children in our community that need the care that can be provided by Christian homes,” Hauenstein said.
SpoFI is partnering with established groups like Safe Families for Children and hopes to be a bridge between them and churches in the Spokane area. The hope is that intervening with kids early on, whether through mentorship or providing a safe home, will prevent future homelessness, addiction and other problems.
“There’s not one problem in our community that you can’t trace back to the fact that there’s been a broken family somewhere in that midst,” said Carl Tompkins, the founder and president of the Way of Business, a nonprofit working to educate people on running businesses in God’s way and serve the community.
Derek Cutlip, the regional director of Safe Families in Eastern Washington, said families can offer hospitality, following biblical examples, to prevent children from being abused, neglected or left without a home.
Volunteers can support families during crises like homelessness, hospitalization or job loss to offer a safe space for children, preventing those children from ending up in the child welfare system.
“My challenge to the church is to come along,” he said.
SpoFI is targeted at church communities, but denomination and doctrine aren’t important to its leaders.
“It doesn’t really matter how tall or what thickness or color your collar is when you’re sitting with a crying child,” Tompkins said.