A Desired Haven for Strong Families
One of Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries’ programs, Desired Haven Family Care, has been serving as a Christ-centered support system for vulnerable Jonesboro-area families since 2014.
The ministry first began in 1894, when Hannah Hyatt donated her home to vulnerable children in the state of Arkansas. Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries (ABCFM) has since grown to include five areas of ministry, including Christian counseling, adoption, foster care, campus care and family stability and advocacy by way of Desired Haven Family Care. There are also plans to open a trauma-informed preschool in the near future.
Desired Haven first opened its doors to residential housing for women and their children in Jonesboro nine years ago with a building built in memory of Dr. Buck Rusher; it has since expanded its mission by including community outreach for family units in need of a hand.
Debi Walker, the director of family care for Desired Haven, first turned her passion for helping people into her career after becoming a widow and single mother. She led the women’s ministry at First Baptist Church in Brinkley for seven years prior to joining ABCFM. Before her current role, she served as relief houseparent for Paragould Emergency Receiving Home, as well as resident manager at Desired Haven. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of the Bible study, “Desired Haven.”
Walker says her passion is to help others navigate through life’s stresses by encouraging them to deepen their relationship with God while learning to depend on Him in a new way, and that is exactly what Desired Haven does for families in the Jonesboro community.
“We get calls from families that might be at risk of their children going into foster care or from moms who are coming out of drug treatment facilities who are working to get their children back, schools will refer families who are going through a difficult time or sometimes the families are homeless,” said Walker of who seeks the help of Desired Haven. “There are many reasons they reach out to us; the commonality is that they are wanting to work toward long-term stability.”
There are three homes across the state – Jonesboro, Little Rock and Springdale – each of which has six family suites. Last year alone, the Desired Haven Home housed 28 families, including 59 children. The community outreach portion of the ministry helped another 13 families.
Walker says that Desired Haven’s mission is to provide instruction and support that comes from seven areas of stability for vulnerable families – spiritual, relationships, finances, health, housekeeping, parenting and time management. The free program equips parents with the skills and resources needed to lead their family to a healthy future by building a support system around families that stays for a lifetime; it is taught in the context of safe, Godly relationships where parents are partnered with trained advocates who not only walk through the program with them but with whom they develop trusting friendships.
“We have many families who have the desire to make a change, but they don’t have the tools or the support to help them flesh that out, so we walk alongside them to be able to provide that support,” said Walker. “Our families are provided a Living Well Counselor. If they have children in foster care, we are able to help the family work towards reunification; it gives families the added support as they are rebuilding their family.”
One of the women whose life was forever changed by Desired Haven says that the ministry has bettered her family, helped her find her self-worth and has had an impact on her career; she is now in her sixth year of teaching in the Jonesboro Public School District.
“I had all but given up on believing that I could have a meaningful, purposeful life,” she said. “I felt stuck in a day-to-day repetition that gave me no joy or peace that I had craved for so long. A series of events led me to (Desired Haven), where I learned that I was worth so much more than how I saw myself and that God had bigger and better plans for me than I could ever imagine.
“At (Desired Haven), I found my biggest fans who encouraged me to work on being the best me that I was intended to be. I worked to improve my family, and I achieved my ultimate goal of being able to walk across the stage to receive my diploma. The love and support I received has encouraged me to give that same love and support – and so much more – to my second-grade students. I absolutely love being a teacher and showing them they, too, can be anything and everything they want to be.”
Walker says that for her and those invested in Desired Haven, the beauty is seeing how God works in and changes the lives of those families. "For me, the most rewarding part is when I get to see a mom build her foundation upon Christ," said Walker. "I love hearing her heart and communicating to her that she is not alone in her journey. Getting to see how God is working in their lives is beautiful."
For more information about Desired Haven Family Care, visit arkansasfamilies.org or call (870) 972-8779.