Arkansas has an alarming number of children in foster care. There are currently nearly 4,500 kids in state custody, with more than 1,000 children in care for more than two years.
Five years ago, Andrew and Amy Baker of Searcy decided to step up and help address this need, along with their three biological children: Julianne, Maryella and Isaac. Today, Andrew has begun a business and foundation – Red Door Tables and Red Door Table Foundation – that will further support not only foster children, but also parents seeking reunification and those opening their homes to these children.
In 2013, Andrew, director of the Mitchell Center for Leadership and Ministry at Harding University, had just finished his doctoral degree and was considering what to do with all his newfound free time. He and Amy, who serves as an instructor of communication sciences and disorders at Harding, decided that they would begin opening their home to those who were without.
Andrew quickly became involved in Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Restore Hope Initiative, a collaborative effort begun in 2015 to find strategic ways to deal with two specific issues: the alarming number of children in foster care and the state’s high rate of recidivism. In Arkansas, one in two people leaving prison will return.
Soon, an idea for a symbol evolved into a plan to invite businesses, churches, families and individuals around the state to partner in the effort to support those in the foster care system – whether children, parents seeking reunification, or those opening their homes to the most vulnerable.
“It started in knocking out a wall at our house to have more room for meals,” Andrew explained. “When we did that, we started looking for a new dining room table.”
During this search, he came across a book on Colonial America describing how a red front door indicated a home of safety and belonging. The concept of Red Door Tables was created to communicate the message of the power of a table to open doors of safety and belonging, specifically for the close to half a million children in the United States who are in foster care.
Each of the tables will be made by Red Door Tables, which employees current and former inmates in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, as well as parents whose children are in the custody of the state.
Photo courtesy of Ashel Parsons
“Red Door Tables’ unique employment model is designed to give a real second chance to employees, providing children, individuals and families the opportunity to find safety and belonging and the knowledge that mercy triumphs over judgment,” said Andrew.
“Restore Hope is about first chances and second chances. The tables raise awareness and funds for foster care – first chance – and employee those seeking a second chance. Our first employee is actually a mom who has been reunified with her beautiful children. She is the first to acknowledge she made a mistake, but today she is a rock star and helping a lot of other people.”
By mid-January, Red Door Tables plans to have 20 such tables on display in restaurants in central Arkansas. For now, they can be viewed at First Security Banking Centers in Searcy and Fayetteville.
Photo courtesy of Ashel Parsons
Eventually, tables will also be available to be purchased for use in personal homes. Each table will be painted with “Belonging Red” on top and “Calming White” on the bottom to allow people – specifically foster kids in the home – to sign the bottom of the table as a symbol that they will always have a place at the table and in the family.
Until then, everyone in Arkansas still has a chance to help these children this Christmas.
In partnership with Restore Hope and Red Door Tables, First Security Banking Centers throughout the state are accepting monetary gifts, store gift cards, and new, unwrapped toys through Friday, Dec. 14. Donations will be distributed to local children through partner agencies of the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services within each banking center community.
Said Andrew, “The need is great, and we have the opportunity to show support for the children who find themselves separated from their families this holiday season. Our hope is twofold: to raise awareness, and to make sure on Christmas morning they all find gifts under the tree with their names on it.”
Cover photo courtesy of Ashel Parsons