11 Apr 2022 Conway’s Mike Altland creates Arkansas Foster Child Birthday Card Program
By Rita Halter Thomas
Few things touch the heart and lift the spirit quite like receiving a personal note, card, or letter in the mail. Something about the effort says someone cares, even if the message contains goofy humor. Someone remembers and cares. That’s the message Mike Altland of Conway wants to send to the state’s foster care children.
Inspired by a daily devotional published by “Our Daily Bread,” Altland thought foster children would find encouragement receiving a birthday card in the mail.
The devotional cited decades-old research from Dr. Jerry Motto stating a simple “caring letter” reduced the rate of suicide by patients who had previously attempted suicide. It further pointed out “twenty-one ‘books’ of the Bible are actually letters (epistles) caringly written to first-century believers who struggled for a variety of reasons” to encourage them in difficult times.
Inspired by this message and affirmed by Bible verse James 1:27, Altland felt God’s call to put feet to his faith and take action. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)
Altland, recently retired from the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), had worked indirectly with the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and understood enough of the inner workings of the department to pitch the idea.
“I approached Mischa Martin, the director of DCFS, and gained her initial approval. The linchpin was finding a source for suitable cards and envelopes,” Altland said.
American Greetings has a presence in Osceola in Northeast Arkansas, so Altland reached out to David Oaks, the company’s regional human resources manager.
“American Greetings agreed to provide a supply of cards and envelopes for boys and girls ages 4–21,” Altland said. “This ensures, as long as children remain in foster care, they will receive a unique age- and gender-appropriate card on their birthday.”
Having the support of American Greetings solidified the creation of the Arkansas Foster Child Birthday Card Program. However, establishing the logistics required all the right partners. Altland reached out to Louise Witcher, coordinator of the CALL for Conway and Faulkner counties, who allows the program to administer the card processing from their office.
Cousins Office Furniture in Conway stepped up to donate a lateral file cabinet that holds an immediate supply of cards and envelopes with the remaining stock stored at the Conway Human Development Center.
Volunteers from the Conway Morning Rotary Club and the Central Arkansas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) staff send the cards each month.
“All of our volunteers who administratively work on the project are vetted by DCFS,” Altland said of maintaining security and protecting the privacy of the children. “The envelopes never contain the child’s full name, only something like ‘Happy Birthday, Jill,’ and then sent to the foster parents’ address.”
There are about 12 volunteers who work the process, and it takes two or three people about four to five hours to process the cards each month, but the work doesn’t stop there.
“We pray over each batch of cards,” Altland said, emphasizing that as a critical part of the preparation process. “We intentionally pray over these kids, their families, and their foster families.”
The first batch of cards was mailed in January, and in three months the birthday card program has sent more than 700 cards, averaging about 230 cards each month.
Currently, the program doesn’t require additional resources or funding, but people can still be involved by keeping the Arkansas Foster Care Birthday Card program and the state’s foster children and families covered in prayer.
Other ways to become involved and support foster children can be found at: thecallinarkansas.org, walkforthewaiting.org, and arkansascasa.net.