Christmas event in Little Rock brings together foster children, people looking to adopt

Zhylyn Franklin, 7, and his sister KK, 9, dance to “Church Clap” during the Candyland Christmas event Saturday hosted by the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services and Project Zero at the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Zhylyn Franklin, 7, and his sister KK, 9, dance to “Church Clap” during the Candyland Christmas event Saturday hosted by the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services and Project Zero at the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

For 10 years, Project Zero's annual Candyland Christmas celebration has given foster children not just gifts from their wish lists, but also a chance to meet potential adoptive parents.

At last year's event, 20 children were paired with their adoptive families, Christie Erwin, Project Zero's executive director, said.

Children at the event, at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, receive gifts bought by volunteers from the children's wish lists. To take the burden off the volunteers, Project Zero will crowdfund to buy any electronics, Erwin said.

"I think we bought 35 Nintendo Switches and 20 PS4s this year," Erwin said.

Along with the children, the attendees include people who have been approved by the Arkansas Department of Human Services' Division of Children and Family Services and are waiting to adopt.

Among the 230 children and teens who attended this year was Promyse, 9, of Camden, who had made the two-hour trip with her caseworker.

Last year, she got a bike. This year, she was hoping for a Nintendo Switch.

Project Zero holds an event for foster children every month, but the Candyland Christmas luncheon is its biggest of the year, Erwin said.

Over the past decade, she said the number of children who have registered has fallen, which she attributed to more education about adoption.

This year, there were 62 potential adoptive parents in attendance who had finished the screening process and were hoping to meet and get to know the children face to face.

The nonprofit has introductions and videos of the kids who are waiting to be adopted on its website, which is where many people hoping to adopt first meet the children.

Justin Reed, 35, and his fiance Dustin Breazeale, 40, who were recently approved to become adoptive parents, traveled from Bentonville to attend.

Like many of the potential parents, the two had to go through months of classes and home visits to be approved.

"Everybody thinks the classes are about how to take care of kids, but it's more about how to take care of kids who have been through the foster care system," Reed said.

Breazeale said that includes the children's potential needs and the trauma they may have suffered.

"We wish we could take them all home now," he said.

Initially the two wanted to bring a newborn into their lives, but after going through the process, they realized there are many older kids in the state that need to be adopted.

"It really changes you, going through the process. Now we are open to 5, 6 or 7 year olds or even siblings who need love," Reed said.

Throughout the two-hour event, the children were fed, made crafts, met Santa and played rounds of Bingo for toy prizes. At the end, they lined up to pick up their green and red gallon-sized bags of gifts.

Ly is a Report for America Corps member.

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