Over seven years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, a prison chaplain approached LeAllison Whittinghill about taking care of a baby, soon to be born to a pregnant, incarcerated mother. The baby’s name was Jonah. After receiving Jonah, LeAllison and her husband, already parents of four children, were inspired in a way they never expected.
Through volunteering on a weekly basis at the prison, LeAllison realized state-run foster care was the only option for women who gave birth in prison. After much prayer, she and her family made the decision to give incarcerated women another option, a better option. LeAllison started meeting with pregnant mothers who were incarcerated in an effort to help them find safe, healthy homes for their children. The goal—maintain positive connections between mother and child until the mom is released.
These eye and heart-opening experiences led to the beginning of Jonah’s Journey. Today, the ministry is providing temporary or long-term care for children of incarcerated mothers. A host of families have lovingly cared for over one hundred babies, and Jonah’s Journey continues to grow, reaching more and more children.
An alternative option to state foster care, Jonah’s Journey supports the bond between a mother and her child—definitely safe and appropriate. Reuniting mother and child is at the heart of each situation. Jonah’s Journey families actively send photos, make weekly calls, and even take children to visit their mother regularly. Receiving no financial support in order to provide for the children, Jonah’s Journey families care for every child as if they were their own, and offer mothers and children a Christ-like example in word and deed.
Kelly, a Jonah’s Journey caregiver, explains that she wants to give hope to incarcerated mothers so that “when they get out, they can be reunited with their family and break the cycle of brokenness.” That’s what Jonah’s Journey was created to do– to break the cycle of brokenness and restore the lives of others.
For 2.7 million American children with incarcerated parents, a positive intervention is needed to break the cycle. Jonah’s Journey is consistently countering the negative effects of depression and sociological problems, through positive, Christian interventions that make change possible. Families providing care through Jonah’s Journey are working to ease these children’s transition and provide hope.
Caregivers receive training through Safe Families, and in addition to training, complete a short home study. Those involved in the ministry are prepared and are on a mission to demonstrate God’s love, mercy, and grace. No doubt, serving as a caregiver is a unique calling. Regardless of the time or situation, Jonah’s Journey families are ready for anything and everything, whenever a need arises. Jonah’s Journey families are stepping-up and not only changing statistics, but changing people’s lives.
“I prayed on my knees, in my prison cell for an answer about what to do with my baby. I have no doubt, God sent me Jonah’s Journey,” says one of many mothers who have been blessed by the ministry.
Intervening in the lives of incarcerated parents and children has in fact preserved positive family connections, and is leading to physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. At times, those benefits have even arrived through providing children with permanent homes.
After learning about the ministry from her Sunday school teacher, current Jonah’s Journey Director Lisa Herren adopted her little girl, Taylor. About two years ago, Lisa Herren quit her job to begin working full time for Jonah’s Journey. Lisa, an ER nurse at the time, and her husband felt called to adopt their own baby through Jonah’s Journey, as well as become a part of the ministry.
Lisa’s story is just one of many where Jonah’s Journey has provided a permanent home for a child. Although not specifically an adoption ministry, Jonah’s Journey has found—and continues to find—forever homes with caregivers for numerous children like Taylor.
An exciting opportunity came about for Jonah’s Journey to extend their services by combining resources with Palmer Home for Children on March 1, 2014. Also a Christ-centered, non-profit, Palmer Home is dedicated to providing residential care to children.
“Our mission is to help children in need and we’ve been looking for the right opportunity to extend our reach. Jonah’s Journey has demonstrated success in connecting children in need with a Christian home. That’s what we do,” says Drake Bassett, president and CEO of Palmer Home for Children.
Looking back, LeAllison realizes that God’s plan for Jonah’s Journey was always in motion, and that change was already happening: “The minute that we held him, I told his mother that he was going to change the world. And I, at the moment, thought it was going to be him changing the world. I had no idea that it was much bigger than one child, and one boy named Jonah.”
Indeed, Jonah’s Journey is changing the world, one child at a time. For more information go to jonahsjourney.org.