By Mandy Tennity

Where grace begins. That was the theme of this year’s Entrusted: Foster and Adoption Conference. From the welcome bag, to spirited speakers, through nourishing songs and thoughtful gifts, grace was shown throughout.

This was my first Entrusted Conference, so I was not sure what to expect. I arrived as a steward for Lutheran Family Services of Virginia in the hopes of sharing information with those who are adopting, fostering or are thinking about it. I hoped to hear personal stories and insights from others attending — and I was not let down. The people attending this conference were open, supportive and real about their struggles and achievements within the foster and adoption world. The phrase “You are my people” made those who were previously shy, embarrassed or even overwhelmed, ready to open up and be embraced by the community. It was pretty powerful to experience.

The conference had some amazing speakers. Two of my favorites were Jason Johnson and Melvin Roy. They had strong messages of taking action to change lives of those in need — and they both didn’t just talk about, they have done it and are continuing to do it.

Melvin Roy, currently a student at Old Dominion University, has experience being inside the foster care system. When reflecting on the day he was placed in foster care, he shared, “I didn’t want to be removed, I just wanted to be safe.” That statement really stuck with me and made me think of how we can better serve youth coming into care. Roy talked about his ups and downs in foster care. There was authenticity to the teenage experience he was sharing, with the typical trials being much sharper. Through hard work and support, Roy created Foster-U, which has a goal of encouraging foster youth to continue into higher education through workshops, mentorship and community service. His work shows grace to the most vulnerable and shows hope and a chance for a better future to those who want it and those who need it.

Jason Johnson is an author, adoptive father, and a blogger. I have been following him and reading his blogs, which made hearing him speak exciting for me. One of Johnson’s books is called “Everyone Can Do Something.” The phrase itself is a call to action for everyone to engage with the foster and adoption community. Not everyone may be able to foster or adopt, but everyone can still do something. Johnson explained, “We’re not all called to do the same thing, but we are all capable of doing something.” Johnson spoke about doing what you can do, and that what you can do is enough. Another important message from Johnson was to “walk toward the need,” meaning engage the most vulnerable, converse with and support. Show grace where it is needed.

I left the conference feeling empowered, hopeful and part of a greater community. It opened the doors for the long drive home feeling ENTRUSTED to not only take meaningful action in my community, but to share the grace that had been best shown to me.