By Mary Catherine Gaston
More than a decade ago, Tifton native Laura Maxwell perceived a clear calling to orphan care. With no experience with adoption, foster or orphan care, Laura and a group of passionate volunteers embarked on a prayerful pursuit that eventually resulted in the founding of Called to Care. The nonprofit is now active in 20 south Georgia counties, providing support, tangible needs and grants to the region’s foster and adoptive community.* Laura now serves as the organization’s executive director.
Rural Roots: Laura has spent her entire life in rural Georgia. After growing up in Tifton and completing an associate’s degree at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, she received her bachelor’s from Georgia College in Milledgeville. She then returned to Tifton to marry her college sweetheart, Landon, and raise four children in her hometown. When she initially heard the call to minister to orphans and began partnering with Tift County’s Department of Family and Child Services, she had no idea that within just a few years, Called to Care would expand to help meet the needs of foster children, families and case workers in a 20-county region where, in 2019, approximately 1,500 children were in foster care and hundreds more were being served through preventive measures. “We serve in some of the most economically deprived places in rural Georgia, where food insecurity, inadequate housing and generational poverty are huge issues,” Laura says. In 2019, 6,400 Called to Care volunteers made a difference in the lives of more than 2,500 south Georgia children.
What makes her a hero? As Laura puts it, the Called to Care team and DFCS staff “walk in when the world walks out. It may not be a burning building, but there are people dying in the situations we deal with.” She reminds them regularly of the biblical mandate to not grow weary of doing good. “There will be no end to the work we do, and it’s really hard to not grow weary.” When the fatigue sets in, she gives—and follows—this advice: “Stop, pray and thank God that he chose you to serve. He knew the call was coming. Ask what would he have you to do.”
A cause that is close to her heart: Though she was clearly and specifically called to orphan care, Laura’s greatest passion is to impact those who have not yet come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. “This is what keeps me awake at night—am I doing enough to reach the lost?”
Something she wants every rural (and non-rural) Georgian to realize: Those involved in the foster care system and served by Called to Care are facing extremely difficult circumstances. Young or old, every single person can help in some way, but one action in particular is no help at all. “Don’t stand in judgment of people who lose their children or give them up for adoption,” Laura pleads. “Giving up a child is one of the most difficult, most selfless decisions a human being can make.” Instead, she says, choose to volunteer your time or donate from your resources to meet the overwhelming needs. “Actually being a foster parent is just one of the ways to help. Call your local Called to Care chapter and ask how you can help. We post needs literally every day on our Facebook pages. Some are large, some are small, many are immediate.”
Where she sees hope for rural communities: “The people of south Georgia are amazing,” Laura says. Through years of coming alongside DFCS staff to meet needs they are unable to meet—like a bed for a foster child to sleep in or a “journey bag” filled with clothing and toiletries for a child who is suddenly uprooted—she and her county directors have watched as, time and time again, individuals, businesses, civic groups and churches have stepped up to provide, often instantly. “People have just been so gracious with their finances, time and physical belongings,” she says. She is also encouraged by how she has seen nonprofit organizations and churches work together. “There can be competition for resources in the nonprofit world, but we have seen them work together so many times to meet urgent needs,” Laura says. “Seeing all these different people and groups come together for children inspires me.”
*Called to Care currently operates in the following Georgia counties: Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Sumter, Tift, Turner, Ware and Worth.