One More Child… 

- December 13, 2021 -

WORDS: Bre Jones Mulock
PICTURES: Whitney Patton

Dappled late afternoon sunlight filtered through a sprawling leaf canopy that seemed to gingerly hug a sleepy northwest Bradenton street as nine-year-old Madeline Pye zipped down the asphalt on a scooter, her auburn ponytail trailing behind. 

Pausing to say hello, a dog walker smiled, and a neighbor busily trimmed a hedge to manicured perfection. The Pye family had just eased into their driveway, returning from Sunday’s habitual routine: Church and lunch. Spilling out of the car into their brick entrance home that exudes warmth and Southern charm, the five Pye kids scattered as they bolted through the doors to tackle tasks. 

Grabbing violins, two kids squeaked out scales and the beginnings of “Oh Come All Ye Faithfull” while another one toted over his vocabulary workbook to mom, Heather Pye, for help. In the kitchen, lined with blue cabinetry, the oldest daughter, 13-year-old Reagan, scoured the refrigerator for a snack while studying at a wooden table. Elijah, who recently turned five and idolizes his older siblings, napped in a bedroom upstairs. 

At first glance, the Pye family’s beautiful, controlled chaos on a Sunday afternoon seemed to unfold like any other Bradenton family, where the weekend vibes are slowly fading away into the focused lens of a new work and school week.  

But they are not just any other family. They are heroes.  

Unassuming and humble, they work under the radar, pouring heart into their community through Jesus Christ by fostering children who need guidance, hope, and love the most.  Five children in four years have felt the glowing warmth of security and safety that illuminate the Pye home, including Elijah, who Heather and Tim Pye– with open minds and open arms — adopted to join their four biological children. 

“We have people say to us, ‘You are so amazing,’” said Heather Pye, who started dating her husband, Tim, at age 16 after they met at church. “But we are not. God gives you what you need every day. At the end of each day, we, too, are spent and need to recharge. I believe the Lord called us to do this. It’s a very strong feeling.” 

Joining the 175 current area homes welcoming foster children, the Pyes work through One More Child, a ministry providing Christ-centered services to vulnerable children and struggling families locally and worldwide. First opening doors as an Arcadia, Florida orphanage in 1904, One More Child has channeled hope to thousands of hurting children in tangible ways. Including food programs for the hungry, single mom resources, human trafficking safe houses, and foster care homes, to name a few. Reaching 13 countries worldwide, the organization strives to learn how to best meet the needs of each community. 

“Whether it’s providing clean diapers to a newborn baby, food for a hungry child, safety for an abused child, or foster or adoptive homes to children in crisis, we work to share with children who have been abandoned, neglected, or abused the healing love of Jesus,” said Rachel Froelich, case manager at One More Child who emphasized foster care placement can span from 1 day to a year or even longer. “God has presented us with the ability to help sustain and grow our community.” 

Froelich, who has fostered 15 children in two years, expressed urgency in recruiting more families like the Pyes to provide vulnerable children with a safe home – a place to lie their head at night, seek hugs and fill their hungry tummies. In just 2020 alone, 344 children in Manatee County were placed into foster care, with 194 resulting from caretaker drug and alcohol abuse, according to the Department of Children and Families Suncoast Region. Sadly, 16,000 children in Florida are removed from their homes each year due to abandonment, abuse, and neglect, DCF cited.  

“Fostering is a very important need in Manatee County because our area has one of the highest removal rates in the state of Florida,” said Froelich, who shared the pandemic has chipped away at participating foster families, decreasing from 200 to 175 since COVID began. “This is because we have a high amount of drug issues that result in the need to remove children.” 

With a career submerging her into a front-row seat of foster care, Froelich attached actual scared and sorrowful faces to the names of kids streaming through the system. She met and connected with the children behind the tragic stories. 

“I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives,” said Froelich, who currently fosters two girls. “I really love to see them improve and grow. One of my girls just accepted Christ and was baptized.” 

Juggling four kids – ages two, four, six and eight at the time – a part-time job at a hair salon and 6 a.m. wake-ups for Fit Crew, Heather Pye’s heart swelled when a friend and Manatee Memorial Hospital ER nurse shared in 2017 her tragic insight of a struggling foster care system and the many hurting, neglected children trapped in broken homes.  

The nurse’s words, dropping one by one like angelic music notes weaving a melody of fate, reverberated within Heather Pye. And when a church pastor – days later – shared the statistic that if every church in America embraced just one foster child, society could obliterate the foster care system, she felt a calling to be that church family. 

“Tim goes big and is all in all the time, and I knew if I said it out loud, I could not take it back, but I just knew the Lord was telling us to do this,” said Heather Pye, her eyes pooling with tears as she stroked her long brown hair cascading down one shoulder. 

Wiping her damp checks, she added with a laugh, “Tim would take in 20 children if it was up to him.” 

The couple prayed and agreed to dip their toe in the swirling pool of foster care by attending an informational seminar with One More Child, where they soon discovered every fear, they harbored about fostering disintegrated. According to the ministry, the process involves training hours, background checks, and home visits that average two months to achieve licensing. 

“We learned the biggest need in Manatee County because of the drug abuse is babies,” said Time Pye, whose parents welcomed a total of 95 foster children throughout the years. “Babies are at an age where when they are neglected, they just need to be held.” 

Raising her hands up in exclamation Heather Pye clamored to say, “Well, we can hold babies! We can hold babies all day long!” 

With eyes still sleepy and hair tossed around from a nap, Elijah shuffled downstairs in his socks, eager for the weekly FaceTime call with his maternal grandmother. His broad smile and twinkly eyes hint at a sense of humor. He shares a middle name – James – with his adoptive dad and loves his skateboard, anything his older siblings are doing, and ketchup.  He swims like a fish and knee boarded for the first time at four years old. Just before his first birthday, DCF removed him from a neglecting birth mom high on drugs and roaming the streets.  

“We have a long-term, very good relationship with DCF,” said RJ Walters, director of communications for One More Child. “We are so grateful for the people there because their hearts are aligned with ours. The goal is always reunification with a parent or relative. This is always what we are striving for.” 

After DCF deemed Elijah’s home unsafe, Tim Pye’s phone rang in the middle of the night with a life-changing request: Could they take Elijah? 

‘We were so ready to help keep Elijah safe and healthy, but also bridge a relationship with his birth mom,” said Tim Pye. “Since he was about to turn a year, we took a birthday cake to the park and met his birth mom there. We had many visits. The hope is always for these kids to go back to their parents. We want these parents to get better and for these kids to go home to them.” 

The Pyes have celebrated successes like when the twin 8-month-old girls they fostered reunited with a family member. In awe, they viewed another little girl’s father grow and flourish as a parent so he could gain custody. They have welcomed children, loved them, and waved goodbye through a mix of emotional happy/sad tears streaming down every Pye face. 

“The hardest thing about fostering is watching your kids cry when a child we are fostering leaves our home,” said Tim Pye. “They are so helpful and connect with the kids, sometimes sharing a bedroom.” 

Walters, who has fostered three children and his wife and ultimately adopted them to join their three biological kids, highlighted the myriad of life lessons and positive impacts fostering can have on biological children. 

“One of the biggest misconceptions out there about fostering is that it is hard on the biological children,” said Walters, who shared last year One More Child served 324,409 children through their various programs worldwide. “Sure, some situations are challenging, but the children in foster families see what compassion looks like. They learn about the journeys of other kids and connect with them.”  

Tim and Heather Pye adamantly agree as they have witnessed their children comfort, entertain, build friendships and love the foster kids passing through the Pye Home.  

“Our children are learning how a family should work and how hard it is,” said Heather Pye. “They are learning unconditional love. Our goal is for our children to grow up to be servers of the Lord.” 

While goodbyes leave tiny fractures in their hearts, the Pyes, who purchased a custom, stretched SUV to accommodate their ever-changing number of children, see fostering as a permanent way of life for their family. 

“We can’t stop now,” said Heather Pye. “I can’t un-see what I have now seen.” 

While fostering children has rooted into a calling and passion for the Pyes, it may not fit into the churning wheels of every family. Walters says the organization stresses opportunities to support families who choose to foster by forming Foster Crews – a creative and resourceful way for an individual or church to wrap around foster families with support. These crews make up super sitters, household helpers, meal makers, prayer partners, and many other ways to contribute. The Pyes would often come home to diapers left anonymously at their front porch.  

“One thing we push is that you don’t have to be a foster parent to make an impact on a child’s life,” Walters said. “We have many ways to get involved.” 

Like loving, outstretched arms from an assembly of help, One More Child offers the community support through a kaleidoscope of categories such as feeding the hungry, supporting single moms, and providing safe houses for victims of human trafficking.  According to the organization, more than 10 million children are food insecure in the U.S., and worldwide an estimated 5.2 million children died last year before their 5th birthday due to malnutrition and hunger. 

“In 2020, we provided 19 million meals worldwide to children and individuals globally and provided 717,000 diapers to children in need,” Walters said. 

In addition, the ministry created a backpack meals program where they supplied more than 625,000 students in local schools with lunches packed in non-descript backpacks. 

Serving single moms in our community, One More Child also launched a 10-week program that provides classes, mentorship, and resources to boost these struggling women to self-sufficiency. According to the Kids Count database, more than 24 million children in the United States live in single-parent families. 

“We work closely with corporate sponsors like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to help with this program,” Froelich said. “This year, Geico helped with their Recycled Rides Program, providing ten re-purposed vehicles for single moms.” 

And with Florida home to the third most reported cases of human trafficking than any other state in the nation, One Moe Child has a safe home for victims. Especially sobering is the fact that 21 percent of the total trafficking victims worldwide are children, according to the International Labor Organization. 

While One More Child reacts to the myriad needs of at-risk and struggling families, Walters expressed the organization presses to find forward-thinking approaches. 

 “How do we as an organization be more forward-thinking and figure out how to actually prevent these situations from ever even happening?” questioned Walters. 

Visits with Elijah Pye’s birth mom slowly deteriorated over time. She stopped showing up. The vicious world of drugs rooted firmly in her life, and she floated away into an unengaged parent, putting her desires before Elijah’s. He passed through the Pye home twice as a foster child. 

“The second time he came here, he ran through the door and said, ‘I’m home! Where’s daddy?’” said Heather Pye. 

When the opportunity presented to adopt Elijah, Tim and Heather Pye quickly realized this was a “no-brainer” because the Pye home was all Elijah had ever really known. 

“I explain to Elijah that God made him just for me and that God made me his dad,” said Tim Pye. “He is a Pye. He has always been a Pye.” 

Related Articles