San Angelo Woman Seeks to Change Children's Lives Through Pictures
Broad smiles and short scripts accompany some 51 color portraits that have become familiar in the community, often placed on easels or hung on the walls of local restaurants and churches to raise awareness of those depicted.
Children--mostly alone, but sometimes in groups of up to five siblings--are posed on the 20x30 prints, a visual reminder that although they appear beautiful and happy, none of them currently have a home.
Samantha Crumrine has made these images her life's work, collaborating with local photographers and children's agencies to compose a gallery of the county's foster children currently waiting for adoption, in the hopes that many will soon find their "forever home". Operating as a part of The Heart Gallery of Northwest Texas, the organization seeks to draw attention to the need for foster and adoptive homes locally and encourage the community to consider adoption.
“We have over 200 kids in foster care from Tom Green County alone right now and only 30 foster homes in Tom Green County,” said Samantha Crumrine, executive director of the Heart Gallery of San Angelo. “So 90 percent of our kids that are being picked up and put into foster care from Tom Green County are being sent outside of [the county]. It’s kind of a dire situation.
Crumrine said she would like to build a facility similar to the boy’s ranch to house foster children, where she could offer speech and physical therapy, counseling, and other educational programs to assist children.
“That’s my long-term dream, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that so I went to college and got a bachelor’s in International Business,” she said. “My heart is more on the administrative side of things. I like to organize things and I’m kind of an analytical person. I was afraid that being a social worker, I’d just crawl under the table and cry every day.”
When she graduated, Crumrine began researching children homes and ministries when she came upon the New Mexico-based Heart Gallery. Based upon what had been done in New Mexico and two other states, Crumrine began making calls to photographers and other contacts to get the local organization off the ground.
“I just took their idea and ran with it here in San Angelo,” she said. “I wrote down every person that I knew and their contact information just like anyone would do who is starting a business, and just started talking to people about forming a nonprofit.”
During college, Crumrine had gained valuable experience at the United Way as a grant writer, and began to contemplate how she would go about acquiring the funding necessary to found her nonprofit.
In order to promote the need for foster homes in San Angelo, Crumrine has the photos made of the children and blows those up to 20X30, then places them on display at various locations throughout the city.
Her initial interest in helping children, she said, stemmed from both a love of little ones and an incident in her past.
“I’ve been gifted working with children since I was young,” she said. “I taught twirling lessons and babysat when I was teenager to afford to have a car and gas to put in it, so I had a love for kids, but I didn’t really understand what that was on my heart for.”
Crumrine explained that in her teens, she thought she wanted to be a teacher, then began working in a nursery in San Antonio after high school graduation and eventually became a nanny for an 11-year-old boy.
“I just loved it,” she said. “I love being around them. They’re just resilient and they’re healing and they’re beautiful and they’re our future.”
In 2006, Crumrine went through a divorce and was accused of child abuse. A caseworker routinely came by the house to check on her son, and it was determined that the allegations were false. She was told that if further accusations were made, the state would press charges.
Crumrine said she told the caseworker she didn’t want to press charges, thinking it would only compound the issue, but was surprised when she heard the woman’s reply.
“She said, ‘Samantha, I have over 60 cases. I don’t have time to be coming out here and checking on [your son].’ My mouth dropped open. I was like, ‘What, are there only two of you in San Angelo?’ She said, ‘No, you don’t understand. Child abuse really is happening so we can’t be joking around, and calling in stuff and me having to come out here because there are kids that I really do need to be going and seeing.’”
That same year, Crumrine said, she read a bible verse that focused on “God’s heart for the orphan”, and realized what she was meant to do with her life.
“At 22, it just finally hit me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh! That’s why my heart longs to do this.’ It all made sense at that point.”
The epiphany spurred the research that started with Buckner’s Children Home in Lubbock, her hometown. Crumrine was still in college at the time and a single mother, so she became involved in a project that collected shoes that would be sent out on mission trips.
The experience snowballed as she began to get to know the Buckner’s staff and the services provided by the organization, and would provide a solid basis for her motivation to open the Heart Gallery in San Angelo.
“My hope is that as many kiddos will wind up in adopted homes as possible, and those that are left—there are those left—will probably be large sibling groups, older kids with severe behavioral issues and those that have severe medical problems or that are medically fragile,” Crumrine said. “And those are the ones that I want to build the children’s village for eventually. I want to see as many of them in permanent homes as possible.”
The Heart Gallery was realized in 2012 when Crumrine and volunteers began meeting and organizing, but became an official nonprofit in April of 2013. The organization started with only four kids in 2012, and of the 200 foster children in the county, 51 are currently available for adoption.
Those 51 children will either have to remain in the foster care system, “age out” by turning 18, or be adopted, Crumrine explained. With only 30 local foster families, children are often sent out of town, depending on the availability of a home and compatibility.
When CPS removes a child, they send out a broadcast for the child placing agencies seeking a family that can take the child in. A list of available families is then sent back to CPS, who reviews and selects the best fit.
While they strive to keep siblings together, they are often separated due to the rapidness with which removal can occur. A child may be removed from a home at any time of day or night and must be placed within four hours. The goal is to find the most permanent placement possible for the term of care, but reunification is the ultimate goal.
Getting started, Crumrine realized that she would need to network beyond the county and share the images of children with the Heart Gallery of Northwest Texas, which covers an expanse from Midland to San Angelo and from Abilene to Wichita Falls. The combined regions cover 63 counties.
Drugs and alcohol are huge contributors to the number of children put into foster care or adoption, Crumrine said. All children at the Heart Gallery were removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
The majority of the children are 8 years old and up, Crumrine said, but there are also infants. The infants are easier to place, she said. Families have to be licensed to adopt or foster, and can indicate what age range of children is most compatible with their homes.
“It’s ok to say, ‘Yes, I want to get licensed to adopt. I would really like to have a kid that’s out of diapers and I can’t take any severe behavior’. If they know those things up front about your family, it’s much easier and you’ll get better placement matching when you’re really blunt and honest,” she said.
Since opening, 60 of 116 photographed Heart Gallery children have been adopted. One of the most memorable successes came during Foster Care Month a couple of years back, when 23 churches were asked to host one portrait and pray for that child. Within a few months, 14 of those kids were adopted.
Crumrine’s biggest hope for the future is that she’ll be able to expand her services and build a children’s home, while placing as many children as possible.
“Maybe we end up writing grants and getting funded in order to hire a staff that does this full time,” she pondered. “I would love to employ people in the community or become a part of the Children’s Advocacy Center…I want it to become self-sustaining. That’s the end goal.”
In order to make sure these children have a home, Crumrine said, “we just need more families”.
For more on the Heart Gallery, visit their website.