According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, there are over 450,000 American children in foster care today. Currently, there isn’t enough money or people available to provide for them. While today’s youth is desperately searching to find their own identity, studies have shown us that adolescents without parental or family support can struggle fitting into society. Alcoholism, delinquency, substance abuse and gang involvement can occur during these crucial years as a result. That is where social workers of today’s society find themselves trying to combat these unfortunate circumstances.
Zachary Crabtree, a 2010 Oklahoma Wesleyan University Bachelor of Science in Pastoral and Youth Ministry graduate has dedicated his life to serving these underprivileged youth. For the past three years, Crabtree has served as a Psychiatric Treatment Counselor at the AK Child & Family center in Anchorage, Alaska.
“My desire to become a foster parent wasn’t there from the start,” Crabtree said. “It has kind of developed over the last few years in working with kids in a residential treatment setting.”
Through working closely with children in need, Crabtree said he felt increasingly led to take care of youth in a more dedicated role. Unsure about how he would make this dream a reality, he looked to the Lord to give him guidance.
“When I was asking the Lord about what he would have me do with this burden, I was reading Isaiah 1:17 which says, ‘Learn to do right, seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; please the case of widow.”
Crabtree knew he had to do whatever he could to fulfill this duty the Lord had put on his heart.
“I just felt like in reading that verse the Lord was saying: ‘This is my heart, this is your heart. What more do you need than that?”
Since working in social services, Crabtree has been nominated for a handful of awards including “Outstanding Direct Service Professional of the Year” by the Alaska Alliance for Direct Service Careers, The Alaska Mental Health Trust for Direct Service Careers, The Alaska Mental Health Trust and The Governors‘s Council on Disabilities office. He was also given the Spirit Award for exemplifying the core values of AK Child & Family.
Although his time at Oklahoma Wesleyan may not have directly inspired him to pursue this calling of opening a foster home, he certainly believes it built the foundation and prepared him for the whirlwind.
“I’ve leaned heavily on theology classes and biblical studies when facing the allure and deception that the world can tend to send our way,” Crabtree said. “I encounter lots of different ways of thinking in my field and now I know how to approach them with confidence and discernment in what I believe.”
Many Americans often wonder what is it really like to live in Alaska. Crabtree explained it’s not as different as you may think.
“I get this question a lot,” Crabtree said. “I love Anchorage. In the way of modernity, it’s really like any other city of about 300,000 people. Yes, we have McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, indoor plumbing, and our currency is the U.S. Dollar,” he joked.
Beyond the retailers and restaurants, Crabtree explains the scenic side of Anchorage is a huge bonus.
“It’s a really active city,” he explained. “Everyone’s doing something all the time. There are a lot of people into skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, all kinds of biking, and more.”
Often times in today’s news foster homes are highlighted as hotbeds for disaster and mistreatment of the most vulnerable youth. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau last year approximately 3.9 million children were the subjects of at least one mistreatment report. Crabtree knew if he committed to saving up and building his own foster home that he must be all in and overcome these frightening statistics.
“You know, this is the question that I’ve been mulling over the entire time I’ve been considering taking this step. What could I do differently? Am I truly committed? Will I lose interest? What if they mess up the house and break everything (he laughs) and when should I start if I do? Should I be married first? The answers to some of these questions came sooner than others; some didn’t and won’t come,” Crabtree said.
Even though these questions at one point bogged him down, he has never been more committed, he explained.
“I will not give up. What I’m going to bring to this is love, understanding, perseverance, patience, and self-control. I’m bringing Christ.”
“Not an in your face, ‘You are in a Christian house, and you’re going to follow my rules and love Jesus, style. But Christian in my lifestyle, interactions and deeds. My highest hope is that they turn to the Highest Hope, but I don’t know that they will. I will be praying for them nonstop, and I hope that you will too.”
Crabtree may have a tough road ahead of him, but he has the experience and background to put all the right training in place.
“I’m not going to take on more than I can handle,” he explained. “I’m prepared. I’ve been doing this in 8-16 hour blocks with 9 of some of the more challenging kids you’ll meet, for 3 years and counting. I’m familiar with a wide range of diagnoses in the DSM-5, and have experience in working with clients affected by them. I’ve seen how damaged kids can come out of foster care, and their own families. I’ve had to work with them at their most broken, and help them put themselves back together again. Unfortunately, I’ve had lots of practice, but all the hurt I’ve seen has strengthened my resolve to be different, and more committed than your average person.”
If Crabtree could give advice to current OKWU students, he would tell them to allow discomfort at times to enhance growth.
“Sometimes we put God in a box and have our own ideas about how we should serve Him,” Crabtree said. “Don’t limit the scope of what you think God is calling you to. Listen. Pray! I mean that. I’m not saying don’t pursue your dreams until you hear a voice from the heavens, complete with a sunny aura and a double rainbow. Just do your thing until you feel God says otherwise, or until he prompts you with an opportunity; a divine appointment we religion majors like to call it. Listen, pray, act. God will do the rest.”