Families help bridge the gap

Generous Orange County residents are helping children whose biological parents cannot.

July 14, 2010|By Tom Ragan,
  • Nancie Carpenter, left, with her daughter Cassandra and husband, Frank read a book to two children from the Safe Families program at their home in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
Nancie Carpenter, left, with her daughter Cassandra… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

CORONA DEL MAR — Frank and Nancie Carpenter's house, just blocks from Corona del Mar High School, has become a revolving door for children whose biological parents find themselves in a bind.

Take Juan and Demi, infants whose young mother is serving an eight-month jail sentence for theft. The mother is, for all intents and purposes, logistically out of pocket and a bit too indisposed at the moment to be a mother.

"She's kind of a personification of all the things that can go wrong with somebody's life," says Frank Carpenter, 49, who, with his wife, Nancie, decided to lend a helping hand by taking the children under their wings and giving them shelter. "She's got legal troubles, drug troubles, the whole tomato, but we have confidence that she'll be able to better herself. She has to."

But in the interim, the Carpenters are taking over where the mother left off. It's all part of Safe Families for Children, a nationwide nonprofit group that's fast becoming an alternative to having to hand the children over to the government, said Carrie Cornwall, a spokeswoman for Olive Crest, an Orange County-based nonprofit that raises the money to help fund Safe Families.


If there were ever a doubt that local families can step in and relieve the government of the burden of having to care for so many neglected children, the Carpenter family is but one example.

They've been taking care of children whose parents are down on their luck, or in trouble with the law, since late last year.

Other examples include caring for Karen, a 7-month-old girl whose mother had a miscarriage while in the hospital and had no means to take care of her. Then there's Janice, a 15-year-old whose father was homeless last spring and too busy looking for a job to take care of his child.

The sad stories are endless, but they paint a different picture of Orange County than the one more often associated with surf and sun.

Hundreds of families have a hard time making ends meet and the children can often suffer as a result, Cornwall said, adding that many mothers and fathers have to live out of automobiles or check into homeless shelters before they find their footing — if they ever do at all.

Enter Safe Families for Children, which started in 2002 and is mostly organized through local churches across the country. It's facilitated locally by Olive Crest.

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