CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Love knows no boundaries, especially at 308 Elm Street in Conway.
Pass by it quick enough, and it looks like just another building in the historic city. When you step inside though, you’ll realize it’s something special. It’s home to Fostering Hope and the vision of a remarkable woman.
Tabby Shelton founded the organization in 2004, which assists children and caregivers involved in South Carolina’s foster system. She admits she didn’t fully know the challenges they faced until she welcomed 4-year-old twin boys into her home as a foster parent. They would become two of more than 60 she and her husband would eventually foster.
What happened that first night made her realize the need for help was greater than she could’ve ever imagined.
“They got to the very back of the truck and grabbed bags. Garbage bags,” she remembered with tears in her eyes. “They literally drug those garbage bags down my driveway.”
She recalled how protective the boys were of those bags and their little lives that were tucked inside.
“I’d always heard that’s how a lot of children in foster care lived, but I had never seen it firsthand,” she said.
The experience resonated with her, but didn’t realize it would steer her towards her life’s calling until 2004. That’s when she heard a sermon and decided someone had to take action. That someone was her.
“(I) look at (the boys) sometimes in amazement and just say, ‘Thanks, God. You changed my life that day.’ I know this would not have happened without them,” Shelton said.
Fast forward to 2020, and Fostering Hope is a thriving community-based organization that helps more than 200 children a month. Fostering Hope’s reach spans five counties.
“That child when they come, they need to be shown that love so they understand there is love out there and there is acceptance. Not all situations have to be what they’re going through right now,” Shelton said.
Shelton’s made sure every basic need for a child in foster care can be found inside 308 Elm Street — from clothes, shoes and toiletries to bedding, books and toys. All of it is donated from the community, too.
“Somebody took the time to come in here and make it look like a department store, make it look like it wasn’t just thrown into boxes,” she explained. (Volunteers) come down here and spend hours a week making sure that when these kids come in here, it looks like something you’d be happy to walk into. It just makes me very humble that the community does this.”
Many of those volunteers that she’s speaking of, like Al Stein, say Shelton’s dream is an answered prayer.
“She’s got a giant heart,” Stein said, with tears in his eyes. “There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for kids.”
Stein says what happened towards the end of last year is a true testament to the impact of Shelton’s work.
“Over the holidays, someone anonymously paid off our mortgage here,” Shelton said through her tears. “So whoever that was – thank you. We paid it off in three and a half years and I just can’t believe it.”
The donation also came at a time when Fostering Hope’s demand is higher than ever. Shelton says it’s quite evident in its community programs. Fostering Hope expected to help provide Christmas to roughly 300 children in 2019. It quickly surpassed 1,000.
“Wheat we do is a bandaid,” Shelton explained. “We’re not going to fix it. We just can’t fix it, but what we can do here is give them that little added boost. When you walk out and you know that you look good and you have some things that belong to you, I think you can hold your head a little differently than if you’re in a situation where people are going to tear you down.”
As Fostering Hope’s impact across the area continues to grow, Shelton says she’s ready to take on her next dream. She’s already working on her next non-profit, Daisy Field Farm, a place where children and their foster parents can bond in the beautiful outdoors.
Right now in its infancy, she prays it’ll make just as big of an impact as Fostering Hope.
“This has been the biggest blessing of my life.”
If you would like to learn about Fostering Hope and its mission, click here.