Some people can say ‘I love you’ to anybody and it doesn’t mean anything. When Joe and Erica say ‘I love you,’ they mean it. It took me a long time to accept it. But, it feels good now.
I heard that the Deasons had a house full of kids, and showing up right at sunset I expected to find the normal school-night chaos associated with homework, supper, and bedtime preparations for the younger ones. But as I parked at the unassuming single-story home the only thing I could hear was the UPS truck leaving. It seemed a quiet dusk, from the chicken pen to the small barn out back, including the full house of 14 children. Yes…fourteen. Only two of the fourteen are their biological children.
When I knocked on the front door I saw Joseph Deason through the glass, at the far end of a long, hand-crafted wood table. He stood and motioned for me to come in. Along both sides of the table were about half a modern classroom-full of children, all quietly and politely eating spaghetti. There was no mayhem at all.
As they finished eating and began to depart the table, Joe invited me to the living room to talk. Erica was out handling “kid business” at the time. Teddy (not his real name) followed us, and after a few minutes sat down to join and contribute to the conversation.
“My mom died,” Teddy began, “and my dad has been disabled basically my whole life. So, after she died, I was out. Living on the streets at 11. I got picked up and put in a group home. I hated it. They basically kept all the kids locked in their rooms if they weren’t making them work. They were just using the kids for a paycheck.
“Then eventually I got out, and got to come here. There’s not another place like this. Joe and Erica really care. They take care of us. They tell us they love us. Some people can say ‘I love you’ to anybody and it doesn’t mean anything. When Joe and Erica say ‘I love you,’ they mean it. It took me a long time to accept it. But, it feels good now. They’re honestly the best people I’ve ever met,” Teddy paused, appearing a bit misty eyed.
“And, you hear that?” Teddy shifted subjects. I didn’t hear anything. “It’s not crazy in here. They run this house well. Fourteen kids, and you can’t tell it. It’s comfortable. And in the mornings when you get fourteen little hugs,” he smiled, “it’s just…comfortable.”
I marveled at the smoothness that the house indeed appeared to have. Obviously there was some experience at play behind the scenes. The testimony of a street-hardened kid who was finally getting to be a kid again for the first time in too long made me understand that this was no ordinary foster home.
The Deasons started as foster parents in 2010, and have since fostered over 80 children, according to Joe. “I used to not really like kids when I was younger,” Joe said, “Then, sometime after we had our own, it just clicked. Having kids changes you.” He considers being a foster parent his life’s calling. And faith plays a role in their organization.
“We are a ministry, but we aren’t affiliated with any specific church or anything,” Joe said. He said some people don’t want to take help from churches, but they will take it from them easier. They support many other children, not just the ones in their house, and in many ways. Some children who have been in their care but are back with their parents are even still cared for by the Deasons. They give help with school supplies, clothes, and more.
It takes a lot of money to care for so many youngsters, not even considering the copious levels of food required. But, Joe and Erica are by no means rich. They rely heavily on donations.
“We have taken donations for a long time, and had back-to-school drives for the last few years. Lots of people would ask if we were a non-profit, so they could write it off. We weren’t, until August. Now we’re a 501c(3) non-profit organization,” Joe smiled. Becoming “Be the Village” was a big decision, but seemed a necessary next step to continue helping as many children as possible.
From a letter promoting an upcoming event: “Our focus is primarily on kids in foster care and at risk kids coming into foster care, but we will help any and all kids we can.”
They have two fundraisers set up currently, both geared toward helping give children in our community – not just the foster kids – a good Christmas. Imagine buying Christmas gifts for fourteen children. Now imagine your bank account’s response.
First up is a yard sale, hosted at the Deason’s mini-farm this Saturday, October 12, starting at 6:30 a.m. The Children’s Place in Tuscaloosa donated all they had left to the cause, and that is the majority of the items supporters will find Saturday morning. “Anything left over we will take to Hannah Home or America’s Thrift Store or something. We just don’t have room to store it all here,” Joe said. Be sure to show up and find something take home, and don’t forget that all donations are welcomed.
The next event is “Be the Village Halloween for Christmas Party” which will be held October 26th at the Bibb County High School gym from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. They will be taking donations at the door as people show up for the family-friendly Halloween party, but they are also looking for sponsors and businesses to help out with various items including decorations, finger foods, drinks, and door prizes.
I asked what Be The Village has planned as next steps.
“Getting through Christmas, first,” Joe laughed. The board will meet in January to discuss budgets and see what they will be able to do in the coming year. Joe has a vision for the future, and hopes they can one day get there, but says it will depend greatly on sponsors and other contributions:
“I’d like us to have property…a place we can build homes for foster families to live in for free, so they can just focus on love and care and not have to worry over housing expenses.”
Be The Village, Board of Directors: Erica Deason (President), Joseph Deason (Executive Director), Donna Brothers (Vice-President), Randy Burke (Treasurer), Kayla Moore, Tiffany Chandler, and Tiffany Bryant. If you would like to donate to Be The Village, contact one of them directly, or through their Facebook page. Follow and message them by clicking here:@BetheVillageAL