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With Arms Wide Open
Why would Oprah Winfrey invite an Edmonton foster mom to be on her show?

Why would an Edmonton foster mom be asked by Oprah Winfrey to appear on her show in the fall of 2002? Because Carla Clark is no ordinary foster parent. Not only does she love children by caring for them; she even loves their mothers.

It all began when Clark took in a little girl whose mother, Bonnie, was a former prostitute …

Clark initially became a foster parent with husband, Randy, shortly after their wedding six years ago. Since then they've fostered 24 children over a five year period.

It all began when Clark took in a little girl whose mother, Bonnie, was a former prostitute and addict trying to straighten her life out by entering a treatment program. "I actually met Bonnie at the crisis unit," remembers Clark. "She was tall and skinny, (with) a sunken face. She looked very sad to me." For the next few months, whenever Kimmy visited her mom, Clark would leave notes for Smith in the diaper bag.

Six months after Kimmy went into foster care, Clark met Smith again at a child welfare meeting. "When I walked in I didn't recognize [her]," Clark says. "She had gained some weight. She looked much, much better."

Smith had completed a drug treatment program and was taking parenting classes to prepare for Kimmy's return. Despite all of her efforts to change Smith asked the Clarks to adopt Kimmy, should she fail to get her life together. Randy insisted, "You don't have to talk about that because we know you can do this."

Through their encouragement, Smith was able to get on her feet. Five months later Kimmy went home with her mom for good. Clark gave Smith their phone number and urged her to call if she had any questions or concerns. To this day the women remain close friends.

Nevertheless, not every situation sees such a dramatic turnaround. "Sometimes it's not so picture perfect," admits Clark. "Sometimes you are sending a child home to a family that isn't necessarily rehabilitated." Through those difficult times, however, Clark relied on her relationship with Jesus Christ. "When we say goodbye, He's looking out for them," she states.

After her mother succumbed to cancer in 2001, Clark found solace in a card from a family friend—a minister at Grace United Church—inviting her to join them Sunday mornings. Her first Sunday there, she says, "I was welcomed with open arms … I lost my mom, but I gained a whole bunch of new mothers through that church who took care of me and my family."

Although Clark says she's always been a "deeply spiritual" person, it wasn't until she began attending Grace that she committed her life to Jesus Christ. Through her new relationships, both with the women and with Christ, Clark found the strength to offer open arms to hurting mothers in desperate situations. Subsequently, Clark and her husband started the Open Arms Foundation out of their home, to help young women on the street.

Open Arms sometimes pays for hotel rooms for birth mothers to escape abusive situations, or fills cupboards with food when they run out of money. One year ago, Clark developed another home-based operation, Bottoms Up Baby Wipes, making all natural baby wipes. Fifty percent of profits are donated either to women's shelters or to women in need.

The Clarks retired from fostering last summer, in light of the physical challenges of Carla's diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, and the demands of their two adopted daughters, Heaven and Harmony. However, she is continuing with the Open Arms ministry. To better understand the women she now calls her friends, the 31-year-old chose to spend some time on Edmonton's inner-city streets during the spring of 2006 to learn what it's like.

Despite Clark's hardships, she continues to place her trust in God. "I no longer question the challenges … such as my MS, because I know He believes I can conquer it. It has given me a great sense of peace around my life and the passion I have to change the lives of others," she says.

"When I question, He delivers what I need … . I know that (Jesus) will show me along the way."

For more information on the Open Arms Foundation or Bottoms Up Baby Wipes, call (780) 966-6583.

Jennifer Jacoby-Smith is a freelance writer from Saskatoon, SK. Jennifer is married and has two children.

Originally published in Living Light News, March/April 2006.




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