10 Sep Nonprofit Highlight: Love Made Visible
September’s conversation is with Angela Gonzalez, the executive director of Love Made Visible in Orlando, FL. She is joined by Amanda, the WRAP Around Care Coordinator.
Secret Sauce Ingredients
- Intentional Cross-Collaboration
- Patient Persistence
- Starting Small
- Diverse Metrics of Success
- Strategic Utilization of Volunteers
What does Love Made Visible seek to accomplish in Orlando?
Today, there are as many as 200 million orphans in the world growing up without a family. It’s easy for this to feel like a distant problem in remote places with little real impact on the day-to-day lives of Americans – however, the orphan/foster crisis is much closer than one probably thinks. In 2016, more than 436,000 children were in the American foster care system, and nearly 24,000 of them were in Florida alone. Love Made Visible (LMV) “exists to help connect each person to their role in putting the Global Orphan Crisis to rest by connecting them with all the resources they need to find and fulfill that role.”
How was LMV created?
As an adoptive parent and Christian, Angela had a passion for children from hard places for several years. In 2012, she and her husband began to realize how truly expensive adoption had become and how isolated the foster/adoptive families in their church (Mosaic Church) were from one another. She and her husband approached her pastor about starting a ministry tasked with caring for these vulnerable families, and he loved the idea. “After that, it just snowballed. It all just felt so organic,” Angela said. “Six years ago, there were so few people meeting the needs of these kinds of families. Many churches weren’t engaging in orphan care well. This is a pioneer environment for the Church in many ways.”
She noted that while the idea seemed simple and one that would face little opposition, getting all of the important stakeholders on board took time, patience, and persistence. “It took a while to connect the various ministries at Mosaic and educate the different departments how trauma affects children more broadly,” she noted. “Even the most sensible ideas take time to implement because other organizations may be unaware of the problem or need time to change their direction or practices.”
“Even the most sensible ideas take time to implement because other organizations may be unaware of the problem or need time to change their direction or practices.”
What does success look like for LMV?
Amanda, the WRAP Around Care Coordinator, noted that while there is a lot of value in growing the number of families and orphans assisted, too much emphasis on quantitative data can, to an extent, remove the more human, relational element of the work.
“We don’t focus too much on the numbers,” she said. “The real question is, are we being present and available for people? We can’t meet every need – we may not even have all the answers. But if they have someone to be there with them, that’s a win. The connections made with families, the church, and volunteers are how we measure success.”
“It’s going to be hard, but whether it’s tears or laughter, we do it together. As long as God is glorified, we’re winning.”
When asked to elaborate, Amanda began to define this kind of progress. “A win is for a family to feel like someone is walking with them through the incredibly difficult process of fostering or adopting…It’s for a family to hear and feel that we are with them – we are here and we aren’t going anywhere. It’s going to be hard, but whether it’s tears or laughter, we do it together. As long as God is glorified, we’re winning.”
How would you describe the organizational culture of LMV?
The organizational culture at LMV is a unique one – without any paid staff members, the ministry is run entirely by part-time volunteers. “”We do this because we are really passionate about it,” Angela remarked. “Because we are so closely integrated into Mosaic Church, we also see our responsibility as not just caring for moms and dads but…engaging and inspiring the capital “C” Church to be equipped to care for vulnerable children, whatever that looks like.”
People at Mosaic have answered the call and now volunteer regularly. “We have seven board members and about 9-10 key volunteer leaders that steer our organization,” Angela said. “Roughly 10-15 people from the area regularly volunteer to take care of children during support groups for parents, and around 15 help with Parents Night Out every quarter. Our volunteers demonstrate a real, genuine desire to meet the needs of families that are hurting and burned out.”
When asked how LMV works to create a positive environment for its volunteers, Angela spoke to the intentional effort she makes to help her work family fight for healthy professional and personal lives. “I encourage our team to practice soul care and self-care,” she said. “Every day, a new need comes up – someone always needs something. If we are well connected to God and our own family, we can love other families better.” To help the team better put these disciplines into practice, LMV has elected not to host connect and support groups over the summer so that the team has time to rest, recharge, and invest in their own families.
Angela has also made it clear that investing in professional development for her team is of the utmost importance. Every May, LMV’s key volunteers and leaders attend the national Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit to “give us a chance to care for and love one another, pray together, and dream together.”
What is it like to run an organization that’s entirely made up of volunteers?
Tight budgets often force nonprofits like LMV to lean even more heavily on church and community partnerships to accomplish their missions. However, this approach becomes much easier when the organization can compellingly share its vision and describe to prospective volunteers how their contribution will make a real difference. “Over the last year, we’ve been working diligently to let the church know that everyone can do something. They play a very important part in caring for vulnerable children. We have people that make meals and pray and provide children care – all those things come together to do what we do well, and we need to make that known to them.”
We have people that make meals and pray and provide children care – all those things come together to do what we do well, and we need to make that known to them.”
While volunteers are critical to the success of any agency in the social sector, they may also be particularly vulnerable to burnout. To mitigate this, Angela never settles for “enough” volunteers but is constantly seeking new and energetic people to serve. “We are all volunteers, so I’m incredibly considerate of their time and am always doing my best to recruit more volunteers so we can manage them in a way that keeps the entire burden from falling on any one individual or group.”
What’s next for LMV?
LMV is determined to continue caring for foster and adoptive families at Mosaic Church but wants to reach even more families by coaching and equipping other churches around the city and country to build their own initiatives and programs on solid research and best practices. “We’re already starting to coach [other congregations] through how LMV did it, what to look for, and how they can build an orphan care ministry that works well in the context of their church,” Angela said. “They’re starting to come to us now, which has been an enormous blessing and a testament to what God is doing.”
You’re sitting down with another passionate nonprofit leader. What kind of advice or encouragement would you give them?
Angela was quick to reaffirm that anyone can get involved in the fight against injustice and brokenness.“I’m an unlikely person doing unlikely things,” she said. “I migrated to the US at 13 years. There are stereotypes about people – the things they should be and the things they should accomplish. But God will use whoever He wants.”
Amanda also suggested that anyone running an organization in this space should “start small – even if that’s just one family or one support group. Do that well and love families well through that. Take it one step at a time and allow God to work. Get to know different individuals and the giftings God has given them. Learn how to manage them well based on those gifts and callings…Do your homework and study. We live in a world of immediate gratification and sometimes you just need perseverance and patience.”
“Get to know different individuals and the giftings God has given them. Learn how to manage them well based on those gifts and callings…Do your homework and study. We live in a world of immediate gratification and sometimes you just need perseverance and patience.”
Angela further noted the importance of treating volunteers as part of the team, not as “just volunteers.” Without this mindset, individuals with valuable skill sets will be given roles that waste their gifts. “You have to get the right volunteers into the right positions. That will make a big difference into how your organization runs. If someone is good at administration but not with people, I need to make sure they aren’t working with families, particularly with the sensitive nature of the work.”
As a small organization in a big city like Orlando, how do you multiply your impact?
When it comes to maximizing restoration in the city, Amanda was quick to talk about the importance of collaboration across sectors. “Even though we are a Christian organization, Angela does an incredible job of working with orgs outside the church,” she shared. “In order to make the biggest impact possible, you have to work with government agencies and other global partners. You have to be willing to open the doors and invite people from the outside in. We intentionally invite government agencies and other partners to do trainings so we can build mutual respect and build long-term relationships. This is critical to any kind of long-term success.”
“In order to make the biggest impact possible, you have to work with government agencies and other global partners. You have to be willing to open the doors and invite people from the outside in.”