Brian McNabb took a deep breath and said a short prayer as he backed off the roof of Baton Rouge’s second-tallest building, the 24-story One American Place tower.
The State Capitol, a few blocks away, at 450 feet, is the city’s tallest.
As McNabb, 36, looked down to a crowd of tiny figures in the courtyard far below cheering him on, the district director for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s office gave those above him a thumbs-up and slowly began walking backward down the building’s tempered glass windows to a first-floor terrace roof. An automatically locking rappel device, used by cave explorers and fire and rescue crews, slowly let the rope out each time he tugged on its locking lever.
Back on terra firma, McNabb was soaked from the stress, the heat and humidity but wore a broad smile.
“At first it was frightening, then it gets to the point where it gets exciting. Then, when you get to the bottom, it’s complete relief,” McNabb said. “I’m excited to survive to tell the story!”
McNabb was one of about 40 people from around the state, from all walks of life and from several Christian faiths who participated June 18-19 in the third annual Over the Edge for Adoption sponsored by the Louisiana Family Forum. The purpose of the nonprofit group’s event was to raise awareness and money to help hundreds of children now living in foster care and/or awaiting adoption in the state’s system.
The event was especially meaningful to McNabb, he said, because he is adopted.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” McNabb said. “I don’t know what I might have gotten before, but I was adopted by two wonderful parents who are still married and still love me in spite of my flaws and really shaped the course of my life and laid the foundation for my Christian walk.”
The Rev. Gene Mills, Family Forum’s president, said that in the past three years of Over the Edge events, more than 100 churches have responded to cooperating with the state’s Department of Children and Family Services to find some of Louisiana’s orphaned children loving homes.
“The Bible tells us that we are to take care of the widows and orphans, and we have churches that are taking that very seriously,” Mills said. “We have one church that says they have 71 in process right now.”
Adoption isn’t easy or quick, he added. Potential parents must first foster a child or children, and the adoption process takes two to three years.
State records show adoptions rose 60 percent from 2004 until 2013, Mills said, and may be, in part, attributed to the cooperative efforts of LFF, the state’s DCFS, the Louisiana Baptist Convention and other faith-based groups, such as Crossroads NOLA and Catholic Charities.
“The other thing is, of the 500 kids who were ‘adoption eligible’ when we started this in 2013, only 71 have not identified with a family,” Mills said.
Marc Eichelberger, director of development of Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, was among the half-dozen agencies at the site providing information to those attending the event.
“I think it’s working great. It just takes time and involvement,” Eichelberger said. “The Bible says the church is responsible for caring for these children and the government is not. So our pastors are the key to recognizing the need and then encouraging their people to get involved, because within those churches are people who God will call out to serve as adoptive families.”
Jaci Sanchez, 27, was adopted when she was a day old. Two years later, her parents had her sister, Lacey, 25, who was Miss Louisiana 2014. The sisters, who attend Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, prayed together, hugged and then rappelled down together.
“It means a lot to me to be able to come up here with her and show what adoption means to our family,” Jaci Sanchez said, nodding toward Lacey, who was screwing up her courage at the edge of the roof. “There are so many kids that need loving homes that are in foster care. A lot of kids are adopted at birth, but the older kids need homes, and people sometimes put that issue on the back burner.”
Several state employees, including some from the Department of Children and Family Services, participated.
“Every child deserves a safe home with a family to love them unconditionally. Events like Over the Edge allow us to combine efforts with organizations that have the same goal in mind — raising awareness for the need for foster and adoptive homes and recruiting individuals interested in opening their hearts and homes to Louisiana’s foster children,” DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier said.
Louisiana Baptists were well-represented with at least three pastors rappelling for Crossroads NOLA, a nonprofit foster/adoption agency founded by the Rev. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist in New Orleans.
“We want the people of faith in this city and this state to rise up and lend their effort to take care of foster kids,” Crosby said. “Foster kids need us.”
The Rev. Tommy Middleton, director of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, a group of 85 churches and missions, also rappelled.
“It’s a life issue,” Middleton said. “It’s about families. It’s about the sanctity of the home.”
ä Internet Resources:
Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, dcfs.la.gov/foster
Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries, lbch.org
Louisiana Family Forum, lafamilyforum.org