For the uninitiated, high incarceration rates and an overcrowded foster care system may appear as two separate, but no less concerning issues for the state of Arkansas. But LaShanna Bruce knows better. As part of the Restore Hope team, an organization designed to tackle this specific crisis hybrid, she sees just how intertwined these issues are.
Bruce is the Pulaski County coordinator for 100 Families, one branch of Restore Hope's three-part approach to reuniting families and rebuilding lives by connecting those in need with those who can help. Her division works to remove hurdles like housing instability, food insecurity and addiction in order to strengthen family units.
The other two main focuses of Restore Hope are alternative sentencing, or getting individuals involved in programs like therapy that prevent rearrest, and re-entry services to help incarcerated individuals successfully transition back into society.
We caught up with Bruce to talk about Restore Hope, hard topics and her heart for foster care, including Mommies & Curls, an initiative where she serves as a hair care specialist and cultural advisor for transracial adopting and fostering parents.
What happened in 2015 that made Gov. Hutchinson create Restore Hope?
The prison rate and foster care numbers were at an outstandingly high rate. Strong families were being torn apart and there had to be a solution to reducing the rate of incarceration and reducing the number of children entering into the foster care system. Governor Hutchinson called the faith community into a task force and held a summit called the Restore Hope Summit. He wanted to tackle this issue and [believed] it was time for Arkansas to become proactive and provide some solutions to this crisis.
Restore Hope has seen great success where it started in Sebastian County. What does it look like to do the same in Pulaski County?
Yes, the success has been tremendous. We also want to reiterate the fact that the success does not lie on Restore Hope. [Director Paul Chapman] always says the success lies in the community. Restore Hope is just providing the framework for a community to be able to find their own solutions in their own way. We are building an alliance so the community can find out what works best for them. Success ultimately lies in the fact that families are moving from crisis to stability to thriving to ultimately a career. A successful outcome will then be shared within the community of Pulaski County from the hard work the community has done.
As a "brokering agency" that connects the dots for communities, nonprofits and government programs, what is something you see as middlemen that others don't?
I see that working in our own silos and doing good things individually is great, but coming together to help a family move from crisis to career can be even greater. Each agency holds a vital piece of this puzzle to assist families in need: transportation, housing, employment, education, food stability, substance abuse assistance. Everyone is independently working [toward the same goal].
Restore Hope has developed a way for these agencies to work collectively as if they were one huge organization through the 100 Families initiative. The system we use allows agencies to communicate while maintaining privacy compliance, as well as allowing agencies to view the same information on an individual family to easily identify which agencies are addressing which issues and help track the success of each family.
With foster care and recidivism, you're dealing with very complicated issues that differ from case to case. How do you simplify your message for people?
The issues exist and we have to work together to help families navigate through the crisis that they are facing currently. We have to give families hope and let them know they have an entire team helping their family. We collectively work together to help families.
Why is what Restore Hope brings to the table different from how others are serving Arkansans?
I wouldn't really say there is anything different they bring, but I would say there is a uniqueness to doing what they do. Restore Hope’s 100 Families initiative is doing what all the other agencies, churches, nonprofits and direct service organizations are doing — they are serving others.
What Restore Hope is doing is bringing all of them together under one case management system in order to help families collectively. This is for the community, by the community. My favorite quote is by Helen Keller: “Alone, we can do so little, Together we can do so much.” I am excited about us making an impact together.
Looking at your work with Restore Hope and Mommies & Curls, you clearly have a heart for foster care. Where did that originate?
Yes, I have a place in my heart for children in foster care and for those families that have the strength and passion and love for those children who are in a place of no fault of their own. I truly believe my heart and love for children and families pours over to a love for foster care. It is just a genuine love to help others. ...
[My past job at Fellowship Bible Church] offered me the opportunity to be introduced to a lot of parents who were adopting and fostering children. There were a large number of parents who were adopting and fostering African American children in particular. Over time, those parents and I began to develop friendships, and I became that confidant, that support and that go-to person for hair, skin and cultural-related questions they did not have the answers for. Not only was I their Black “sister friend,” I am also a licensed cosmetologist on top of the other work that I do, so my knowledge in that area gave them some reassurance that I may know a little bit of what I’m talking about.
What drives you to clock in with this organization every day?
Knowing I have the ability to help change a family's life for the better motivates me every day to continue the work I have the passion and drive to do.
Learn more at restorehopear.org.