Photography by Dero Sanford | Shot on location at Big Rock Fun Park
Last year, Immerse Arkansas impacted the lives of more than 500 Arkansas youth. Established in response to the needs and obstacles of kids aging out of the foster care system, the organization provides supportive housing to all “youth in crisis” as well as spiritual and emotional resources. A visionary group of individuals, businesses and churches lead the mission fulfillment work. Gina and Wade Radke are part of that strategic network. What began with foster parent classes with The CALL evolved into the adoption of their son Jay.
The Radke family is no stranger to adoption. Their journey began with the adoption of the now eldest son, Stephan at just two years old. When he was five years old and much to their surprise, they welcomed their biological son, Noah. Their affections overflowed into a desire to help older teens after hearing about Immerse Arkansas. “We knew that the chances of teens getting adopted were extremely slim,” Gina acknowledges. “Before Immerse, they would mostly end up homeless or if they were lucky they could go find some long lost family, but those family members didn’t step up when they were in foster care.” Passionate to eliminate this stigma, the Radke’s began volunteering as mentors at The Gathering. Gina explains, “The Gathering is the Tuesday night dinner where the youth and mentors all come together to eat and visit. This is where many of the youth meet their mentors.” Through this program, Gina and Wade met their son, Jay.
Immerse Arkansas offers support to youth as well as adoptive and foster families to fill gaps in the child welfare system. For many young adults, like Jay, aging out of foster care at 18 years old homelessness is a pre-conceived future. Through a portfolio of specialized programs and services Immerse Arkansas provides comprehensive mentoring, therapy and life skills training that empower positive outcomes for individuals and families.
With a house full of boys, including teenagers, Gina admits they all enjoy some friendly rivalry. “We love to compete with each other! Anything from board games to sports.” Fierce in competition and family values, this team of five is nothing short of an all-star lineup. Wade adds, “We love to do lots of things together – play games and lots of discussions. We love to talk. We just talk about life, love, family, politics, racism, overcoming and just making a difference in life.”
The Radkes believe every family can make a difference, and they encourage others to get involved. Gina explains, “The easiest way is to get a group together to prepare a Tuesday meal for youth and mentors. We are always looking for mentors and people to teach life skills classes once a week.” These simple, but powerful gestures are at the heart of the Immerse Arkansas services for youth and familes providing hope and healing. “You can’t love the trauma out of a child. But you will find ways that they show love that will surprise you and bring you to tears,” she adds. “Prepare for tougher times than you could imagine and greater joy than you could imagine.”