A different kind of Thanksgiving {DHS children’s shelter}


Webster’s defines it as ‘the act of giving thanks’. The act…so it isn’t just a thought or an idea being tossed in my head. It is an act….it makes me think about what I want for my life and for my family. When my kids think of Thanksgiving, I hope they have great memories of meals together, football in the yard, and enjoying family. But, I long for their little heads to fill with memories of acts of being grateful. When they think of Thanksgiving Day, I want the biggest highlights to be full of meaning and substance…I yearn for it for them.

We have a fun family. Sure, there are days full of arguing and lost patience. But, that is just normal life. Beyond the ugly normal, is the beautiful. I’m am daily aware of the tremendous gift I have been given to be called Mommy by four little people. I am so grateful for my family, for stability, for safety, for fun, for laughs, for the crazy. There are days I long to have just an hour of complete silence, but I also know the lack of silence in this home means a lot of life is happening. For that, I thank God.

This Thanksgiving was very different for us. I’ll be honest, I hesitate sharing about it here because I don’t want anyone to read this an think more highly of Chris & I than they should. I’m not sharing to say “look at me…look at what we did”.  I am going to share….in hopes that there is someone reading this that will be sparked to get involved in the lives of displaced children. Children that for whatever reason cannot be with their parents. Children living in shelters or bouncing around the foster care system.

This year our local DHS children’s shelter did a pilot program to get all the eligible children out of the shelter for Thanksgiving & Christmas. The minute I heard about the program, I signed us up…knowing Chris would be all about it too. We had to do backgrounds checks, referral, and a home visit. We got the call asking us to host a set of brothers. Ages 2 & 4…that don’t speak english. We don’t speak Spanish, but we speak Boy pretty good around here. Perfect.

When Chris picked the boys up the oldest had a meltdown at the shelter. He had been in the shelter for way too long and thought his mom was coming to get him. Instead he saw a bald white guy. MELTDOWN. Break your heart in a million pieces meltdown.  Not too much later, he walked in our home. I won him over with car shaped pancakes. All boys speak the language of food!

We also won them over with a Dora guitar. FireCracker wasn’t too thrilled to share it with a 2 year old boy.

The thing about boys is they all really speak the same language: Food and Active Play. We did a little coloring and playdough, but it didn’t last long.

Before I knew it all 6 kids (remember they are ages 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7) were out the door with a tornado left behind them.

One of the highlights of the day was seeing my oldest rise to the occasion. He took those little boys under his wing and led the way. Early in the day, he was trying to talk to them and began talking in Gungan. Oh you haven’t heard of Gungan? These are Gungans:

Gungans are Star Wars characters. One special Gungan starts his sentences like this, “Me-sa wants…Me-sa gonna…”. So my oldest, instead of speaking in Spanish, tried starting his sentences like a Gungan. Me-sa want to go outside and play? Me-sa like pancakes? So funny.

Little boys are active. Chris and I knew going into the day we would not be relaxing at all. It would be all hands on deck all day. In many ways, hosting two little guys would have been so much easier if our kids were older. On the other hand, having kids the same age made it easier in other ways. Sometimes as a mom it is easier to think, “I’ll wait till the kids are older”, “this is just such a crazy phase of life”, “one day things will be more calm”….but, I don’t want to live in plans for ‘someday’. I may not get ‘someday’.

The boys got to meet our extended families. They got to eat a lot of food and probably too much apple juice. They were great little guys. Content. Warm. Friendly. Active. Well behaved. We will always be grateful for the gift of getting to spend this Thanksgiving with them.

The day came to a close. Chris and our oldest two took the boys back to the shelter. Before they left, I had to say goodbye. When they understood they were leaving with Chris, the crying began. My heart rejoiced that they had a great day, but my heart broke. They were returning to a shelter. Not a home. Sweet boys, not enough foster families. They returned to the shelter. Hard stuff.

I knew my older boys would ‘get it’. What I didn’t know was how much my 3 year old would understand. When the little guys left, my little guy began crying. He asked if they could live with us. He asked why they had to go back to the shelter when their mom & dad weren’t there. He couldn’t understand why they could only spend the day with us and not live with us. Hard stuff.

I spent a lot of time thinking about their mom. She has 2 wonderful little boys and it was my honor to get to spend Thanksgiving with them. My heart broke for her. For whatever reason, she was separated from them. I also thought a lot about my little one across the ocean. I wondered what the day looked like there. Did anyone show love to my little one? Did anyone take time to really see the beauty of my little one? Did anyone there care?

I won’t lie. Hosting the boys was hard work for Chris and I. It was the first Thanksgiving that I ended the day with a stomach that did not feel full. Keeping up 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 7 year olds was EXHAUSTING.  Chris and I didn’t have any down time or any moments of relaxing. Instead of kicking off our shoes, we were constantly helping little ones put on shoes….

and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Those sweet boys were a treasure and gift this Thanksgiving to my family. My kids continue to talk about them. My kids continue to pray for them and ask how they can help other kids in the shelter. Now when we talk about foster care and DHS shelters, my kids have two sweet faces to put with those topics. ‘Kids in the shelter’ aren’t just faceless images, but for my kids it is two very real, very fun, spanish speaking active boys.

It was a good day. Thanksgiving.


If you are interested in volunteering at your local DHS shelter, I encourage you to contact the shelter and see what volunteer opportunities are available. If you are interested in foster care…take your first step forward and see where it leads….just remember not everyone speaks Gungan 🙂


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  • Kimberlee Jost - Awesome, Ashley.
    I have a friend that says “Ministry is Messy”.
    I always think of that during the exhausting parts, but somehow that mess seems to fade in the truth of it all.

  • Lisa Johnson - Beautiful Ashley! Last Thanksgiving, we had a foster child with us. He is back home now, but I found myself thinking of him alot on Thursday as I do many days. Hoping and praying that things are going well for him. There are so many kids in our community who are hungry for love and if we will take the time to open our eyes to them, it is us who will leave blessed.

  • Steph - Beautiful post. Will you be hosting the same two boys at Christmas or different ones? Hopefully different boys and those two buddies will be HOME by then. I know you don’t want to hear it, but this was a lovely selfless act by you and Chris. And what a brilliant program by the shelter. Happy Thanksgiving to you, and thank you for striving to raise humble, helpful, caring children!

  • sc - They got a glimpse of something they will most likely never have.

  • RachelC - Awesome. Raw goodness.

  • emmybrown - beautiful…..I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  • Debbie - This is completely wonderful. Having been foster parents and now adoptive parent of two. My heart is full of these little ones who simply want love and family. Praise the Lord that, at least for a day, they got to experience that. That day will be with them forever.
    Yes, it’s messy, but all good things are…..messy.

  • Bárbara Isenberg Grzybowski - I almost cried reading this…

  • Jen Spilker - Wow, I am so inspired by you and your family.

  • Sara W - What a beautiful thanksgiving.

  • jaime vines - That’s a memory none of you will ever forget. Beautiful post, I definitely shed a tear or two.

  • Celia - What a wonderful day for those two sweet boys. You and your husband have a such a wonderful gift and hearts full of love. Those boys probably had one of the best days of their lives. Such a great story to read. Happy (late) Thanksgiving. 🙂

  • Monica - Ashley, this is so close to my heart as my husband and I are waiting for our homestudy to become foster parents in northwest arkansas. It hurts me to think about the kids that didn’t eat at my table this Thanksgiving. It will be soon though. We are praying to be open for Christmas, which would be a miracle. We got our room all set up and finished yesterday and I pray for the little ones that will sleep there every time I walk by. Thanks for this post today.

  • Lyn - This made me cry. Thank you for the post. We don’t have anything like that here. I will look into it for something close by though. Today we are doing the Animal Shelter. Donating and touring. My 4 year old is as prepared as he can be. Next step children shelter. Thank you Ashley.

  • Jill - What a wonderful thing for you all to experience. Thank you for sharing your special Thanksgiving with us.

  • Kara - What a blessing. I hope I get to do something like this someday for kiddos in need. Thank you for sharing.

  • Leslie - Thanks you for sharing this. What a great thing to put in the hearts of your children.

  • the inadvertent farmer - First, bless you for doing this…secondly…a shelter? I have never heard of kids living in a shelter without parents. I guess we are blessed to have enough foster homes here, it makes me sad and more than slightly annoyed that kids live in shelters anywhere without there folks.

    I am going to give the foster parents of my CASA kids an extra big hug next time I see them!

    Thanks once again Ashley for sharing and blessing your readers with your ‘adventures’ Kim

  • Robin Higgins - This reminds me of ‘kisses from katie”‘s last post. We think we can’t take on more, when for the most part, WE’ve chosen to give OURSELVES as much as we already have..to take on more is such a rich task- it gives us more love than we thought..so we see more of God’s infinate love for ALL. Totally doing this! If you didn’t post this, none of us would’ve known it was possible to do, good job dhs 🙂

  • Seriously Sassy Mama - I love looking at your pictures.

  • amanda torres - What an amazing day, and one those boys are sure to remember.

  • Audrey Nielsen - I never comment…but really love your blog. That is one of the neatest things I have heard about in a long time. I am so glad you and your family got to spend a day with those 2 boys. Hopefully my husband and I can do something like this in the future!! Thank you for sharing.

  • sharron - what a wonderful day of being thankful and extending your home life and love.
    it breaks me heart for these children.
    i heard or read that we in oklahoma have one of the largest number of children in foster care.
    i wondered why you chose to adopt internationally instead of in the states?
    no judgement i was just wondering if OUR process was harder?
    blessings to you and your family.

  • Shivaun - Wow. Beautiful and sad all rolled into one. How blessed your children are to have such a good mommy (and daddy, too!)! Thank you for sharing this and more importantly, thank you for DOING this–bringing goodness and Christ into this world. Thank you!

  • Kristin Taylor - ohhh goodness, Im crying like a baby right now..this is a very touching and wonderful experience you went through..you and your family are such wonderful people..you have changed two little boys life forever..truly amazing

  • amber - What an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing this. You always get my mind swirling. In a good way. Off to find a tissue…before I scare my kids. Thanksgiving. I’m so glad for reminders…

  • cailan - So glad you shared…I need your kind of example in my life.

  • Lauren - I did cry reading this… several times. Our world is so broken. Good for you and your family. I hope I can convince my husband to do things like yours does someday.

  • Laura - I have a friend who is a counselor for foster kids. She said one story that’s impacted her was a girl who stayed one night with a family and said they were the best family out of several she’s stayed with. Why? Because she had her own bed, they told her jokes and she got to eat McDonald’s.

    Children really do expect so little to feel loved. I’m so glad DHS did this and hope they will continue.

  • twirling betty - You are an inspiration.

  • rachelzana - So, so very awesome. This was the best thing I’ve read for weeks. You have a heart that is grounded in such good things that God tells us to anchor our lives around, and your family is so blessed, and all of us who read your blog have the opportunity to be inspired.

  • Mixed Molly Designs - Thanks for sharing about foster care and adoption. I think that it isn’t an overwhelming amount of children that need homes, it’s an underwhelming amount of parents and families willing to take on these kids. We’ve adopted one and currently have another foster child waiting for the foster system to work things out. It is a difficult job, but it’s more rewarding than any other job on earth.

  • Amber McGinnis - I am laughing with tears in my eyes. What a beautiful way to spend Thanksgiving. Thank you for sharing.

  • Bella - What a wonderful and beautiful story! I love how honest your posts are and how you are able to really express your emotions. I def. got teary eyed reading this. You and your family are amazing people. 🙂

  • Amy D - Love this idea, right up my alley! I want to check into what my state does for next year! I’ve been pondering this same thing, that “giving thanks” needs to be more than just talking or thinking about what we’re thankful for. That it needs to move us to action! I just wasn’t sure what action, so we just did a Thankful Tree. But it didn’t feel like enough.

    SO glad you shared this idea, and I’d add that I felt like you did it with humility!

  • Wanda Stein - First time here(won’t be the last)and I enjoyed reading about you and your lovely family. One thing jumped off the screen about not living your life for”someday” as someday may not come. My husband and I were only able to have one child. He was murdered when he was eighteen. The three of us spent virtually almost every moment of those eighteen day’s together because when my son was very young I opened a computer store. Since my son lived to sit in front of a computer(not playing games, but learning about different operating system’s and setting up programs that crunched data for university medical research for cures for Cancer etc.)he was with my husband and I all the time until the day he left us. I am so glad that you don’t put things off for someday as you are so right, no one is guaranteed someday.

  • Cynthia - BEAUTIFUL story. I’ll definitely look into it for Xmas. Thanks for sharing such a profound moment!

  • Stoich91 - THIS IS A-MAZ-ING. Coming from someone who has foster kids as friends, this story was a real tear-jerker. Thanks for the awesome reminder and pix! ;D

  • Kimberly - Great post! This is something I would love to do but haven’t taken the time to look into it. Thank you for being an inspiration.

  • Alycia - You and your family are a HUGE inspiration. I believe you all spent Thanksgiving the way it was truly intended to be spent. Thank you for this amazingly touching story.

  • Tessa - What an amazing experience for everyone! We recently adopted a 10 year old little girl from foster care. It truly is one of the most humbling and most difficult things I have ever done. I know that God is leading us through this entire experience, because there is absolutely no way I would have the strength on my own to help her heal and become the person God made her to be. I find it interesting that you have a DHS shelter, I am pretty sure we don’t have them in PA. As far as I know, all of our kids involved with DHS go into foster care. I find it so sad that there are still “orphanages” in the USA! I love that you shared this with us – I don’t think we have a similar program here – but it sounds like a great one!

  • heather - i love how you live what you want your kids to learn.
    i also love how when we don’t protect our kids from the things we aren’t familiar with, amazing things can happen. it’s so powerful!

  • Julianna - You are amazing…

  • Irene NZ - You’ve the heart of an angel, Ashley. Thanks for sharing.

  • donna - Just a question. Why when there are so many children here in the United States that need parents do so many couples go out of the country to adopt?

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - What an amazing post. You are a blessing to me.

  • Sarah - This story is so touching it made me cry! You and your family are amazing- you should be thought highly of! Good people like you and your husband are hard to come by, but you inspire the rest of us with your good deeds. Thanks for inspiring me today! I’m looking up our local DHS shelter. 🙂

  • Kelly - You guys rock. I am an urban educator and know very well how many kids are out there without the love and support they deserve, not to mention food, clothing and shelter.

    The boys will remember you well, too. It will be nice for them to have some warm memories and stories to share.

    Yeah, truly Thanksgiving. And in Spanish it is Accion de Dar las Gracias, the action of giving thanks.

  • Jill R. - This is now officially my favorite post. Beautiful story, beautifully shared. So thankful for people like you.

  • Tracy - Thank you for sharing this. I would love to do something like this. I wonder if they do something like this in my community. Thanks for inspiring me to look into it!

  • anne c - i’ll keep those little boys and their family in my prayers. what a wonderful story. I will def be looking into our local shelters and seeing if they have something like this we can get involved with. thanks for sharing!!!

  • Dawn - I sit here with a heavy heart but one full of hope. Thank you for what you did for those children. I am sure that will be a day they will always remember where someone showed them love.

  • bethany - Praise God for obedient people like you and Chris. Your beautiful kids are growing up living out the scripture to take care of orphans and widows, and also knowing why they do it. Your light truly points to Christ–don’t be afraid to share stories like this one. There will always be people to take things out of context, but don’t let that overshadow the encouragement in the Lord you give to so many others.

  • Jenn - You & your family are very inspiring. your kids are very lucky to have you & Chris as parents.

  • Barb - Thank you for sharing this.

    I was especially your words about the boys’ mother. It’s easy to pass judgment and make assumptions. The world needs more empathetic people!

  • Samae - Awww….. this is such a sweet post. Its so easy to get wrapped up in the holidays that you really forget what its all about. I teared up reading this. Thanks for being such an inspiration, Ashley. 🙂

  • Jessica - Just plain awesome.

  • giozi - You made me cry. These days that are difficult for my family, for various reasons, and when all also ask for input from in the school, the church I felt that I can’t with all. Now I feel selfish, I was thinking only in me and my problems and help is not too hard, just I have to put my heart and do it. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Jennie - Beautiful Ashley, this is what thanksgiving is about. I am so glad that you are bringing awareness of the huge need in foster care. My family and I just filled out the first application to begin getting approved for foster care.

  • Connie - Thank you so very much for doing this. I was a foster child who was shuffled around simply because I was 14 when I went into the system. It was really rough seeing all my friends at school enjoy holidays with family. What a beautiful gift for those boys and your children.

  • nicole @ deliajude - you sparked me. thank you for lighting and for sharing.

  • Debra Leluga - you and your family amaze and inspire. your blog is one of the many things i am grateful for this thanksgiving.

  • Suzette - Wow. Tears in my eyes! You and your husband (and kids) are amazing!

  • Meg T - Wow. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Jamie - If we had a program like this in our area I so would have been all over it! I love your heart for these littles who have no one really there for them. It is a special breed who are willing to risk our hearts for the love of a child.

  • Jenni - Wow, that was beautiful. And it was a good reminder to me. I too don’t want to put giving off until “the kids are older.” I am going to pray on that. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brooke - Love love this. I have been feeling so. Burdened for the needy this year. Wishing I could find a tangible way to help in my community. This is awesome! You all are being the hands and feet of Jesus. So cool.

  • Jennifer B - If you are in the Tulsa area and unable to volunteer your time, remember Family and Children’s Services accepts donations. When families are seperated like these little guys, parents might have to attend court ordered classes to comply with DHS and the courts and each class has a cost. This service will help parents regardless of their ability to pay.

  • Lori - Well…simply beautiful. Those boys will never forget the awesome day they spent with you – wow. Thanks for making this known to us – I want to do this…as well. I also know my heart will get broken…maybe that’s what God wants…more of my heart – being broken.

  • Melanie - What an AMAZING opportunity! It brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thanks for sharing with us!

  • jennifer - your posts daily inspire me to remember that we’re here to love others. thank you

  • Rebecca - What a blessing. Thank you for sharing and inspiring others. Your post made me laugh (Gungan, love it!) and cry.

  • Staci - Thank you for this. As an adoptive mom of 2 foster kids & waiting on the next blessing to enter our homes, I thank you for giving that to those boys. I totally understand you feeling of not wanting to sound like it is about you. I hear all the time how great we are for adopting thru foster care but people don’t realize how much these kids have given us. It far outways any effort on our part.

    God bless those little ones!

  • Kara M - Isn’t our God so good! When he opened the doors for children to go to homes for the holidays, he was thinking of these two boy. Isn’t he great!

  • rachael - So beautiful, what an amazing memory you guys made for those 2 little boys, and how sweet that it touched your kids so deeply. Kids are so amazing like that!
    I will be looking into opportunities like this in my area!

  • Heldine - That was so moving. Those kids and their mom are in my prayers. 🙂

  • Robin - I have shared this blog all over the place—beautiful writing, beautiful pics. A big thank you to the OKDHS workers that made this story possible…..and to Tulsa OKDHS for piloting this. There are several other places around Oklahoma that plan to do this for Christmas….

  • Leslie @ Body Won't Break - Such a beautiful post! I work closely with children in foster care and have for almost 4 years now. I’m excited for the day when I can open up my home and be a foster parent or an adoptive parent. Thank you so much for sharing your story and also opening your home and hearts.

  • Opening Your Home on Thanksgiving and for Christmas | Bridge Family Resource Center - […] A single day can change a child’s life. Thanksgiving Day 2011 was a day that changed many children’s lives as families in Tulsa County opened their homes for children currently placed in the Laura Dester Shelter. Ashley Campbell and her family opened their home to two little boys. You can read her account of Thanksgiving Day 2011 here. […]

  • Abby - I think this would be an incredible opportunity. Do you know if DHS will be doing this again this year?

    On a completely different tangent, I just recently discovered your blog, and I have read it every day since. I have even looked in to getting a camera, because I want to make sure that I have awesome pictures of my kiddos, whenever God chooses to bless me with said kiddos.I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled up this blog for my husband, or sister, or friend to show them the next thing I discovered. Your blog appeals to me on so many different levels. I am a believer, I love attempting to do crafts, I love kids, I am passionate about adoption and loving the fatherless, and now I am suddenly interested in photography. Oh, and I live in Oklahoma. In other words, you are sort of my “virtual mentor” at the moment.

    I keep hoping that if I keep reading your blog maybe your creativity, talent and mommy skills will somehow transfer to me. Or, at the very least I can glean from your wisdom and experience. From what I can tell you are the modern Proverbs 31 woman, and that is greatly to be praised… and learned from.

  • Robin Blonsky - Tears In my eyes…Thanks for wrItIng this. I want to do something like this as well with our family. We also are in the process of adoption. Thank u for sharing your families journey & God bless.

  • Childhood…interrupted « Blonsky House - […] http://ashleyannphotography.com/blog/2011/11/28/a-different-kind-of-thanksgiving-dhs-childrens-shelt… Share this:TwitterMoreEmailFacebookPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]