Alumna opens her home in Memphis
Story by Sarah Knapp, photos by Nathan Morgan
As you walk through Arrows Nest, it’s evident that the quaint house in the heart of Memphis has been called home by many children. If not evident by the toys scattered around the house or the photos of kids framed and placed on any available surface, then by the dozens of arrows hanging above the fireplace, painted and signed by each foster child Mary Katherine Hill (‘12) has welcomed into her home.
“I want them all to feel like they belong. The house is called Arrow’s Nest from Psalm 127:3-5 that says, ‘Children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior … Blessed is the man whose quiver is full,’” Hill explained. ‘I tell them all I can send them out knowing they’ve been loved here and taken care of, and they know they always have a place to come back to. I can send them out into the world like an arrow because God has good plans for them and knows where they’re going.”
Hill, an adoptive and foster mom at only 30 years old, realized her passion for helping children in need at a young age. As a teenager, she spent her school breaks traveling overseas to a children’s home in Guatemala and quickly found her heart set on international missions to help others. By the time she graduated from UT Martin in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in education, she was ready to serve “where the most need was.”
After completing the “World Race,” an 11-month mission trip to 11 countries, and returning to Memphis, an encounter with a homeless 23-year-old mother of six children under the age of 6 showed Hill the most need was in her own hometown. The woman had aged out of the foster care system and was struggling to take care of her own children. After ministering to her and helping her find an apartment and job, Hill realized just how difficult these things were to navigate without a support system.
After Hill started keeping the youngest of the six children, JJ, a 14-month-old, she realized the impact she could have in her own community.
“I found out how much need there was right here and that there are thousands of kids in foster care in Tennessee that I didn’t even know about,” Hill said. “I knew there were many other kids like JJ who needed me to stay right here, so I decided to start foster care here.”
“I felt like my whole life has prepared me, so this just makes sense,” she continued. “I want to be available to the kids that need me, and they’re the kids who need me the most. I found that foster care is where that was, and the kids have been coming ever since.”
Even though Hill had always dreamed of moving to Guatemala to work in the children’s home she had visited so many times, her very first placement proved to her that God’s plan was for her to be in Memphis.
“I think the first defining moment was definitely when I got my first call and it happened to be a Guatemalan baby after, for 10 years, I thought that God was calling me to move to Guatemala and live there and work with children,” Hill explained. “So when … I found out it was a Guatemalan baby, I was like, ‘okay, this is it.’ It’s amazing that God can provide a Guatemalan baby right here in Memphis when adoption in Guatemala had been closed since 2008.”
Since she began the foster care process five years ago, she has provided a loving home to 37 kids, and has adopted two, JJ and Lucah, the Guatemalan baby. From just weeks old, to having just a few weeks before aging out of the foster care system, Hill juggles the needs of each child in her home to ensure that when they leave, they know they matter.
“I want them to see what a positive family looks like and understand that God had brought them here for a reason. I just hope that they take the love and safety and security they feel here with them wherever they go, and they know that God has big plans for them wherever they end up,” Hill said.
While a majority of the foster placements at Arrows Nest have had a positive reunification with their families, Hill says she still considers each child her own and keeps in contact with as many as she can, so they always know they have an extra place to call home.
“We still call them all brothers and sisters, and (JJ and Lucah) still think of them as siblings,” Hill said.
As if the 37 kids Hill has taken care of were not enough, Arrows Nest is well known in the Memphis community as a refuge of comfort and love where kids of all ages can hang out safely. Located in a high-crime area of Memphis, Hill has opened her house to the community for children to stay at after school and on the weekends.
When Hill first visited the neighborhood to look at the house that would later be coined “Arrows Nest,” she inquired about how many kids lived in the area. When Hill was told by a man in the neighborhood that there were more kids than she could handle, she knew this was where she belonged. While the house already had a purchase offer when Hill first visited, a private donor who believed in her as a foster parent bought the house with cash the very next day. Hill has now lived at Arrows Nest for four years, and her impact is evident through the neighborhood’s acceptance.
“They’re just watching out for me. They know that I’m here to help and love on the kids, and they appreciate that,” Hill said. “Several of the families I met as soon as I moved in here were immediately amazed that I wanted to get to know them, that I cared to know them, that I wanted their kids playing in my yard. … They were all immediately really supportive of me and loved that their kids could come hang out over here.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, her backyard was usually full of 40-50 kids playing basketball, swinging and jumping on the trampoline. Through the Arrows Nest nonprofit, Hill was able to host block parties, movie nights, holiday parties, Bible studies, trips around Memphis and many other activities to ensure the children in her neighborhood were safe, fed and enjoying being kids.
While COVID-19 has halted their get-togethers for the past several months, Hill is optimistic those 40-50 kids will soon be running through her house again.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Arrows Nest for Hill is seeing kids, whether foster or neighborhood, experience a care-free childhood and participate in fun activities she now realizes were a privilege not everyone else had access to like she did when growing up. So, when her kids tell her they’ve never jumped on a trampoline or aren’t sure if gorillas are real because they’ve never been to the zoo, Hill is determined to help them fulfill those experiences before they leave her house.
Just as Hill wants her foster children to know they have a place in her home with the arrows they paint, each child in the neighborhood gets to sign the fireplace so they know they are always welcome there.
Arrows Nest is funded through private one-time and monthly donations allowing Hill’s ministry to continue providing support and care to the Memphis community. From purchasing school supplies and Christmas presents for the kids to delivering groceries to families during the pandemic, Hill continues to exhibit her faith through her actions. Even though fundraising has been slow with COVID-19, she says they’ve always had enough, even if just barely, and knows that God will continue to provide for her.
There are days where Hill is overwhelmed by the weight of her responsibilities as a foster and community mom and wonders if it’s ultimately something she can keep doing. But all it takes for her to keep going is to remember that she is living the life she always dreamed of.
“Some days I am (burnt out), but I just keep going. There’s nothing else I’d rather do,” Hill said. “It’s crazy that I’m at this point where I’m like, okay, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I have to remind myself of that on the hard days, but this is what I’ve wanted to do forever. I just want to keep being available … for whoever needs me.”
Hill says one of her greatest support systems is other foster families who understand the intensity and rollercoaster of emotions that are involved in fostering a child. Between ensuring each child receives the emotional support, care and attention they need, attending court dates and family visits, cooperating with the social worker and fighting for what is best for each child, foster families rely on one another for advice, support and understanding.
“It’s been really important for me and the kids to have that community of people that understand, … that look like us and go through all of the same things we do everyday,” Hill explained.
While Hill’s continuously growing family may not look or be convenient, she is proud and thankful for the “rainbow family” she has found in Memphis. The longer she is active in providing a safe space for all of the children that come through her door, the more she realizes how important it is for her to continue her mission to foster a loving, gospel-centered environment so when they leave her home, they can share the love they experienced at Arrows Nest.
“This is what I want to do with my life. There’s nothing that could have more purpose than these kids who have been through the hardest things in the world and need people to take care of them. So why would I not take care of them? I can’t see myself doing anything else.”