Nonprofit Helps Children Find Homes By Producing Films

(From left) Christie Erwin, Morrell, a waiting teen, and Nathan Willis.
(From left) Christie Erwin, Morrell, a waiting teen, and Nathan Willis.Photo courtesy Project Zero

The camera whirrs. The child has freshly-groomed hair and a new outfit. The questions begin gently about favorite foods and hobbies, then progress to the child’s deepest longings.

“If you could dream about your perfect forever family, what would it look like?”

Today there are 300 children in Arkansas who need to be adopted because parental rights were terminated. The children will wait in foster care until someone chooses them.

Forget every preconceived idea you have, and go watch the short films online in the Arkansas Heart Gallery. The beautifully-produced films will stun and haunt and change you. In two to four minutes you’ll sense, and won’t forget, the essence of each child.

The experiences the children long for are sweet and humble. They want to own pets, have family breakfasts and movie nights with popcorn, take vacations together, and to be loved no matter what. They don’t want to pack up again and move to the next foster home, and especially to keep doing that until they are age 18 and enter an uncertain adult world completely alone.

More than 700 of these short films have been created by Project Zero, a nonprofit with one goal: to have zero Arkansas kids in foster care waiting to be adopted. Over almost 12 years, the organization has helped 1,300 such children find adoptive homes, and these films are a big part of the success.

About 35 films are still needed to represent all waiting children, says founder Christie Erwin.


“It’s about finding the right family that meets these children’s needs and desires and helps them have the opportunity to heal and grow and thrive,” Christie says. “They have lost everything that they have ever known. No matter how bad it could have been, it was their family, their school, it was their house, and all of those things are gone. They are courageous and brave enough to step out.”

While preparing for and making the films, the team is guided by the aim, “What do we need to say, do and create so the light comes back on and this child feels hopeful?”

“We’ve seen the light go out in the eyes of kids that are waiting. By giving them a voice, hope is built,” Christie says.

Christie Erwin, Executive Director of Project Zero
Christie Erwin, Executive Director of Project ZeroPhotography by Meredith Benton

Christie and her husband fostered newborns for 11 years through a private Christian adoption agency, then fostered for 11 years through the state.

“We added two children to our family through adoption,” she says. “I became aware of the hopelessness that comes when kids are waiting in foster care to be adopted, and I began to turn toward advocacy, to stepping up and speaking up and out on behalf of these kids.”

Project Zero holds several filming blitzes each year for individual children and sibling groups.

“The experience is gut wrenching. And there’s not a week goes by when we’re shooting that we don’t all fall apart. We know what can happen as a result of the films – but we feel ourselves grieving with our kids for what they’ve lost,” she says.

“We had a child not long ago who, when we asked, ‘What do you want in an adoptive family?’ said, ‘I just want to be hugged. I haven’t been hugged in years.’ We cut film, and we stood up and did a group hug and then each of us one at a time hugged this teen. It was so powerful that it took our breath away.”

Once, a boy was asked how he would feel were he to be adopted.

“He answered, “I’d probably turn into a rainbow,’ Christie says. “What a beautiful depiction of redemption, restoration and beauty.”

Another was asked, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” He said, ‘I want to go check on my granddad and see if he’s still alive.’

“It’s like a stab in the heart,” she said.

Still photographs are also captured of each child by professional photographers, and three exhibits travel the state to churches, businesses, and events. Project Zero has fielded 50,000 inquiries from the public about specific children during the past four years.


“It moves you, it stirs you to see their faces and has literally led to kids being adopted, just from someone seeing a face,” she says. “We work in very close partnership with the Department of Child and Family Services and every single adoption specialist and supervisor in the state.”

“People ask if they can start Project Zero in their state. And it’s not that we wouldn’t be open to sharing our protocol, our practices, our purposes and all of that. But we’re not at zero in Arkansas yet.”

Project Zero also holds events throughout the year for prospective families (who have already been approved through the state) to meet waiting children. Two large events are held each year including all children from across the state. Smaller events are planned throughout the year to intro- duce potential adoptive families to sibling groups and teenagers, and for special occasions such as back-to-school, the Christmas holiday and to watch Razorback games.

Often, families have viewed the videos and are looking to meet a specific child or children.

“The events work. They’re very awkward and that’s what we tell the families in advance,” Christie says. “Foster care and adoption aren’t normal. They shouldn’t exist. So we want our families just to know that connection events can feel awkward and to own that and have fun, because they’re for our kids. Just play with a child or eat with a child and start having a connection in that way.”

Volunteers help with transportation and conducting the events. Donations are always welcome; each film costs about $500 to produce, including new outfits, gift cards for the children and related expenses.

“We try to be creative and innovative and ask God to give us crazy ideas that will help our kids find the right forever families,” Christie says. “Any day that passes with a child waiting for a family is a day too long.”

Smart Justice is a magazine, podcast, and continuing news coverage from the nonprofit Restore Hope and covers the pursuit of better outcomes on justice system-related issues, such as child welfare, incarceration, and juvenile justice. Our coverage is solutions-oriented, focusing on the innovative ways in which communities are solving issues and the lessons that have been learned as a result of successes and challenges. 

The podcast is available on all major podcasting platforms.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Smart Justice