Happy & Healthy

By KD Reep

Renee Hohn and son Lewis share a sweet moment.  Photo by Lily Darragh

Renee Hohn and son Lewis share a sweet moment. Photo by Lily Darragh

Renee Hohn knows how to multitask. A farmer’s daughter from northeast Arkansas, Renee manages raising two sons, Carson and Lewis, and working full-time as a single mom in Saline County. She may be constantly in motion, but Renee has her priorities in line—her sons and their healthy development. Her younger son, Lewis, deals with some emotional issues, which are being addressed both at Friendship Community Care in Bryant and at home. This is how she and her sons manage their busy lives.

What is your day-to-day like? I get my boys up and ready for school, drop them off then head to work by 7:30 a.m. I then pick them up a little after 5 p.m. Once we’re home, and if there are no band events, I fix dinner, make sure homework is getting done, try to pick up around the house, watch a show on TV, put Lewis to sleep, make sure Carson is finished with homework and not playing video games, watch the news, go to bed and get ready to do it all again.

Your son attends Friendship Community Care. What is his diagnosis, and what kind of programs and therapy does he receive there?  Lewis is 3-years-old and extremely intelligent with no speech problems, but he developed or starting showing signs of over-stimulation anxiety when his pre-kindergarten class doubled in size. He became aggressive, agitated and cried uncontrollably because he didn’t want to go to school. He also suffers from poor impulse control and opposition defiance, and he has some emotional issues that, more than likely, come from his dad abruptly disappearing from his life. Friendship was a godsend. They have smaller class sizes and certified teachers who genuinely care about our babies. They are patient, teach him coping skills and embrace his spunky personality.

When did you get his diagnosis? What was that like?  I have known since he was 8-months-old that he was more sensitive to his environment and others moods than most people. So many of his symptoms are actually very normal toddler behaviors; his are just a little more exaggerated. I was relieved to find a place that could actually pinpoint what he needed and love him right where he was and through the process.

As a single mom raising a child with special needs, what obstacles do you face? How do you overcome and deal with those obstacles? The hardest thing is being away from him 10 hours a day. Happy Lewis is the first half of the day and right after a nap. After working nine to 10 hours each day, I come home to Tired-and-Mad-at-You-Because-You-Left-Me Lewis. My oldest son is a great help, but having a toddler and a teenager has its own challenges. Doing it on my own means no breaks or “me” time, which makes outings hard when Lewis is in rare form and doesn't want to go anywhere. I have to occasionally miss a band concert or competition that my oldest is involved with or make them only to end up sitting in the car until they are over because my little man decided to throw a screaming fit to get on the stage or the field with his bubba. The weekend is my favorite time because as long as we have no major band event, we watch cartoons, play, snuggle and just enjoy each other.  

What is your support system like? I don't really have much of one, outside of school. My friend, who was Lewis’ first babysitter and also the mother to his best friend, helps more than anyone by picking him up from school for the hour-and-a-half left before I can leave work. One of my sisters who lives 45 minutes away from us will always be there if there is an emergency or no other option, but she also works full time, has a husband, four kids and a church youth group that keep her busy. 

What is your favorite thing about being a mom? The unconditional love they have for me, that my kisses are magically healing to a boo-boo, and knowing that God trusted me enough to be their guardian, protector, counselor and mother.

What do you all like to do as a family? How do you spend time together? Tickle wars, singing and dancing silly around the house. During the summer, we live at the pool every extra moment we have. 

What do you want people to take away from your story? Special needs are not always visible, and all children are special and deserve to be loved and supported. Being a single mom and juggling so much responsibility, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted, which can steal your joy. Don't get sucked into the negative, but take every moment available to laugh, love, sing and be silly with your kids.

Young Love

Sarah Barnett is only 20 years old, but she has taken on the duties of parenting and adulthood with a quiet and determined resolve. A licensed cosmetologist, Sarah organizes her day-to-day life around her son Cameron, who has a compromised immune system and attends Friendship Community Care in Bryant. This is their love story.

By KD Reep


Sarah Barnett and her son, Cameron.  Photo by Lily Darragh

Sarah Barnett and her son, Cameron. Photo by Lily Darragh

Where are you from? I am from Bryant, but I was born in Little Rock. The doctor who delivered me, Dr. Mike Cope, also delivered my son. My parents, Don and Jane Barnett, own Cantrell Animal Clinic where my dad is a veterinarian.  

What is your profession? I am a licensed cosmetologist; I graduated in June when I was about three or four months pregnant. Right now, I wait tables at U.S. Pizza in Bryant, and I have worked there three years. 

What is your day-to-day like? Every morning at 7 a.m., I get up, and then wake up Cameron so he can be at school by 8 a.m. Then I will go home, brush my teeth, eat my breakfast and get ready for work. I pick him up at 3:30 p.m. then we go home and play until 5 p.m., and he will nap until 7 p.m. since he won't sleep at daycare. After that is dinner, bath time and bed at 8 p.m. He still gets up three or four times during the night. Today, I had to take Cameron to the doctor because he has hand, foot and mouth disease, and can't go back to school until next week so I'm missing work to watch him.

When did you get Cameron’s diagnosis? What was that like? Cameron was born two months early. My water broke at 30 weeks and four days due to stress. I went in on a Tuesday and had him on a Friday. He was born at 31 weeks on the dot. He was 4 pounds, 2.7 ounces, which is two pounds more than normal babies at that age. He stayed in the Baptist Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 33 days. He was sent home on a heart/apnea monitor and had to wear that 24/7 till he was six or seven months old. He stayed on oxygen for a week and had a feeding tube for about 20 days. I couldn't find a daycare that would take a child on a monitor, and I needed to find a job at a salon.

As a single mom raising a child with special needs, what obstacles do you face? How do you overcome and deal with those obstacles? With me being his primary caregiver, I've had to sacrifice two salon jobs since I am the one taking him to and from school as well as his multiple doctor appointments. The school nurse was constantly calling me to come get him because he was sick so I had to leave work, but I'm trying to find a salon that is flexible with my hours and his needs. Since he was premature, his immune system is not the best sometimes so we will be at the doctor’s office every week. 

What is your support system like? I live with my mom, dad and sister, and they help out a lot. I would not be able to parent without them. My mom will watch him when I work nights, and his dad will get him maybe once a week for a few hours.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom? I know he will always need me and love me. I needed him in my life; I needed someone to love. Getting pregnant at 19 was the hardest thing I've gone through, and becoming a single mom at 20 was the scariest, but I wouldn't change a thing about my life. I love my son. 

What do you all like to do as a family? How do you spend time together? I've had a boyfriend for a little over a year now; we started dating when I was six months pregnant. He loves to take me and my son out to eat or to the park. He is absolutely amazing. Cameron's favorite thing to do is swim, and lately I have been taking him out to the barn and letting him "ride" my horse, Princeton. 

What do you want readers to take away from your story? Being a young, single mom is so hard but so rewarding. Enjoy every minute of your pregnancy and every moment with your child. They grow up in the blink of an eye. 


Keeping Up with Kristen & Khloe

By KD Reep

Khloe plays peek-a-boo with mom Kristen at the shoot. Photo by  Lily Darragh .

Khloe plays peek-a-boo with mom Kristen at the shoot. Photo by Lily Darragh.

Kristen and Khloe Jacola are in constant motion. The mother and daughter from Saline County count work, school and home duties as part of their daily schedules, but they do it at a sonic pace. Here’s how they manage it all.

Where are you from? I was born in West Monroe, Louisiana, but moved to Arkansas when I was very young and have been here ever since. I graduated from Benton High School in 2003.

What is your profession? I have worked at Kinco Construction in payroll and administration for three years now. It started out as a temporary position, but they hired me on full time, and it’s the best company I have ever worked for.

What is your day-to-day like? Get up around 6 a.m., get ready then pick out my kids’, Landon and Khloe, outfits for the day. They eat breakfast then get off to school around 7:20 a.m. I go to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then pick up Khloe from Friendship Community Care around 5:15 p.m. every day. Then we head to Nana’s house to pick up my son. Once home, I fix dinner, we do homework, play and watch TV.

Khloe has Down’s syndrome. What was it like to get her diagnosis? We found out at 18 weeks and went in for a special ultrasound. They told us she looked normal and everything looked fine, but they didn’t see she had Down’s syndrome. They did say her limbs looked a little short, but that was it. I had Khloe at 36 weeks, and she was taken to Arkansas Children’s Hospital the next day and stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for more than 30 days. I was very scared, and I had no idea what to expect, but she has no heart problems and has already had eye surgery, adenoids taken out, three sets of ear tubes and dental work done. She is a trooper and always does a great job at these procedures. 

As a single mom raising a child with special needs, what obstacles do you face? How do you overcome and deal with those obstacles? Of course, every Down’s syndrome kid is different. Khloe is a wild and active little girl. She is fearless and doesn’t see any type of danger. She keeps me running and jumping through obstacles for her. For the most part, the hardest thing about doing it alone is Khloe doesn’t understand the concept of waiting in line. She can’t talk so I don’t understand everything she wants or needs. I don’t know what all her cries are about, which is frustrating for both of us. If she wants something, she is going to fight to get it or go to it. I can’t always take her places because she doesn’t sit still, so I can’t take her to a movie or play where she has to sit there because she wants to get up and run into the middle of it. She doesn’t like to sit in a highchair for a long time while we eat or a shopping cart long enough to shop. She wants naturally to walk beside me or with me for anything. For the most part, I just deal with it all. I’m not going to miss out on birthday parties or seasonal activities because I know she’ll give me the hardest time. She has no idea what Halloween is, but you better believe we are dressing up and going door-to-door just like every other kid. I’m not going to stuff her in a house and never let her experience what other kids get to do just because it will make my day harder.

What is your support system like? My family and friends are great support. They love Khloe and don’t treat her differently.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom? Seeing their eyes light up when they see me. Khloe beams with joy every day when I pick her up, and I get the biggest hug. I get the best snuggles and that innocent unconditional love that you know you wouldn’t get from anyone else.

What do you all like to do as a family? We spend time together either watching TV, reading a book or doing a puzzle. Whatever Landon and Khloe want to do.

What do you want readers to take away from your story? Down’s syndrome kids are beautiful, special, loving kids that deserve everything any other child does. I hope they can see the happiness and love in these kids’ eyes and hearts. I really want other parents to talk with their kids about special little boys and girls and teach them about using harsh words and staring or pointing. I had a little girl ask me what was wrong with Khloe’s face one day, and it broke my heart. But Khloe puts a smile on everyone’s face. While she was in the hospital waiting room, she went around to each person and gave them a big hug and high five. They all smiled and loved it. It just brought happiness to a quiet, cold room while these parents waited on their kids in surgery. She is definitely a shining star. I know she’s going to do big things one day, and nothing is going to stop her.

Perfect Blend

By Mel Jones


Meet the Valleys: Kennedy, Anthony, Maya, Madison, Stacey and Quinn.  Photo by Lily Darragh

Meet the Valleys: Kennedy, Anthony, Maya, Madison, Stacey and Quinn. Photo by Lily Darragh

Stacey Valley always knew she wanted to be a mom. Her journey began in 2009 as a foster mom to an 11-day-old baby who she would later adopt. When she married her husband Anthony, a senior database analyst in marketing at Windstream, in 2013, she gained two stepdaughters. After a year of marriage, the couple decided to begin the adoption process and continue to grow their blended family.

Today, Stacey and Anthony have four daughters—Kennedy, 16, Madison, 12, Maya, 6, and Quinn, 1. The story of how they became a family is one of strength and struggles, tears and triumphs, and the power of unbreakable bonds.

What is your day-to-day like? Most days are busy juggling work and home with kids’ schedules and our volunteer and church activities. We try to relax on Saturdays.

How do you balance work, family and interests? Although it’s not a perfect system, we rely heavily on scheduling to make sure the right people get to the right places and do the right things at the right time. Anthony and I are a good team. Communication is crucial.

How did you and your husband, Anthony, meet? I was living in the DC area and was home visiting family in North Little Rock. My brother introduced us. But little did Anthony know that he had already caught my eye while he was playing the piano at church.

What made you decide to foster, and ultimately adopt?  I became a foster parent in 2009 as a single person. I knew the need was great for foster parents, and I really wanted to be a mom. Maya was my first foster placement. I didn’t know when they placed that precious little 11-day-old baby in my arms that I would adopt her a year later. When Anthony and I got married in 2013 we discussed becoming foster parents together. Anthony comes from a large family, so having lots of kids around is normal for him. At our one-year anniversary, we started the process. Quinn was placed in our home in September 2014 at two weeks old, and we adopted her this past summer. We went through The CALL (thecallinarkansas.org).

Was it important to you to adopt a child here in Arkansas? Yes. There are about 3,500 children in the foster care system in Arkansas at any given time, but only about 1,100 approved foster homes. About 500 of those children are eligible for adoption. There really is no reason to look anywhere else—the need is right here in our own state.

When did you adopt your first daughter, Maya? January 2010, a week before her first birthday.

When Maya was 6-years-old, you and Anthony adopted her baby sister, but not without some major obstacles and struggles. What can you tell us about that process? We have a beautiful relationship with Maya’s birth family, especially her grandmother. When we found out that Maya’s birth mom was pregnant again, we started the process to become an open foster home in case the baby came into the Division of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) custody. Our DCFS resource worker knew our history and that we were opening our home as a “fictive kin” home for this child. Birth mom asked me to be in the delivery room with her and stay in the hospital with her and the baby. It was truly special, but also complicated. I was shocked when DCFS placed the baby with another foster family. I petitioned to have her placed with us, and ultimately that happened. But it wasn’t an easy process. (To us, they were sisters by blood. But to the legal system, they were not sisters because we had adopted Maya.)

What helped you stay strong and not give up on adopting Quinn? Honestly during those 11 days she was with another family, I wasn’t very strong. I was a sobbing mess. But I knew that her birth mom wanted her girls together and that despite the obstacles, she was worth fighting for. 

Describe the day you and Anthony officially became Quinn’s parents. Going to court is stressful, but adoption hearings are a celebration. We had lots of family there with us. It was extra special because we had the same judge that had done Maya’s adoption five years earlier. It was a huge feeling of relief when the judge declared her our forever child.

In addition to your two adopted daughters, your family includes Anthony’s biological daughters from a previous marriage. What has it been like to grow your blended family? Surprisingly it has been a very easy transition. Kennedy and Madison are with us every weekend, and they are sweet girls. Maya loves having big sisters. As a stepmom, I think it’s important to let the children set the pace of relationship. They have a mother, so I serve a different role.

Anthony’s take: As their dad, I see the four girls as the same. I don’t differentiate between how they arrived into the family because we are one family. Stacey’s a great mom. She gives plenty of space for each child to develop a healthy relationship with her. It’s wonderful work of grace unfolding.

What do you all like to do as a family? How do you spend time together? When the weather is nice, we like to take family walks together. We live near the Lakewood lakes, so that’s our favorite spot. Family meals are an important part of our lives as well. We love to laugh. We often spend time sitting in the living room, watching TV and adding witty commentary to whatever we see. As parents, we use our family time to teach the Valley girls how these moments relate to loving God and loving your neighbor.

Do you talk to Maya about her birth story? Will you do the same for Quinn? I made Maya a storybook about her birth story. She will pull it out from time to time, and we’ll read it together. She knows that she and Quinn have the same “tummy mummy.” I don’t hide anything from her, and she asks tough questions sometimes. I’m working on Quinn’s storybook now.

Can you talk about your relationship with the girls’ birth mother? Her story is hard, and for her protection, I won’t disclose much here. But I will say that I talk to her on occasion, and I have an open relationship with her and her family.

What do you want readers to take away from your story? What should they know about adoption and blended families? Fostering and adoption is not for “the special.” Anthony and I are just normal people. God has called us all to care for the orphans. EVERYONE. If you can’t foster or adopt, you can support someone who is or be an advocate for fostering and adoption. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom or have a big house. Children in Arkansas need loving homes. That’s it.

In addition, I’d like people to learn how to talk about adoption and blended families using loving language. Yes, these are my “real” children. No, I don’t love some of my children more. Please don’t ask silly and hurtful questions. What’s a silly or hurtful question? If a question seems too awkward to ask a biological family made of only biological children, it is out of place to ask a foster or adoptive family. Mostly don’t make foster and adopted children feel different. They are just kids who needed a loving family.


Read more about Stacey’s adoption story on her blog, staceyvalley.com.





A Heart For Children

With ties to adoption throughout her family, Julie knew that one day she would do the same

By KD Reep


Julie and baby Elijah.  Photo by Beth Hall .

Julie and baby Elijah. Photo by Beth Hall.


Meet Julie and Britt: parents of daughters Riley, 8, Maddie, 5 and son Elijah, 2. Like any other Arkansas family, they are busy shuttling kids back and forth to school and activities while maintaining careers, a home and, at times, their sanity.

One of the unique aspects of this family is their willingness to adopt a child from ABBA Adoption in Benton. A full-service private adoption agency, ABBA provides abortion alternatives, crisis pregnancy and adoption services, and its team of professionals work with both birth and adoptive parents to provide education, support and serve as advocates. Julie and Britt always knew they would adopt, and through ABBA, they were able to meet Elijah’s birth mother. On the day he was born, Julie got to be in the room. “It was the most amazing and difficult thing I've ever been a part of,” Julie says. “What was one of the happiest days of our lives was one of the saddest of hers. The feelings are indescribable.”

This is the story of Elijah’s welcome to the world, one that brought people from different backgrounds together through love, sacrifice and compassion. “We left the hospital with Elijah the day after he was born, but his adoption wouldn't be official for several more days,” Julie says. “We were so thankful to have our son, but our hearts were breaking for his birth mom. I think Jody Landers put it best: ‘A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.’”

SAVVY: You have two biological daughters. What made you want to adopt another child?

Julie: God laid it on my heart at an early age, and I've thought about it for years. My mom and her twin brother were adopted domestically here in Arkansas, and once I really started to understand her story and was able to see how truly blessed we were to be a part of the family that we are because of adoption, I knew I would adopt as well. I also have some amazing cousins in China who've adopted and work in orphanages there, and their hearts for orphans pulled at my heartstrings and has had a lasting effect on me. Adoption isn’t right for everybody as there are many ways to help, but it was what my family and I were meant to do.

Was it important to you to adopt a child here in Arkansas? We had to do a lot of praying and discussing, and we went back and forth between domestic and international. God’s children are God’s children—there are no borders when it comes to them. In the end, we felt the most peace with doing a domestic adoption. The agency we worked with felt right, and ABBA's director, Kandi Cox, has a heart for children, birth mothers and adoptive families. Getting with the right agency is so important because the process can be difficult, and you need to feel supported and secure with the people facilitating everything. 

How will you talk to Elijah about his birth story when he’s older? How did you explain it to your daughters? We have been very open with the girls from the beginning. They were a part of our fundraising and walked through the waiting period with us. They understand adoption and our oldest, Riley, has already said she wants to adopt one day. We will also be open with Elijah. He will grow up knowing he is loved by many and that his birth mom loved him so much she had to make the selfless, brave and most difficult decision of her life to give him a better one. We have many pictures of her and other family members and will share those when he is ready. We will base the rest of it on when we feel like he is ready and able to understand it all. We want to be honest with him and protect his heart at the same time. It's helpful to have my mom, as an adoptee, offer advice and views from both sides.

What is your relationship with Elijah’s birth mother? From the first time we met her, we loved her. We spent quite a bit of time with her towards the end of her pregnancy. We'd go to lunch and her doctor appointments with her. She knows she is loved, respected and cherished, and we know she trusts us strongly enough to raise Elijah. Her heart and mine are forever connected: We are mothers that love the same boy, who is our son. We keep her updated with letters and pictures through the agency, and she is always in our hearts and prayers.

What should readers know about adoption and blended families? Adoption can be hard, but it is worth it. Birth moms are brave, selfless and make probably the hardest decision of their lives for the betterment of their children. We are honored to be Elijah's parents, and adoption has changed our whole family for the better. Our lives would not be complete without our little man, as he has strengthened our bond as a family, our marriage, our relationship and reliance on God, and our hearts. In a perfect world, children would be raised by their birth parents and neither of them would have to suffer that loss. We don’t feel that adoption was God's original plan for families, but we live in a broken world and luckily adoption is a wonderful option. Thankfully, God can make beautiful things out of dust and our family is far more beautiful with Elijah in it.


One Page at a Time

As executive director of Literacy Action of Arkansas, Sara Drew works to advance the nonprofit's mission of empowering adults through literacy

By KD Reep

When she has time to herself, you'll find Sara Drew in the middle of a great book.  Photo by Matthew Martin

When she has time to herself, you'll find Sara Drew in the middle of a great book. Photo by Matthew Martin

Literacy Action of Central Arkansas started in 1986 as a way to provide one-on-one tutoring for adults whose needs were not being served by traditional classroom adult education programs in the area. The organization utilizes volunteers to teach reading skills to adults, and since 1999,
works with non-native adults to learn English and use their new skills to participate more fully in community life. Savvy talked to executive director Sara Drew about life with husband William, their 4-year-old son Liam and their rescue dog Cleo, her work and the importance of giving back.

Crazy! Rise and shine with hubby and son. Feed son, dress son and take son to preschool. Go back home and get ready for work and then we’re off to the races—my workdays are very busy.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK, FAMILY AND INTERESTS? I haven’t found a balance. I just try to make my husband and son my first priority every day. Rarely do I do anything just for myself, except read, but I look forward to being able to make myself first again someday.

WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY AS A PHILANTHROPIST? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO GET INVOLVED? I’ve been in the nonprofit field since 2006! I’m a philanthropist with my time because that’s where I choose to work—in the nonprofit field. But I know that
I am very lucky to have a choice. I wanted to make a difference through my career, not just every once in a while with my money or time.

WHAT NONPROFITS ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH, AND HOW DO YOU GIVE BACK TO THEM? I worked for Heifer International for six years and support their work through raising awareness about my past position there. My family also supports The Humane Society of Pulaski County, CARE for Animals, KUAR/KLRE, Museum of Discovery, Arkansas Art Center, Our House, Little Rock Zoo, Nature Conservancy, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Audubon, AETN/PBS and First United Methodist Church. We generally donate our tithe twice a month to a few organizations throughout the year and I have served on several boards for nonprofits.
Of course, I work for Literacy Action of Central Arkansas and support my council as well as the Arkansas Literacy Councils.

My work in the nonprofit sector constantly opens my eyes to the world around me in new and insightful ways. I have a strong sense of justice and respect for human and animal kind, and empathy on a whole new level because my mission through my chosen career has been to give back.

Changing people’s lives.

Yes, they do. My son is still a little young, but my husband has always helped out with all of my organizations’ functions.

I hope my son learns to see outside himself, experience the joy of serving and connecting with other human beings, improving others’ lives and thinking of others before himself at times and that the United States is not the world. We are just a tiny part of a giant world of many different environments and people that see and experience life much differently.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL SOMEONE WHO IS THINKING ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED WITH A NONPROFIT, AS A VOLUNTEER OR IN ANOTHER CAPACITY? It’s very different on a small-scale level, but can be very similar to a for-profit on a large scale as well. You need to be passionate about your career no matter what sector it falls under.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU WANT THE READER TO LEAVE WITH AFTER HAVING READ THIS FEATURE? Consider learning more about the nonprofits in your community, specifically Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. And by that I mean the smaller nonprofits that go unnoticed but are doing so much good right here in Little Rock. One of the most important facts about adult literacy is that the number-one factor in childhood literacy is whether a
parent can read to their child. If a child is never read to by their parents or do not see their parents reading, it doesn’t matter how much we preach about the third grade reading level. Reading starts in the home.

Visit literacylittlerock.org to learn more about Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. In addition to tutors, volunteers are needed for a wide variety of activities, from special events and office support to community education services and grant writing.