An empty bedroom is full of possibilities. Plain walls are like blank canvases – there aren’t any holes, uneven colors, or weird sticky spots. A new carpet is like a clean slate – there aren’t any juice stains, mud tracks, or suspicious blobs. It’s just four walls and a secure platform filled with promise and opportunity.
An empty bedroom inspired Denise Kendrick, Executive Director of Embrace, to open her world to foster care. However, before she took the leap of faith her personal history already stirred the pot. As she journeyed through the system as a caregiver her experiences and revelations made her the admirable leader she is today.
In the words of Denise, “when your eyes are opened you have a responsibility to act.”
Her first glimpse of an unconventional “family” began with discovering her dad and his siblings were adopted. It was something that was always in the back of her mind, but otherwise, her childhood was normal or maybe even idealistic. She grew up in a Christian home where her needs were met and she had stability. Exposure to other children’s realities expanded when she was a teacher at an underserved school. She met kids who took care of their siblings, wore the same shirt nearly everyday, and in general, a large portion of the students were on free lunch.
“I realized that the responsibilities some of these kids had were never an expectation for me as 7th grader,” Denise said.
While that made it difficult to relate to children with trauma, her childhood set a good example for a healthy family. When she had her first child, it was her and her husband, Bruce Kendrick, in a 3 bedroom home out in the country. One room for them, one room for their daughter, and the empty bedroom. When Denise stumbled across the T.A.R.E. (Texas Adoption Resource Exchange) website, she saw a redhead boy that looked like he could slip right into their family picture. That was enough to plant the seed to start their family’s ministry of foster care.
Denise said, “We know God gave us everything we have and we should use that for his service. It was a natural outgrowth from trusting God.”
In the early days, Denise had quite a few misconceptions about being a foster parent. In fact she thought the process would be easy and that she was just offering the children a soft place to land. “Easy” turned out to be an antonym of what she experienced. However, it was worthwhile and it matured her mentally, spiritually, and emotionally to be the leader she is today.
Denise had a revelation in the C.P.S. office. She fussed over a baby girl in the waiting room lobby. Meticulously and delicately, she checked to see if the child was okay and had everything she needed. When the child’s name was called Denise stood up and so did a young woman who was sitting across from her the entire time.
“When the young lady stood up, she looked so unsure. We were both just little mommas, but
she had to sit across the room from her child without being able to say, ‘hey, that’s my baby,’” Denise recalled tearfully. From then on, she understood that everyone should be rooting for the child’s best interest first.
That principal and a servant’s heart is what led Denise and Bruce Kendrick to found Embrace. Through Embrace, the couple and a group of volunteers sought to meet practical needs for children and families in foster care. As more needs were discovered, Embrace expanded their reach.
Before long, the ministry was recognized nationally for their work. They were awarded Child Advocates of the Year in Washington D.C., and invited to be a voice for the church at Texas Child Protection Roundtable and the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission. Additionally, Denise was honored as an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Despite the well-deserved titles, Denise maintained humility when she stepped into the role of Executive Director at Embrace. She built a workplace culture and community based on confidence and trust, assured that God handpicked and equipped their team for the task before them.
Nonetheless, Denise is most proud of her family. When asked what the most special part of this experience is, she said, “In a sea of people in the stands or an auditorium, it was me they were looking for. That’s how you know that you’re theirs, and they’re yours.”
What started as a young couple in a 3 bedroom house, has grown into a large family of nine children by birth and adoption with a few little grandkids in tow. Additionally, a heart to serve has grown into a ministry that’s helping families everyday, while leaving a legacy in the community.