Be The Change
Life of Allie Graves
By: Anne Granado
Photography by April Graves
Allie Graves proves that true beauty is much more than a person’s outer appearance. Instead, real beauty comes from the light and passion within ourselves to love people and to leave the world a better place, and Allie Graves demonstrates this every day by her desire to share her story and inspire others.
Allie is a student at Ouachita Baptist University and a graduate of Texas High School, where she was involved with Texas Highsteppers, Rosebuds, and Tigervision. She is a Christian, loves dogs and singing, and is the current Miss SouthWest Arkansas. Allie is planning to compete for Miss Arkansas in the summer of 2023. When she takes the stage, one of her goals will be to inspire the audience, judges, and other contestants with her personal story as an advocate for fostering and adoption. “I was adopted at only six years old, and pageants provide opportunities for me to spread awareness of the prevalence of stories like mine and inspire people to become foster and adoptive families,” Allie says. “Also, it gives me opportunities to grow as a young adult and vocalist, as well as earn money and scholarships for school!”
Allie began competing in pageants in eighth grade. Since then, she has competed in a dozen local pageants, and her titles over the years have included Prestonwood Polo Club, Texarkana, North Texas, and Lone Star. She ended her last teen year with the state title, Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen 2019-2020. Last summer, she competed for a Miss title in Arkansas and is looking forward to Miss Arkansas this summer. “Naturally, I am a little bit nervous because this is my first time competing in a different state, and as a Miss contestant,” Allie says, “But even then, I’m just gonna trust in my training and stay rooted in why I compete!”
Allie’s “why” stems from her childhood events and the incredible story of her own adoption. Allie was left at a church when she was born, and after entering the foster system, she was placed with Mark and April Graves and their three sons: Jordan, Aaron, and Adam. “The Graves were raised in the conviction that Jesus is our Savior and that people are to be loved. They are just as real as the next family, but in the early 2000s, they met a little girl who was abandoned by her biological family,” Allie says. “I lived with them from three months old to seventeen months old. At that time, I was ordered to be placed with my biological family.”
Allie’s removal was devastating for the Graves family. However, four years later, Allie’s caseworker called and let the Graves family know that Allie had been removed from her biological family due to abuse. She was being put back into the foster care system, but the Graves still wanted Allie to be a part of their family. They officially adopted her when she was six years old. “At this time, my brothers had been old enough to remember me as a baby, so they were just as much a part of the decision-making as my parents were. The boys were intentional about spending time with me, and they wanted me there with them,” Allie says. “Adoption is two-fold. It is a new life for a child who has seen too much of an ugly world, and it is a new life for the family who provides the love and light that the child didn’t receive before them. It was an amazing experience to finally know what love is.”
After graduating from Texas High, Allie decided to attend Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) because her brother, Adam, was also a student there. At OBU, Allie serves on the Panhellenic Council for the women of Tri Chi and on the Tiger Serve Day Leadership Team. “Also, Ouachita held lots of big connections but had a small-town feel,” Allie says. “Therefore, when I moved in, I felt at home but also able to figure out essential things as a growing adult.”
After completing her major in Community and Family Services and graduating in December of 2023, Allie has dreams of attending the University of Arkansas to receive her Master of Science in counseling with an emphasis in school counseling. “I’m in the generation of families finally opening up about trauma and abuse, and there is a huge need for counselors. I think I have a helpful perspective as someone with trauma herself,” Allie says. “I want to be the listening ear, as well as the therapeutic and safe environment that children, youth, and adults need in times of crisis and conflict. I see this career as a way of giving back and continuing to heal myself through lifelong learning.”
Through her prospective career, work in pageants, and daily interactions, Allie hopes to change people’s perceptions about adoption and foster care. “I believe people who are not trauma-informed adopt traumatized children and expect them to be like their biological children. This can result in horror stories of ‘bad’ children, and willing and able parents are scared away from adopting,” Allie says. “In order for people to shy away from false realities in adoption and unrealistic expectations, I must speak up. I share my story and give them my perspective. As an adopted child, I needed a sacrificial family, not to feel like a project. So, I educate adoptive and foster families on the stories children and youth will have coming into homes. I also advise families that they must be willing to see that these children are in desperate need of a healthy home; therefore, families must change accordingly.”
Allie had to grow up much faster than some of the children her age, and these experiences have helped give her a clear vision for her future. Though she is young, Allie is already focused on her dreams and goals to help families. “Though this may seem like a ‘small’ goal to the world, I hope to be everything my biological parents couldn’t and wouldn’t be. I hope to be a lifelong learner, stand up for those who are oppressed, and love children (whether biological or not),” Allie says. “I also hope to focus on reversing the trauma in my own family and life so that the cycle will continue to break and not just stop with my story.”
To accomplish these goals, she wants to build her life on the foundation of her Christian faith and lean on God to help her be a light to others. “I don’t mean the ‘American Christianity,’ but the kind that brings me to my knees daily, finding my identity not in what I have but whom I’m becoming,” Allie says. “I hope to accomplish these goals through prayer and the Holy Spirit, whom I know can change the bitterness of these experiences to hope. Every human is complex and requires patience only God can provide, but all of that has already begun to happen within me.”
Not only can the Holy Spirit work in her own life, but also it can help heal the lives of the people who hear Allie speak and even her future patients. “I know that people can only see the darkness they are in sometimes. But, I hope that I can make a difference in the lives of those around me,” Allie says. “I also hope that by choosing to go into counseling, not for money or recognition, but simply for the purpose of helping others, I can help raise a generation, or even one person, out of trauma, addiction, and hopelessness.”
If our readers feel called to help with foster and adoption agencies in our community, there are several organizations they can contact for more information on how they can get involved. First, according to their website, the CALL was started in 2007 after a group of individuals came together looking for a way to provide for children in foster care in Pulaski County by working together with the Division of Children and Family Services. In 2010, the CALL became a statewide organization and is now active in 44 counties around Arkansas. The CALL’s goal is to become active in all 75 Arkansas counties so that whenever and wherever a child comes into foster care, “that child will not have to be sent off to another county, but will find a welcoming foster home in their own community.”
This nonprofit organization mobilizes local churches to serve children and youth placed in foster care and provide a way for Christians to invite the mission field into their homes. The CALL partners with the Division of Children and Family Services to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive families. To find out more about them, call their Miller County office at (870) 260-2577 or follow them on their Facebook page. You can also email the County Coordinator, Holly Carver, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second organization in Texarkana is For the Sake of One. Their website says that their mission is “to share God’s love with local children and families by providing emotional, physical, and spiritual support while serving as a hub to connect, equip, and empower all stakeholders in the child welfare community.” They provide many resources and supplies to foster and adoptive families because they believe that “helping children from hard places shouldn’t be so intimidating and confusing” and they want to “support you every step of the way.”
For the Sake of One began in 2014 when Samuel and Angela Coston felt God calling them to do something in Texarkana to bring awareness to the foster care crisis. They were both teachers, foster parents, and members of Beech Street First Baptist Church, and they felt God guiding them to form a church ministry. They launched For the Sake of One with a school supply drive for 25 foster children in Texarkana, TX. Beech Street embraced the ministry, and it grew over the next three years. Then, in 2017, Angela felt called by God to quit her teaching job and step out on faith to launch For the Sake of One as a nonprofit organization. Since the 2018-2019 year, they have served 1,098 clients and had more than 15 churches partner with them. They continue to serve foster families, adoptive families, kinship families, struggling families, case workers, and foster children in Miller, Little River, Bowie, and Cass counties. To find out more about them,
call (903) 329-0566, check out their Facebook page, or email FSOTXK@gmail.com.