NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As former Blue Raider football standout and current Tennessee Titans player Kevin Byard continues to impress on the field, the work he and his wife are doing off the field is perhaps even more impactful.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services held a ribbon cutting last month for the renovated Resource Linkage Office that temporarily houses and provides “a safe space” for the hundreds of children entering the Davidson County foster care system each year.
Paid for by Byard and wife Clarke through The Byard Family Legacy Fund and in partnership with Campbell’s Chunky Soup, the upgraded space features new furnishings, countertops, a clothing room, kitchenette with new microwave appliances, full shower space, playroom for the smaller children, a dedicated space for teens, new flooring, smart televisions, toys and other amenities.
In homage to Byard’s position as safety on the Titans defense, the TDCS renamed the space The Byard Family Safety Room.
“It’s already an anxiety filled moment, something that nobody really wants to go through, but the thing we wanted to try to do is make the kids feel comfortable,” Byard said at the ribbon cutting about their motivation to renovate the facility.
“Kevin and I had a meeting at the safe house to discuss an event and when we heard about all of the great things the center did for the children entering into the foster care system, we wanted to find a way to say thank you to the staff and brighten up the building,” Clarke Byard said.
“These children come from many different circumstances and often are in an emergency situation. Our hope is that the building now reflects the compassion and the commitment displayed by the staff at the Safe Room as soon as the children walk in the door.”
MTSU alumna Shatina Marshall (’00, social work) was a catalyst for the project through her work as the resource linkage coordinator for TDCS. She manages the foster care resource center, which provides a safe, comfortable space for foster children to stay — typically for five to 10 hours on average — while the necessary steps such as contacts and paper work are completed to find them foster care placements.
Marshall said the journey toward the renovations began earlier this year. DCS hosts a special graduation celebration each spring for the youth in the foster care system. With she and Byard (’15) sharing MTSU roots and knowing his prominence in the Midstate community, Marshall reached out to Byard’s representatives to see if he would be available and interested in speaking to the youth as part of the celebration.
Byard agreed, though he actually wasn’t able to attend the event at Top Golf in Nashville because of an unavoidable conflict. But “he ended up sending an amazing video. … The kids really loved it and appreciated it,” Marshall said.
As the relationship with the Byards progressed, the couple expressed interest in taking on a project that could have a broader impact on the children in foster care. Marshall said the decades-old buildings that housed the Resource Linkage Office “could really use a refresh.”
While Marshall said she would have been grateful for a fresh coat of paint, the Byards renovated the facility from top to bottom over several weeks this summer, having contractors work around the TDCS staff schedules so as to minimize disruptions and allowing their critical service to the children and youth to continue.
Marshall said Clarke Byard “was very hands-on,” asking DCS staff about the purpose of various spaces and how they would like to see those spaces transformed. For example, each renovated room now as a workstation with USB port that allows a DCS staffer to continue working without having to relocated the children to a different space.
“So rather than finding one home or one family that they can do something for, now they can pretty much impact every child that comes through custody here in Davidson County,” Marshall said. “They touched pretty much every part of our building.”
Marshall said there remains a tremendous need for foster care families in Tennessee, particularly for teenagers, noting that many times teens find themselves in the foster care system through no fault of their own, but rather because of a circumstance involving the parent that requires a removal from custody.
For more information about the state’s foster care services and how to become a foster parent, visit https://bit.ly/3jwMpjS.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)