In her journal, Ashley Walker writes down the good things the day brought her: when one of her girls made the basketball team, when one of her girls prayed for the first time and an unforgettable day spent at the lake house.
But Walker’s “girls” are not her daughters.
Walker, an ORU alumna, is the CEO and founder of Project Manna Girls’ Home. She opened the foster home three months ago.
“[Project Manna Girls’ Home] is an initiative to develop the first girls’ home here in Tulsa,” Walker said. “It will be more of a group home setting.”
Three girls, ages 15, 17 and 19, currently live with Walker in the home. The two younger girls are currently in Department of Human Services custody, as their parents were deemed unfit guardians for either a temporary or permanent amount of time. The 19-year-old grew out of state custody, and is pregnant.
“Once you reach a certain age, [chances for] adoption are slim to none,” Walker said. “I don’t want the girls moving around 15 to 20 times. [If that happens], there’s no stability, and they don’t have permanent connections once they’ve turned 18.”
While Walker provides a home for these girls, she has not yet reached her goal.
“We don’t want people to think we’re finished,” Walker said. “What we have right now is not the completion of the vision for the ministry. Right now, [we’re in] the first stage of the project.”
Currently, the foster home can only house up to six girls. She plans on transforming Project Manna Girls’ Home into a campus with cottages where more girls could live.
In January, Walker will start Project Manna Girls’ Home Capital Campaign, an effort to raise money for the expansion in order to serve more girls.
Walker’s history with foster care stems from her own childhood. Walker was not in the foster care system herself, but her parents and relatives were all foster parents.
“All of our Thanksgivings were very diverse,” Walker said. “We had a bunch of foster kids between my aunt, my uncle and my mom and dad.”
Coming to ORU, Walker wanted to go to law school and get as far away from foster care as possible. But things changed when she went on a mission trip to Brazil in 2009.
“While we were there, I had the opportunity to go to a [faith-based] orphanage,” Walker said. “The Holy Spirit just really jacked me up. I probably cried for about four hours straight.”
She said the orphanage was a miracle from God, with suprisingly nice facilities.
Walker has returned every year since then to continue to learn from them.
A year and a half ago, Walker started raising money for her ministry. She sent out letters, had lunch with potential donors and more.
“I wanted to get myself in a position to tell people my heart,” Walker said. “If people hear about what I’m doing and hear about my vision, there’s no way they won’t want to support it some way.”
Walker gets minimal funding from the government. DHS will only reimburse her for children in custody. But when the girls leave or turn 18, the reimbursement stops.
“Since we started, we have not had one need,” Walker said. “It’s been three months. Literally, when it’s time to pay rent — it’s crazy. We have churches come all the time and drop off food. Harvard Meat gives us fifteen pounds of meat a month. I haven’t had to buy any meat since we moved in.”
About a dozen people give at least a $100 a month to Project Manna Girls’ Home. Walker also gets plenty of non-monetary donations.
When times get challenging, Walker thinks back to the time she heard from the Holy Spirit in Brazil.
“I always go back to the time God spoke the vision and the promise,” Walker said. “The orphanage was built out of obedience.”
Walker also mentioned volunteer options that ORU students could get involved in.
“We need a ton of help tutoring,” Walker said. “And people coming to do cooking classes or stuff
Whether or not students get involved with Project Manna Girls’ Home, Walker wants ORU students to reach out somewhere because, “It’s really needed.”
“ORU is a breeding ground for purpose and vision,” Walker said. “That’s where I got mine from and I know that’s where a whole lot of other people do.”