SEARCY - A table is the centerpiece of many homes and offices. A special table could be the reason many Arkansas children and parents live the lives they imagined.
Red Door Tables is a recently-formed non-profit to help children in the foster care system and inmates after their release from prison. The idea started after Andrew Baker and his wife, Amy, decided to renovate their kitchen.
“Tried to find a table in all different kinds of places,” Andrew Baker said. “We wanted to go with the Chip and Joanna Gaines, you know, farm-style table, and couldn’t find one and couldn’t find one, then didn’t want to spend that much money on one that we might have found.”
They found inspiration in the idea of a reclaimed door, Andrew Baker and read about red doors signifying safety and belonging during the colonial period.
They found a door and painted the top red and the bottom white, so all the foster children who pass through the Bakers’ house can write their names on it and feel a greater connection to the home.
“So, we got one for our house,” Baker said, “and then started talking about: what would it look like to put a red door table in restaurants, and restaurants saying, ‘hey, we want to participate in helping children in our community, as well.
“I believe every child deserves to know there is a place that they are safe and to know there is a place that they belong.”
When Baker speaks about his project, he often mentions a desire to “reclaim the table.” He believes in the power of tables to bring people together, whether it is a family during mealtime, or partners in a meeting room. In both instances, “coming to the table” can create lasting relationships and benefits.
Within a matter of months, state agencies and local businesses supported Baker’s vision for Red Door Tables and backed it. He sees money raised by the sale of tables providing gifts, school supplies, and educational experiences for foster children.
“When the Department of Correction said, ‘hey, we could help make these doors,’” Baker said, “it was like, yes! Yes, we would love for that to happen!”
Most foster children, Baker mentioned, have parents, too. Through his work with The Exodus Project, a non-profit that helps inmates prepare for their release, he discovered that many inmates have children who are placed in foster care during their incarceration. When they finish their sentences, life does not become instantly easy.
“It’s not like, all of a sudden, ‘oh, I got my kids back and now it’s gonna be great,’” Baker stated. “No, the struggle’s there.”
Aside from reducing the cost of producing the tables, the partnership will provide skills training that can benefit the inmates on the other side of the prison walls.
“It’s the education that is a part of that,” Baker mentioned. “It is employing on the outside. So, Red Door Tables—in time—will employ parents who have been reunified with their kids and folks who have a record, because those are folks that have a hard time getting a job.”
Red Door Tables collaborates with Restore Hope, an initiative created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015 to reduce the recidivism rate in Arkansas. Just as the wood that became a door will get a second chance as a table, Baker sees first and second chances for the families his project will benefit.
“First chance to the over 4,000 kids in Arkansas’s foster care system,” he said. “(We) believe in doing all that we can to help those kids succeed. But also, a second chance for all these people who are coming out of prison and needing that second chance.”
Only a handful of tables have been made so far. They sit in eight First Security Bank branches around central Arkansas as a way to raise money this holiday season, and to encourage customers to donate Christmas presents for foster children.
More will be displayed at restaurants around the area next month, and the red door tables should be ready for sale early in 2019.
Baker said he is only partially surprised at how quickly his idea has blossomed.
“Yes and no,” he said. “And I say yes because, yeah, it’s kinda, like, crazy, like, ‘we’re really having this conversation?’ No, because of what I’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of state agencies wanting to work really hard to see that we do a better job of first chance and second chance.”
He imagines the model being applied in other states, as well, and smiles at the thought of all the foster children who will have a better chance of reaching their potential, and all the former inmates who will be more likely to find stability and success.
“This is about a belief in humanity,” he stated. “This is about a belief that we all, no matter where we come from, want to know that we’re safe. We want to know that we belong.”