As followers of Jesus, we are encouraged to aid the orphans and the widows. Both Hands is an organization that is doing both, by giving one hand to the widow, and one hand to the orphan. Jt and Sara are doing incredible work, here is the beginning of Both Hands.
words by: Nic Stoltzfus
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Tim and Dawn’s children wanted their parents to adopt another child. Specifically, they wanted to adopt Kiara, a little girl with down syndrome who lived in an orphanage in Albania. Tim and Dawn Haines had ten children—five biological children, five adopted children—and they had just adopted their last child, Hudson, from China in 2015. Tim told his kids that adopting a child from Albania was not an easy thing to do: you had to stay in the country for a period of time before adopting, and sometimes that process took months. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving his job for that long. Dawn was also uncertain about adopting again—they already had ten children and taking care of them was a big enough responsibility.
The kids continued to beg their parents to reconsider. They placed photos of Kiara around the house and signs that read “if not us, then who?”
After much deliberation and time spent in prayer, Tim and Dawn Haines agreed that they would adopt Kiara. But the question was—how would things work out financially?
Tim and Dawn’s older children had recently gone to a conference where they met a couple who had adopted children from China; the couple had received financial help from an organization called “Both Hands.” They told their parents about it, and Tim and Dawn looked into it. They liked what they read and decided to contact the organization to seek help in adopting Kiara.
Both Hands agreed to help with the adoption. This was their model: couples who want to adopt a child get together with their friends and family, and they all send out letters of support asking people to sponsor them for a day they spend helping a widow. The funds they raise then goes towards the couple’s adoption fees.
The Haines family got to work. They showed a video about the Both Hands organization at church one Sunday along with photos of Kiara. The family and their friends then sent out letters asking for financial support to adopt Kiara. Since they had never done anything quite like this before, they were nervous about how it would all work out.
The family was amazed by the response: strangers who had never met the family sent them checks for hundreds of dollars for Kiara’s adoption. By the time it was all said and done with, the family had raised over sixteen thousand dollars that went towards Kiara’s adoption.
The widow that the Haines family and their friends agreed to help was Miss Mary Alice, who lived in Reading, Pennsylvania. The volunteers deep cleaned her windows, power washed the house down, and painted her porch and porch swing.
Meanwhile, Tim’s employer agreed to let him work remotely for a period of time and had also given him a bonus. When he got home, he told the family what happened. Tim said that between the funds from Both Hands and his bonus, the whole family would be able to travel to Albania to adopt Kiara. By living in Albania for seven weeks, the older children had the opportunity to visit the orphanage. They saw firsthand that there wasn’t enough staff to tend to the orphans, and this experience led them to encourage Tim and Dawn to adopt more children who needed a family.
In 2017, the Haines family decided to adopt another child, Sophie from China. Working with Both Hands was such a positive experience that they decided to do it again. This time, they helped a young widow named Miss Lucinda who lived in New Holland, Pennsylvania, with some tree trimming and house repairs.
In 2019, the family was led to adopt little Valentina from Bulgaria. For this Both Hands project, they helped Miss Susan, who lived right up the road from the Haines family in Honey Brook, with painting and mending fences.
Even after the Both Hands projects were finished, the Haines family, their church, and their friends have remained connected with the widows.
Today, Tim and Dawn Haines have thirteen children—eight adopted and five biological— ranging from four to twenty-six, and their oldest daughter is married. In reflecting upon their journey, Dawn said, “Our journey has been very different. We never set out to have thirteen kids. We never set out to have eight adoptions. It’s been a journey and God’s faithfulness has been written all over it.”
For the family’s last three adoptions, they were grateful for the support that Both Hands provided. Through Both Hands, the Haines family raised over $67,323 for the adoptions.
When they adopted one of their sons from China, they had a benefit auction, which was a good experience, but Dawn said that there was something special about the Both Hands experience.
“When you’re serving somewhere there’s some camaraderie that comes with this. You’re coming alongside cleaning and serving and seeing all the different ages. I think that’s one of my favorite parts of seeing everyone out there; there is nobody there that’s too young to help.”
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Founding Both Hands
In 2019, Both Hands served over 120 widows and helped bring 130 children into their forever homes. The average family project raised over fourteen thousand dollars, with a total dollar amount raised in 2019 being a little over 1.5 million dollars.
The organization was founded in 2008 by JT Olson. Over the past decade, the organization has grown substantially, but it all started back in 2003 with just one little note.
At the time, JT Olson was heading up a charity golf tournament to raise funds for Bethany Christian Services. When he sent a letter to his friend asking for money, his friend sent him the letter back, no money included, but instead with a sticky note scribbled with this message: “JT if you told me you were working on a widow’s house I might sponsor you but you’re just golfing. Nice cause, but not my money.”
The note was pointed and it stung a bit, but the idea stuck in JT’s head—what if he did a fundraiser to help widows? Would it be more effective than a golf tournament or a 5K run?
JT would have the chance to test the idea three years later. After church one Sunday, one of his friends, Don, approached him. Don told JT that he was adopting four children from Moldova. This came as a shock to JT—Don already had three children of his own and now he was going to add four more?! He asked Don what happened that he decided to adopt four children. Don told JT that he had gone to Moldova on a mission trip delivering beds to orphanages and a little boy named George captured his heart, and they were inseparable the whole week. Don continued and said that, after he got home, he talked with his wife and they decided to adopt George. In the process, they found out that George had three other siblings and Don and his wife didn’t want to separate the children. Don said that the total cost for adoption of the four children was around fifty thousand dollars, and he had no idea how he was going to raise the money.
Without hesitation, JT told his friend that he would do whatever he could to help raise the money to keep the children together.
For JT, this was no longer just about George and his three siblings—this was also about what he and his four siblings experienced as children.
JT Olson and his siblings grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. JT enjoyed the rural lifestyle, helping his parents and siblings with chores around the farm. One Saturday, when he was twelve years old, his parents had left home to spend the night out to celebrate their sixteenth wedding anniversary. JT had gone away for the day and, when he got home, his older brother told him the news that would change his life forever: “Mom and Dad are dead.” JT was speechless—his parents were dead? His brother repeated what he said, “Mom and Dad are dead. They died in a car accident.” Just like that, JT and his four siblings were orphans.
JT’s aunt and uncle from Wisconsin agreed to take all five children into their home and raise them, even though they were already raising three children of their own. JT had not forgotten how important it was that he remained together with his siblings after his parents died. As JT listened to his friend Don share his story, he knew that he didn’t want George to be separated from his siblings, either.
Furthermore, JT also knew how difficult—and rewarding—the adoption process could be. When he was in his 40s, JT was an active volunteer with Bethany Christian Services. Part of their ministry is to help with adoptions. His wife Sara and his four children wanted to adopt a child, but JT had concerns. When Sara would bring up the subject of adoption with JT, he would remind her that they had just started their own business, and the only way they could afford to adopt was if they dipped into their life savings. Every time Sara brought the subject of adoption up with JT, he would tell her that he didn’t want to use up their life savings.
Christmas Eve 2001 arrived. JT was up in the attic to get the Christmas stockings to hang by the chimney, as that was his job every year. He looked around at the stuff in the attic and this is what he saw: a playpen. A crib. A stroller. Toys. JT and Sara had saved all the things from when they were raising their four children.
And then God laid this on his heart: what is wrong with using your life savings to save a life? JT realized that he needed to let go of his insecurities about money and trust in God.
JT came down from the attic with the stockings and said to his wife, “Honey, we got a playpen, we got a crib, we got a stroller, we got toys.” Sara thought he was bringing this up because wanted to sell all the stuff for a garage sale.
JT said that these are the things that the family needed to raise an adopted child. Sara couldn’t believe what she heard her husband say. JT said that he wasn’t worried about the money and shared what God laid on his heart: “What’s wrong with using our life savings to save a life?”
When they told their friends and family that they had made the decision to adopt, JT and Sara were humbled at the outpouring of support. One friend told them that he couldn’t adopt, but he believed he should support people who do, so he gave the couple five hundred dollars to support their adoption fees. After finding out that the family was adopting a child from China, another friend gave them airline vouchers to travel as a family to see their baby sister for the first time. In 2003, the Olson family adopted a girl from China, and they called her Grace.
JT knew the risks and rewards of adoption from his own experience. And so when his friend Don asked JT for help in adopting George and his siblings from Moldova, he knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. He knew that it would take a lot of work to raise that fifty thousand dollars. But he didn’t want to raise the funds with just another 5K or charity golf tournament. It was time to put his friend’s sticky note idea to work. He was going to do a project that would help both orphans and widows. JT decided to call the project “Both Hands”, taking their inspiration from James 1:27—one hand for the orphan, one hand for the widow.
Don and JT recruited around fifteen friends of theirs and they all sent out letters saying that they were going to volunteer to go help a local widow for a day, Miss Lucille, and asked people in their letters if they would sponsor them, with the intent of the funds going towards adoption fees for George and his siblings. Around thirty-five people showed up on the volunteer day to help Miss Lucille. Their supporters sent in donations, which ended up totaling over fifty thousand dollars. Don and his wife had enough funds to adopt, and George and his siblings found their forever home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Six months after he helped Don, another one of JT’s friend approached him and said, “JT, I heard what you did for Don—can you help me with our adoption?” JT agreed to do so. Like the first go around, they found a widow to help, sent out donation letters, and planned a volunteer day to help the widow.
At the volunteer day, JT was standing on the rooftop, looking down at all the volunteers helping the widow, and he had a flashback to his childhood.
The spring and summer after his parents died, JT and his older brother stayed on the family farm in Iowa before they moved to Wisconsin. Their aunt and uncle in Wisconsin had agreed to this arrangement, and had asked JT’s uncle who lived in Iowa to take care of the boys until they moved later that fall.
One April afternoon, the school bus dropped JT off at the bus stop at the end of the farm road leading up to his house, as it did every afternoon. As he got off the bus, JT noticed something different: there were dozens of tractors rumbling in the fields, discs towed behind. The farmers—JT’s father’s friends and neighbors—had come over to help plant the spring crop.
As his neighbors back in Iowa gave a hand to the orphans, JT saw he was returning this by giving both hands to the orphans and widows. In that moment, standing on the rooftop, JT felt alive. He felt like he was living in the midst of God’s purpose for his life. Later, JT would explain how he felt through Mark Twain’s quote: “The two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born and the day they find out why.” He looked down at the people helping the widows and orphans, and thought of how his father’s friends had helped his family in their time of need, and JT Olson was overcome with the realization that he had found his “why” for living.
When JT shared his enthusiasm with his wife Sara that evening over supper, she said, “JT, you’re positively aglow!” The couple knew that this was the mission that God had laid before them, but they weren’t sure of how it would work out. However, they decided to trust God’s plan for their lives, and they took a leap of faith. At 52 years old, JT left his job and began working full-time for Both Hands. His wife also went back to work.
Twelve years later, Both Hands has completed one thousand forty one projects in forty-four states. They’ve raised over thirteen million dollars. And one hundred percent of the money that adoptive families raise goes towards helping widows and orphans. All of Both Hands’ operating expenses are covered by a separate General fund.
As followers of Jesus, we are encouraged to aid the orphans and the widows. Both Hands is an organization that is doing both, by giving one hand to the widow, and one hand to the orphan. //
How Can I Get Involved?
Along with the family projects, another way that people can get involved with Both Hands is through the Orphan Care projects. These projects allow people to raise money for an orphan care ministry or church adoption fund. If your church, business, or community would like to apply to do a Both Hands Orphan Care project go to www.bothhands.org/apply and fill out the Orphan Care application. Individuals can do a project on behalf of a ministry as long as the ministry signs off on the project.
If you are interested in supporting the Both Hands General fund, you can write a check out to the Both Hands General fund and mail it to Both Hands, PO Box 2713, Brentwood, TN 37024. If you want to donate to a specific family, you can go to www.bothhands.org/project, find a family who is in the process of adopting, and donate to that project. Remember, Both Hands does not charge any administrative fees for donations to projects.
How to Support Parents Who Adopt
If you want to serve an adoptive family, take them a couple meals each week, do their laundry, mow their lawn, say to them, “I’ll take care of the kids, you and your husband go out to eat tonight.” That’s what they need. In some churches they have what they call a “wrap around” program and the “wrap around” program means several families who have decided to come around this family who’s adopted and they do all those things.
~ J.T. Olson
It takes a village to raise a child. It does take, I think, an understanding of a church and a community to understand that these kids are more vulnerable or more at risk and more at need.
So I think just being patient with families that have adopted kids and being more understanding. You can support them by providing meals and other tangible acts of service.
~ Dawn Haines
How to Support Widows
Invite a widow over for a meal or take her a meal and stay to visit. Widows often have great wisdom and can share their perspectives on history, life, and so much more.
~ Dawn Haines
You know there’s a lot of widows out there who don’t need 25 people for a whole Saturday, but they could sure use one or two people for an hour. You’d be surprised how sometimes light bulbs don’t get changed because the widow just can’t get up there and do it. So, so over to a widow’s house for an hour or two and just bless the widow.
~ J.T. Olson
Learn more at: www.bothhands.org
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