It’s a sunny, breezy Saturday in Garland, Texas: a suburb of Dallas. Dozens of kids are running around the courtyard at Jonathan’s Place – a large foster care and adoption facility – sporting a white t-shirt with a smiling brown bear plastered across the front and the words Ferrell Family Foundation in large font.
In walks Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell, also sporting the same t-shirt as the kids. And next to him is his mom, Dr. Lydia Ferrell, holding a gorgeous 2-year-old baby girl with a yellow ribbon in her hair and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.
Her name is Jada, and she’s a foster child in the care of Dr. Ferrell; one of the dozens over the past few years that she has assisted.
You see, Yogi’s mom has a passion for foster children: to love them and support them and protect them and care for them.
That passion grew out of her own pain and experience as a product of the foster care system.
And that passion has reached her son as on this day; they launch the Ferrell Family Foundation whose mission is to bring awareness and support to the ever-growing foster care system.
“This right here, helping foster kids, is something I’m passionate about and the reason why is my mom. She used to be in foster care in her teens and is now a foster parent and has taken in about 20 kids,” Ferrell said. “I’d be at college, and my mom would text me and write, ‘Oh, we have another baby!’ She would send me a picture. I couldn’t wait to get home and see the baby.
“We’re just trying to give them a better life. That’s the biggest thing. Just trying to support them.”
Yogi then reaches out to pick up his foster sister, little Jada. She eagerly holds out her arms for him to hold her and lays her head on his shoulder; something you can tell she is comfortable doing, the love between the two apparent for all to see.
“Ever since I’ve known her since we got her, she’s had a smile on her face,” Ferrell said. “That’s the biggest thing is putting a smile on kid’s faces and changing their lives so that’s the main reason why me, my dad and mom decided to start this foundation – to help and support foster kids.”
Dr. Ferrell comes to the podium and Jada jumps into her arms. Dr. Ferrell looks exactly like her son Yogi. Or maybe he looks like her. They could pass for sisters and brother. Same facial features. Same smile. And now, the same passion.
“I was basically a child of neglect at a pretty young age,” Dr. Ferrell shares. “I was fortunate enough to have some family placement, but I was in foster care until I aged out at 18. I was also fortunate enough to have help from the state to help me go to college.”
“Even aging out of foster care, you want to be able to support these kids and have a chance to go to college. It’s really important to try to live a successful life no matter how you start.”
Dr. Ferrell ended up going further than anyone thought after spending years in the foster care system. She went on to college and medical school, obtaining her medical degree from Indiana University, the same university her son attended.
“I was fortunate enough to have some family placement, but I was in foster care until I aged out at 18. I was also fortunate enough to have help from the state to help me go to college.”
“I ended up getting my medical degree from IU which is a great accomplishment but also shows these kids that they can also make it further despite their startup in life,” she said. “I’ve lived in California for quite some time. Even there, living in South Central LA, it was a pretty rough atmosphere for me.
Growing up there, going to Indianapolis and being a child of neglect and being in the foster care system helped develop me as a person.”
Dr. Ferrell said when she gets the kids as babies, she is on a mission. “I’m just trying to make a difference. And even if I don’t get to keep them, I want them to remember, not necessarily me, but to remember the love that I gave them. That’s one thing that they’ll never forget. I don’t do this for me. I do this for them.”
Yogi beams proudly at his mom as she shares her story with those assembled.
“She’s a strong woman that’s for sure,” he said. “She was telling me about how she grew up and how it was tough for her and her siblings. She didn’t want me or my siblings to have the life that she had growing up so she worked hard every single day. And I’m very thankful for it.
“She made it. Through the trenches. It was rough for her. She came out and was on top,” he said. “She’s been a great parent, supportive of me and my basketball career. I’ve seen how she’s become such a strong woman and now she’s giving back being a foster parent so I’ve kind of seen that and she’s making all of these kids so proud and happy so I just want to do that same thing.”
Yes, his mom’s pain has definitely turned into his passion.
“For me, personally, it’s always giving back to the kids. That’s the first and foremost thing. Because they are the next generation. They are going to power our country and move the community into a positive direction.
“I just want to give back to those kids who didn’t have the same life that I had, the same support system growing up. So I’m trying to show support for them and let them know anything they want to be in life, they can be.”
That look of pride and happiness Yogi had on his face as his mom spoke has now transferred to Dr. Ferrell’s face as she watches Yogi hold Jada and speak on this topic.
“He’s always been a great brother. He’s always been. He loves kids. He just loves children. And even before I started fostering, he always loved the kids,” she said. “He’s a very giving person and I think that that is important. Even as a teammate on the Mavericks. You want a teammate who is a giver. He just has such a soft, soothing soul and is a down-to-earth kind of kid. He really likes being a servant and I think his background being a Christian also plays into that.”
Support From the Top
Two very familiar faces are also present on this sunny day in Garland helping Dr. Ferrell and Yogi launch the Ferrell Family Foundation: Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban and General Manager Donnie Nelson.
“The heart that they have for helping the underprivileged is so encouraging. We all would have loved to grow up with perfect households with a mom and dad but the reality is in this day and age it’s few and far between,” Nelson said. “To have a guy like Yogi step up in a leadership role, on the front lines, to reach out and touch these young kids and to have his mom and dad here for support is just great.
“He is doing the good work that she started and he’s picked up the spade and started right here in Dallas and it’s a blessing.”
Added Cuban, who is decked out in a Ferrell Family Foundation T-shirt and jeans, “This is a good man. This guy’s a fighter. And one of the beautiful things about Yogi is that he realizes how blessed we are, how fortunate we are and not everyone is as luck as we are. And that it’s important to give back.”
According to the latest statistics available, there are 14,000 kids in foster care in Texas. “Jonathan’s Place has been caring for these kids, and they’ve done so the last 27 years,” said Allicia Frye, CEO of Jonathan’s Place. “We are grateful to Yogi launching his foundation and joining us in this cause to assist these children and ensure that they have a safe and loving home.
May is Foster Care Month, and as you can see, there is a need here,” she continued. “We recruit families, and these kids deserve to have loving homes just like every other child, and this is a way to bring awareness to them.”
Jonathan’s Place provides safe, loving homes and promising futures for abused and neglected children, teens and young adults. It is a leading regional university for foster care, emergency shelter, girls therapeutic counseling, transitional living and national safe place and is quickly establishing itself as a leader in foster care world in the United States.
“I am extremely passionate about advancing the foster care system for not only the current foster kids but all of the great foster parents that pave the way for these amazing kids,” Ferrell said. Jonathan’s Place is a trailblazing organization that tackles a lot of unfulfilled areas for our foster youth and continues to find avenues to bridge the gaps for their longevity of health, empowerment and overall well-being.”
All in attendance on this beautiful, sunny day in Garland, they all head outdoors for some basketball and arts and crafts with Yogi, Cuban and others. They’ll laugh and play and high-five and later, eat pizza served by Ferrell himself.
Dr. Ferrell and Jada are enjoying the festivities. Yogi is too. Smiling, running around with the kids, passing out hugs and serving pizza.
His mom’s pain has become his passion.
Photos by Dorothy J Gentry