Brandy Fowler stands by The CALL Support Center in Conway. It is used for family visitations with foster children and meetings, and has clothing and supplies for foster and adoptive families. Fowler is the chairwoman of The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties board of directors. She and her husband, Chad, have eight children — one biological, three adopted and four for whom they have permanent guardianship.
Brandy Fowler of Conway remembers as a child telling her mother that she wanted 10 kids — two biological and eight adopted.
“I almost did it,” she said.
She and her husband, Chad, both 37, have eight children — one biological, three adopted and four for whom they have
permanent guardianship. Their children’s ages are 2, 7, 8, 15, 17, 19, 20 and 21. Six of the eight children live at home: One daughter is married, and three are in college.
The Fowlers also have opened their home to 30 foster children in the past seven years.
“I never dreamed about going to college,” she said. “I dreamed about being a mom.”
Brandy doesn’t romanticize her own childhood, which was far from perfect. Her mother liked to move around, she said.
“I have lived in 16 states, 14 of them twice,” Brandy said.
When they landed in Marianna, that was it for Brandy. She met her now husband when she was a nanny for his aunt and uncle.
At 15, when her mother wanted to move yet again, Brandy refused.
“I said, ‘I’m in high school, I have a boyfriend, and I’m not moving.’ I bounced around from friend’s house to friend’s house to wherever I could lay my head the next two years,” she said.
Brandy and Chad got married when they were 17. She doesn’t recommend getting married so young, but it worked for them, she said.
“We just renewed our vows at 20 years in December. We say we were each other’s saving grace,” she said.
They quickly had a son, Layne, and when he was 1, the family moved to Conway, where Chad’s father and stepmother lived.
When Layne was 2 1/2, the Fowlers started trying to have another baby, and “it just didn’t happen,” Brandy said.
After six or seven years of trying to get pregnant, Brandy was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.
“I tried fertility drugs. I didn’t like how they made me feel; it just wasn’t for us. We had decided we would like to adopt or foster,” she said.
The couple started a private adoption for a 2-year-old.
“It failed, and I was devastated,” Brandy said.
A woman at the Fowlers’ church, New Life in Conway, asked if the couple would consider fostering. They went to an information meeting for The CALL in January 2011.
“My husband was hooked by the end of the meeting,” Brandy said.
The CALL —Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime — started in 2007 in Pulaski County. It is a faith-based, nonprofit organization that recruits foster families through churches. The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties formed its board in 2009.
The Fowlers started fostering children in April 2011.
“At the time, we lived in this little two-bedroom townhouse,” Brandy said.
Little did she know how much room she’d need.
When the Fowlers’ son, Layne, was 12, Brandy got a phone call one Sunday morning. A relative called to tell them that Chad’s sister had given birth, and the Arkansas Department of Human Services was taking the child.
Brandy said that when she told Chad, he asked, “What sister?” He has six sisters. The Fowlers hadn’t talked to the woman in a few years, and they didn’t know she was pregnant.
They brought the baby, Haleigh, home when she was 10 days old. Brandy was over the moon.
“My son was an only child for 12 years; it was just me and him. My husband worked nights. I slept, ate and breathed him (Layne). We get this little girl, and I’m going nuts. Before I brought her home, that kid had 50 outfits and 20 pairs of shoes,” Fowler recalled, laughing.
The couple fostered Haleigh until she was 18 months old; then they adopted her.
In March 2014, they got a call from another of Chad’s relatives about his 9- and 2-year-old nieces who needed a home. The Fowlers took the children without hesitation and are their permanent guardians.
Then it was Brandy’s side of the family who needed them. Brandy said she had a brother who died by suicide in 2006, and he had two children. When his wife could no longer care for them, Brandy and Chad took the children.
“In March 2014, we went from a family of two kids to six kids in a 1,100-square-foot house — and we had two foster kids at that time,” she said.
Their hearts were expanding rapidly, but they needed more physical space. They took a break from fostering, found a larger home and started again in April 2016.
In 2017, they adopted a baby and a 14-year-old, despite Brandy’s concerns about the teenager.
They brought the baby, Brady, home from the hospital.
“We were in love with him. We call him our little ray of sunshine,” Brandy said. “He makes everything better.”
Brandy said the child’s mother struggled with substance abuse, and efforts to reunite her with the baby failed. Brandy said she and his mother “had an amazing connection” and stayed in touch. Today, the woman is doing well, and Brandy said she takes Brady to visit his biological mother.
The teenager, Genesis, was a foster child that Brandy said she had “absolutely no intention” of adopting. The Arkansas Department of Human Services called Brandy three times about taking the girl, now 17.
“We kind of fell in love with her. … We just knew she was supposed to be ours,” Brandy said.
She said although “it has been a roller coaster” with the teenager, she will never give up on Genesis. “She’s a great kid, and I love her with everything in me,” Brandy said.
Louise Witcher, coordinator for The CALL in Conway and Faulkner counties, said Brandy has helped many children because of her selfless heart.
“The thing is with Brandy … it doesn’t matter if [the child is] a baby or a teenager, purple or black or white or green — she loves unconditionally,” Witcher said. “Even the kids who have the hardest issues, that people would say, ‘Forget it, that’s not what I signed up for,’ not Brandy. Once she says forever, it’s forever, regardless.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as dedicated as Brandy is to children. She puts everybody above herself, for sure.”
Witcher said Brandy has been invaluable for The CALL support center, too.
“She’s my right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot,” Witcher said.
Brandy is chairwoman of the board for The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties.
“There are 362 kids in Arkansas waiting to be adopted,” she said. “The sad part about that is, we have over 1,200 homes waiting to adopt. Nobody wants to adopt teenagers. We have sibling groups of four, five, six, seven. People don’t have the room or don’t want sibling groups.”
She’s also coordinator of The CALL Mall, which offers clothes, furniture and other supplies to parents who are fostering or adopting children. It is located inside The CALL support center, a renovated house in Conway.
Anytime she’s not working, Brandy said, she’s at The CALL Mall. For the past eight years, she has also managed the Shoe Choo Train children’s shoe store in Conway, but it is set to close in June. Brandy said she and Chad will continue to manage seven properties for the shoe-store owner.
Brandy said the couple have different strengths when it comes to raising their children.
“We’re totally opposite,” she said. “My husband is so laid-back. I tell him he sugar-coats everything. He’ll say, ‘Well, I did that, too, when I was young.’ I’m very optimistic; he’s pessimistic. I’m a worrier, and he’s not.”
The chores with eight children are never-ending.
“It takes teamwork,” she said. “He has no problem changing a diaper. He cooks dinner every night. He does all the laundry. I make sure the kids get to school, to the doctor, to counseling. I balance the checkbook. Everything we do is on a schedule.”
Chad works at DBG Arkansas, the former IC Bus operation in Conway.
“We have 26 nieces and nephews,” Brandy said. “They were our kids for 12 years of having one kid, so raising other people’s kids is not new to us.”
Brandy said she loves all her children, but she’s learned something that has eased her mother’s guilt.
She said most of her children come “from some sort of trauma.” Some go to counseling, to physical therapy or occupational therapy. One was just diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; another has a sensory-processing disorder.
“I always struggled with treating my kids all the same, or I disciplined them all the same. … You can’t do that. It took me a long time in this journey to learn that,” she said. “God finally told me, ‘Every one of these is different. I created them different, and you’re going to love them different.’”
But love them she does.
And for Mother’s Day, she doesn’t want much.
“Mother’s Day is usually very laid-back,” she said. “I told my husband, ‘I just want a clean house. I want you to grill me a steak and have all my kids here,’” she said. “That’s my favorite part — being with my kids.”
Brandy said she and Chad have decided their family is complete.
“We’re done,” she said.
There will be grandchildren one day — but she’s in no hurry.
For now, eight is enough.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.