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story.lead_photo.caption The Rev. JoJo Riggs of Heber Springs said being a dad is his favorite role in life. He and his wife, Andrea, have two biological sons and four adopted children — two sets of siblings. Pictured with Riggs are Eli, 13, left, holding Seth, 3; and standing, from left, Prudence, 5; Lilie, 6; and Josiah, 10, holding Kadie, 2. - Photo by Jennifer Ellis

The Rev. JoJo Riggs of Heber Springs was about 7 years old when he was legally adopted by his stepfather, and it set the stage for Riggs’ adult life.

Fatherhood became his calling.

Riggs and his wife, Andrea, have two biological sons and two sets of adopted siblings and serve as foster parents.

“That’s my favorite thing in the world is to be a dad,” Riggs said. “I think God put that call in my life to be a father figure. I’ve been working with teenagers for 16 years.”

Riggs is a youth pastor and associate pastor at First Assembly of God in Heber Springs.

JoJo and Andrea have been married 15 years. Their biological sons are Eli, 13, and Josiah, 10. Andrea is director of Alternative Learning Education for the Heber Springs School District.

“We like challenges, for sure,” JoJo said. “Our whole married life, we’ve dedicated our lives to teenagers and helping teenagers.”

The couple always planned to adopt children, he said, based on his positive experience as a child. His stepfather, Royce Riggs, died in 1997, and JoJo’s mother, Gloria, lives with him in Heber Springs.

“I had great parents. My stepdad came into my life when I was about 2 years old,” Riggs said, adding that Royce married Riggs’ mother and adopted JoJo later. “That was when I was kind of introduced to adoption and realized how special it was for a man to come into my life and choose to be my dad.”

Six years ago, JoJo Riggs and his wife got involved with The CALL — Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime — in Cleburne County. They signed up to start fostering children. It is a faith-based, nonprofit organization that recruits foster families through churches. The Call in Cleburne County is not associated with one church; it’s an affiliate of the Arkansas chapter. For more information, people can visit thecallinarkansas.org.

According to The CALL’s website, 33 children on average are in foster care each month in Cleburne County, and on average, there are 19 homes to care for those children.

The goal of foster care is to reunite children with their parents, and Riggs said they started fostering their four adopted children when the children were babies.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for the parents,” he said of reunification.

The Riggses first adopted sisters Prudence, whom they call Pru, 5, and her sister, Lilie, 6, then later adopted a brother and sister, Seth, 2, and Kadie, 3. They adopted the children within two years of each other.

“At one point, we had four kids under the age of 5. We fostered along the years, too. We’ve had up to seven kids in our house. We fostered a kid the first of the year, so there were 10 [people, including the adults] there for awhile. We had to buy a bigger house,” he said.

“We’ve had teenagers; we’ve had babies and everything in between. We’ll take in kids for overnight or a week. … We’ve had a few who have come in, and their parents got everything together, and it was a great moment for them to go back and be with Mom and Dad,” Riggs said. “We not only got into fostering to help the babies; we got into it to help their families. If we don’t help the families, this cycle is going to continue. We try to parent the parents,” he said.

He said most of the children they foster have parents who are involved in drug use, particularly methamphetamine.

The Riggses have a relationship with their adopted children’s parents and extended families.

“We have an open-door policy. [The adopted children’s biological parents] come around sometimes at Christmases and birthdays. … We want to keep them connected. I tell the kids they’re super special, and God wanted them to have two mommies and two daddies,” he said.

Felicia and Casey Stone of Heber Springs are friends with the Riggses. The Stones were Arkansas Foster Family of the Year in 2018 and also foster children through The CALL in Cleburne County.

Felicia said JoJo Riggs is “a true advocate, not just for kids in foster care but for their bio parents and foster parents, too. He passionately shares their family’s experiences to encourage Christians to get involved. He is very transparent about the challenges involved with taking in kids from hard places. His no-holding-back approach has been very effective in mobilizing his church in the foster-

care ministry,” she said. “He will tell you that everyone can do something, so find your something.”

Riggs said his role as a father is the most important one in his life.

“I like to invest in my kids’ lives. I like to pick up my girls [from day care or school] and eat lunch with them and look them in the eye and tell them I love them,” he said. “We have a whole generation who doesn’t know anything about eye contact for more than 2 seconds without looking at your phone.”

He said one reason it’s important for him to be a role model for his children is because it impacts their faith.

“Fathers are the example that girls look at when they hear about God the father and they hear about Jesus,” he said.

“They’re going to look at their earthly example. Sons, the same thing.

“For me, obviously, I’m protective, very loving, but I expect a lot out of my kids. I have high standards. We have a strong work ethic in my family. I want my kids to have a little edge and know this world is tough and nobody is going to give them anything.”

At the same time, Riggs said, he wants his children to learn to give back “and put others before themselves, and for Christ to be the center of their lives.”

He said they participate in activities as a family, including going to the gym, because they are “a very athletic family.” Yet he and his wife try to give the children individual attention, too.

“With six kids, we try. We try, but we fail, to single them out sometimes so they’re not always grouped together. I just try to make them feel special,” he said. “They’re their own personalities.”

Although Riggs said he is “not a big fan of holidays, to be honest,” Father’s Day is special.

“My family takes care of me, and there’s nothing like being the spiritual leader of your home and being the leader

of so many kids,” Riggs said. “I’ve done some cool stuff in ministry in the past 16 years, but there’s nothing like taking in a baby and showing them the love of God just through everyday life. Obviously, I had a great dad who stepped into my life. It’s one of the greatest responsibilities a man has on this Earth.

“Fatherhood is one of the most important roles to play in this world, and unfortunately, we don’t have enough good daddies. That’s unfortunate because that impacts the whole family. The ones who are good daddies need to take the mantle and teach these young men how to be good daddies so we don’t continue the cycle.”

Being a good father doesn’t mean being perfect, Riggs said.

“I’m not the ideal dad in the sense of, I’m a very intense guy — high-energy, high passion, emotional,” he said. “I don’t mind to cry in a split second. I don’t do everything right. This foster-care world is, … it’ll really show you your weaknesses and your flaws, but I think that’s a good thing.

“At night, when they go to sleep, check on all of them. I pray with them and love on them. It’s one of my favorite things, loving and hugging them. … My 13-year-old doesn’t think that’s cool, but I don’t care. My dad did that, and I know what an impact that was on my life.”

Riggs said he’s found his perfect role.

“The Lord blessed us and provided, so we’re still fostering kids and talking about adopting more,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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