God's Vision, God's Time: The Founder's Story of Three Rivers Respite
Updated: Apr 21
“'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.” —Zechariah 4:6
Heather and Matt Alt didn’t dream of running a nonprofit. They didn’t necessarily envision themselves being foster parents either. But as the saying goes, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Heather and Matt had started a family of their own, so fostering a child was not on their radar. But when the couple saw firsthand the need for children who have suffered unimaginable abuse and neglect, their hearts opened. Fifteen foster placements and three adopted children later, the couple finds themselves a part of a very special community—but one that doesn’t come easy.
In 2018, the challenges really hit home for Heather and Matt. Parenting is hard, and being a foster parent has its own unique set of challenges. Children who have suffered trauma and neglect can have behavioral outbursts and be unpredictable.
“Their complete world has changed, and all of a sudden they are with strangers … they are going through such a huge transition in their little lives,” Heather said.
The couple decided their family needed a little respite to help them reset, so they went away to visit friends in Georgia. It was a decision that would change their lives—and ultimately, the lives of many others in similar circumstances.
The experience allowed Heather and Matt to feel energized, refreshed, and realize that they could help other foster families in South Carolina feel that, too.
On the drive back to Charleston, they stopped to meet with the founders of an outdoor camp Heather worked at during college. This camp had been an incredible experience for Heather and really helped support foster children in Georgia. The Alts felt as though God had led them to this path, and He would continue to guide them to establish Three Rivers Respite, a safe space and community for children in foster care and their families.
Heather and Matt will be the first to say actually launching Three Rivers Respite was a long-term goal. They didn't intend to bring it to fruition until their kids were much older.
God, however, had other plans for them, and He kept opening door after door for Heather and Matt to faithfully walk through. Reality hit that there wasn’t an established program that offered relief to foster parents in South Carolina.
The Alts questioned God, “Why now?” But they realized it was because now is when Three Rivers Respite is needed. In order to help families get the reprieve needed during difficult breaking points, they couldn’t wait for the “right time.”
The name "Three Rivers Respite" came fairly quickly in the planning process. Matt wanted the name of the organization to be meaningful. He wanted to honor the physical place the organization would call home, so he suggested “Three Rivers” as an ode to the Ashley, Wando, and Cooper Rivers that intersect in Charleston. “Respite” is defined as “an interval of rest or relief,” and that’s exactly what Heather and Matt wished to offer to the foster care community.
After a wild journey to secure a home for Three Rivers Respite (which is a story for another day, but long story short, only God can sell a home during a hurricane), Heather and Matt finally found a meant-to-be piece of property on Johns Island in 2019. The property included a house, chapel, and beautiful land where Heather and Matt could visualize a center for community and peace.
With a name and the perfect property, Three Rivers Respite was officially born.
Now—four years after the couple took that serendipitous trip to Georgia—they are moving full steam ahead to continue their vision for Three Rivers Respite.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Three Rivers Respite hosted safe outdoor worship and community outreaches. Three Rivers Respite has also hosted “family nights,” which have been a huge hit for the foster community in South Carolina. Matt and Heather have loved seeing the reactions of families who have attended events.
“Every single child that has come out here loves it so much," Heather said. "It shows that this place is for kids … when all else is stripped away from them, they are in a place for them with other kids like them.”
Heather and Matt gushed, “We are blown away by the support the community has offered us, and the people who came into our lives to provide what we needed, when we needed it, even if we didn’t know we needed it at the time.”
Construction on the property is set to start in early 2023. Matt and Heather plan to offer consistent, trauma-based caregiving, outdoor activities, and a place for foster children to go when they need it most in a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere.
The ultimate goal is for Three Rivers Respite to reach as many foster children and families as possible and change their lives for the better.