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God's Vision, God's Time - The Founder's Story of Three Rivers Respite

“’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 and 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 were opened. 15 foster placements and 3 adopted children later, Heather and Matt find 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 can be unpredictable. Heather recalls, “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.” The couple decided their family needed a little respite to help them reset, so they went away to visit friends in Georgia, and 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 while she was in 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 weren’t intending on bringing 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, and when the Alts questioned God, “Why now?”, they realized it was because now is when Three Rivers Respite is needed. Heather and Matt recognized that these kids come first – in order to help families get the reprieve they need during these 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.

They had a name and the perfect property, and Three Rivers Respite was officially born.

Now, 4 years after Heather & Matt 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 was host to safe outdoor worship and community. Three Rivers Respite has also been able to host “family nights” which have been a huge hit for the foster community in South Carolina. They are proud to see the reactions from families who have attended events at the Three Rivers Respite property. Heather says, “Every single child that has come out here loves it so much. 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 gush, “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, and Matt and Heather plan to offer consistent, trauma-based care-giving, 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.

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