Meet our Hometown Heroes: Leslie and Tyler Fuller – The Pearl Project

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By Michelle Ruschman

Anyone who knows local resident Leslie Fuller knows she was purposed by God to be a mother to children, whether they came into the family by birth or by providence. She and her husband Tyler, a missions pastor, met when they were 15, and after doing several mission trips together, knew that adoption would be part of their story, even when they didn’t know what that would look like. “We got married and had two biological children.

When our youngest daughter was age 2, we started to ask God to show us what He wanted us to do. During a church service, a story was shared about Jesus calling Peter to walk on the water. Peter was afraid because the waves and the wind were scary. But, God called him to get out of the boat. Our pastor challenged us to get out of the boat, even if we felt nervous about it. If God was calling us, we could trust Him to take care of us. And I knew at that moment that God was calling us to foster care. Within a month, Tyler felt that call as well. We were scared and it felt big, but we were excited to begin!”

Becoming a foster parent would be one of the hardest things the Fullers would ever do and it was one of the best decisions they would make in their marriage. “When you are a foster parent, the goal is always to care for these children until they can safely reunify with their biological parent. Sometimes it is a matter of days or years and sometimes it turns into a lifetime. There are so many unknowns and that can be hard. Our story turned into one that will last a lifetime. Our family is blessed to have grown by adoption!”

As a mother who had now experienced all the different ways a family can grow, Leslie wanted to be able to share her heart and knowledge with other families who were working on navigating the foster care system, especially with children who had experienced trauma. She is doing that through The Pearl Project as their current Director of Northwest Florida. As the Director, her job is to network and build relationships in the community, fundraise and guide programs in our area. To the organization, the work is critical.

The Pearl Project“The Pearl Project’s mission is to help vulnerable children discover their value. Children who have experienced trauma have changes in their brains, bodies, biology, and belief systems that can ultimately lead to confusing behaviors. Because of their early life circumstances, it can be hard for them to learn how to trust the adults in their lives. Caregivers often come to us overwhelmed and at a loss for how to help their children heal. We offer practical tools to empower caregivers to help their children. We also believe these children need to be surrounded by a community that is trauma informed. We are committed to bringing Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) to teachers, case workers, church volunteers, and anyone who works with children. We desire that through healthy connections, vulnerable children will feel safe, know they have a voice, and ultimately, discover that they are precious.”

The Pearl Project was founded by Joy and Stephen Zedler. When Leslie met Joy at a camp in Orlando in 2019, they knew their relationship would grow into a beautiful friendship and partnership. “We have experienced many of the same struggles and share a passion for helping children and families. We honestly feel like God brought us together for this mission. Once the pandemic hit a year later, Joy was living in Ocala, but we were able to connect and share more resources because we had to rely on the internet. In 2023, we officially launched the Northwest Chapter of the Pearl Project! It has been so fun to look back and see how much we have grown.”

Since becoming a foster-turned-adoptive-mom, Leslie has certainly traveled a difficult road. But, she sees the blessings have far outweighed the challenges she faced along the way. “When I look back at our foster care journey, I realize that I am not the same person that I was 10 years ago. I love to think about our foster care journey like the refiner’s fire. I have learned that sometimes life is hard and things don’t end up looking the way I thought they would, but that’s ok. I have learned to have more grace for those around me and myself. I know the depth of God’s love and that God is with me even when things are hard. I look at all six of my children and I can’t help but think about what an honor it is to be a part of their story.”

For those who are wanting to help through fostering, Leslie has this piece of advice: “I would encourage people to learn about trauma-informed care. Early childhood trauma is something that can affect people throughout their lifetime. Learning about it can help caregivers parent from a place of compassion and understanding. There are so many strategies we can use to help children feel safe and learn to trust. Ultimately, helping them connect with loving and caring adults is going to help the healing begin. I would also encourage them to build community. When you bring children into your home, it can be isolating. It’s so important to find people around you who can help.

If you aren’t ready to foster, The Pearl Project is also a great organization in which to partner for events, clothing donations and more. Supporting a foster family is also a good place to start. This can mean making a freezer meal, helping with babysitting, meeting physical needs or just listening and praying,” said Leslie.

If you are interested in getting involved with The Pearl Project, visit www.thepearlproject.org.