May is National Foster Care Month, but the plight of children who need foster families is a year-round problem. Four employees stepped up to make a difference for seven children in our area. They share their stories to raise awareness of children who need someone to love and care about them.
Annually, 440,000 children need foster families. Foster care is a temporary situation for kids whose parents are unable, unwilling or unfit to care for them. For 58% of children, the goal is to reunite them with family. But for 26%, parental rights are terminated, and the children are available for adoption.
Bariatrics Center Coordinator Tricia May, RN, is a single parent raising nine-year-old adopted daughter Sarah, who arrived in Tricia’s life at 11 months old. Tricia will never forget the first time she saw Sarah, who came with only the outfit she was wearing, and shoes two sizes too small.
Even before they met, Tricia felt a connection with Sarah as she viewed her photos at the placement agency. “I always felt we were meant to be. I remember reading her profile, and I immediately felt she was my child,” Tricia smiled.
Sarah was born into an environment of drug and alcohol abuse. She never lived with her biological mom. Tricia became the only mom she knew.
Like all foster parents, Tricia was required to foster Sarah for six months before beginning the adoption process. Tricia learned there were four couples who also filed to adopt Sarah. To Tricia’s surprise, officials selected her. “I thought for sure I had wasted a PTO day for the hearing,” Tricia laughed.
Nine years later, Sarah and Tricia are a family. It’s been a long journey as Sarah has received medical care for multiple medical conditions. With Tricia’s support, Sarah excels at sports and is blossoming. “I can’t imagine my life without her. I will do everything I can to help her,” Tricia said.
Adaptable is how Karma Williams, IT Operations Coordinator, describes her 13 years as a foster parent. One evening, she received a call that three children needed an immediate place to stay. No problem. Karma turned the evening into a slumber party complete with sleeping bags.
The children didn’t have extra clothes or shoes. No worries. One trip to a store and they were ready with the basics. “We always tried to make it a fun adventure coming to a foster home, instead of a sad occasion,” Karma explained.
Karma and her husband, Doug, decided to become foster parents (with the goal to adopt) in 2004. They completed 13 weeks of classes and have cared for 13 children, all under the age of five.
“Sometimes people would ask if I was afraid to get attached to the children before they left,” Karma said. “I always answered no. People get attached to silly things, like a car, so why not get attached to something that matters?”
The Williams’ started growing their family in 2005 when they fostered and adopted 21-month-old Mateo, now age 15. Coincidentally, Karma discovered she was pregnant that same year with her daughter, Payton. Six years later, they adopted Jason, then 10 months old, to complete their family of five.
Over the years, Karma’s adopted children naturally asked questions about their birth families. To help ease the transition, Karma located newborn photos of her two sons and shared what she knew. “When Mateo asked me, ‘If Payton grew in your tummy, where did I come from?’ I told him he grew in our hearts,” Karma smiled.
Physical Therapist Jason Calder and his wife, Cheryl, welcomed the opportunity to foster two sisters, ages 7 and 9. The girls recently reunited with their mom after living with the Calders for 2½ years. “When there are children in need, we feel we should help. Children are so vulnerable,” Jason said.
Whether the need is in this country or abroad, the Calders feel a calling to help children. In 2012, they started a three-year process to adopt Keni, now 5, from Ethiopia. She joined the Calder children, Jake, 14; Tori, 13; and Joel, 10. “Our family does look different from other families, but it is an amazing opportunity to live our faith outwardly. God calls us to love, and we are doing so with those who are in need of a family,” Jason explained.
With a large family, there is a built-in system of companionship and love. Jason believes the children learn early about sacrifice, respect, patience and helping each other.
Kerri Emig, the hospital’s government audit and appeals coordinator, always wanted to be a parent. In her early 40s and single, she started her “foster to adopt” journey and learned of a 10-month-old girl, named Mia, in the foster system.
The courts removed Mia from her biological mom when she couldn’t meet the challenges of parenting. Kerri helped by fostering for a year. In 2011, Mia’s biological mom relinquished her parental rights, and Kerri became Mia’s forever mom. “It was a difficult year because I wondered if I would lose Mia,” Kerri recalled. “I knew I could provide her with a better environment, but the goal in the foster parent system is family unification.”
Over the years, Kerri learned Mia’s mom gave birth to other children, including Mia’s half-sister. When Kerri discovered the three-year-old was left at a Joplin shelter, she fostered and eventually adopted the toddler. “She wasn’t potty trained or talking at age three,” Kerri said. After intensive speech therapy and tube surgery for ear infections, she is now a typical five-year-old who loves her sister, Mia, now 8.
Today, Kerri feels her family is complete. “This has been a hard journey but so worth it,” Kerri smiled. “There are so many foster children who need homes. It’s been such a valuable experience for us.”