"When we moved to Rim Rock, we got on the neighborhood Nextdoor to try to meet some of our neighbors. In November 2016, Dena Dupuie posted about helping a new foster family with a holiday dinner. I love to cook, so I agreed to smoke a turkey and deliver the meal. That family was our first introduction to Austin Angels.
In February 2017, soon after that original family, Dena posted about another family with two girls who were living with their grandmother after having been removed from their mother’s care. They needed a lot of support, as they were difficult for the grandmother to handle by herself, and she didn’t have the means to supply them with all the things they needed. Jen and I talked about having the means to assist, so we went to Dena’s house to meet the group of people who said they would participate in the Love Box program. It was there that we met Kathleen for the first time. She was the case manager for our group, and our introduction to what the Love Box program was really all about.
When we first got involved in the Love Box program, our thoughts were to help this grandma care for the girls and supply them with some of the necessities. Additionally, we thought we would take the girls out once in a while to give their grandma a break. We had no intentions of fostering, as we had no idea how to be parents––we’re basically big kids ourselves. It’s fair to say our thoughts about foster care have changed since then. When the girls were removed from their grandmother’s home in April 2018, we didn’t like the thought of them having to spend time in a shelter, which they were taken to. The very day that we found out the girls had been moved to the shelter, my wife Jen asked me my thoughts on fostering M.
There was a court hearing about what would happen with the girls in May 2018. The day before the hearing, Kathleen emailed our group, and by midday, Jen and I had once again talked about welcoming M into our home. We were really unsure if and how we could do it, and obviously had lots of concerns.
Luckily, the Love Box group we were a part of was amazing. We emailed everyone in our group that afternoon about trying to get together to talk about it with them. That evening we had a good portion of the group at our house sitting with us, talking with us, and supporting us in the start of our foster journey.
We knew we couldn’t handle two girls, but once we found out that one of the girls had been placed in a foster home, we felt we could handle just M. We assumed it would be a short term foster, until the family did what was necessary for the girls to be placed back home. Our plan was to foster her for the 10-12 months of the case until the home was ready for her to return. We were initially set up by the court as a kinship placement due to the prior relationship through Austin Angels that we had with the family. But as we started learning more and more about the situation, and started thinking about what would be best for M, we decided to become licensed foster parents so she could stay with us long term––as a permanent placement if that was what she wanted.
During the extended case, we talked with M a lot about what she wanted. She had a hard time talking to her attorney and the judge. In fact, she really never wanted to go to court for the case hearings which really surprised us, as she would’ve gotten out of school. At the end of the case, when M told us and the attorney that she thought she would rather stay here and just visit her family, we agreed to become we agreed to become PMC. PMC means we are M's legal guardians without adoption. To this point, we haven’t adopted M. I’m not sure if it would happen because that’s as much her decision as it would be ours.
There have been lots of joyous moments. Seeing her grow and try new things is amazing. Watching her get better at reading, science, and math, and seeing her face when she passed all of her STARR tests for the first time ever was amazing. She is great with kids, and watching her interact with her “cousins” in our family (our siblings and cousin’s kids) is great. They all love her and she loves seeing and spending time with them.
Austin Angels has supported us through their semi-annual events at Back to School and Christmastime, which has been great, in addition to the care packages they have sent for things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day… It’s nice to have those little pampering perks. Additionally, just the random little things like Kathleen, who had transitioned from our case manager to being our Love Box leader in the Love Box program, saying, “Hey we have these events you might be interested in going to!” have been nice. Probably the most amazing thing that Austin Angels has done for us was helping to get braces and dental care donated for M. Seeing the change in her smile, and to some extent, her self-esteem over the last two years through that experience has definitely been one of the highlights for all of us. There was a situation last spring where Jen and I both found out, fairly last minute, that we would need to be out of town for a night on a school night. We were struggling to figure out what we were going to do for M, because she would need to be watched, have someone to help with homework, and get her to the bus in the morning. Kathleen stepped up immediately, and with her mom, was able to spend the night at our house with M (and deal with all three of our dogs). It was amazing to know that even at the last minute, if something popped up, we had community that we trusted and could count on. Birthday pool parties have become kind of a tradition with our Love Box group over the last few years. We were not able to do them this year because of everyone socially distancing, but for two of the last three years, we have celebrated M’s birthday by getting together with our Love Box group at one of their homes and doing a potluck birthday. M loves the pool, so it is one of her favorite things to do. We’re not rich, but we have the means to supply things like food, clothes, and necessities for M. The thing we need the most, and the thing we didn’t realize we, and other parents need, is time. We needed people who could offer to stay with M, or take her out so we can have a night off. People who could offer to help with tutoring for school, so it’s not always us showing her things (I really think this helps it sink in with M that we’re doing things in her best interest).
We do have a fairly good relationship with M’s bio family. We have done holiday celebrations together, and been able to work with each other to adjust visitations when necessary. We definitely have different parenting styles, which leads to some strife between everyone at times. But I think that the fact that we were part of M’s Love Box group before we started fostering her helped build trust that we want to support them as a family, and help M grow up into a strong, smart, independent woman. That history was already there, and I believe that it helped M’s bio family feel that we weren’t “stealing” their daughter/granddaughter from them, but working with them to do what’s best for M.
We still have our ups and downs, as I’m sure every biological family, let alone foster family, has. We look at it as our job is to spend the next three years trying to get M ready for what may come in the future of her life. We want to help her through high school and hopefully prepared for college. If she decides that once she turns 18 after finishing high school, she wants to either move home with her mom and grandmother, or move out altogether, we would support that. If she decided she wants to continue through higher education while living with us we’ll support that too. We feel we have her at least until she turns 18, and we can use that time to try to show her what she can do and accomplish as long as she wants to. After that, her future is mostly in her hands and we’ll support whatever decisions she wants to make moving forward in life."