Need for foster parents is growing

Published 12:10 am Friday, May 14, 2010

I arrived at their front door five days before Christmas. I was 17, one of the “older” foster children that you hear about. I felt like I had nothing and no one.

And I didn’t expect much from John and Beverly Berryhill, the Youth Village’s foster parents who had agreed to take me in just before the holiday.

My life had been one disappointment, one rejection after another. My volatile mother asked me to leave her house when I was 14. I spent a few weeks living in homeless shelters and on the street. My dad took me in, but then he left to take a contractor job overseas. There was nowhere else for me to go.

I struggled in foster care. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to be a foster child. You always feel temporary.  You never know how long you’re going to stay in one place, in one school. Older foster children, like me, have often had to fend for themselves or parent younger siblings. Forced to grow up fast, we miss out on many of the joys other kids know.

When you’re a foster child, it’s easy to be angry.

So there I was on the Berryhills’ doorstep. I didn’t expect anything from them, and from the first day, they offered me everything.

My first surprise was discovering so many presents for me under the Christmas tree. Everyone in the family had known I was coming and had gotten me presents, just like they did for the Berryhills’ other children. It was the beginning of one of the best years of my life.

I was a senior in high school, and my foster parents made sure I had a senior year filled with great memories. I have a collage of photos that tell the story of that year. There are photos of my birthday, the prom, graduation parties and graduation day. I was accepted to college, and the Berryhills both took off work one day to help me move in the dorm.

When I met the Berryhills, I had expected just another foster home. Instead, I found a family who cared about me — and will always care about me. I’m so grateful they came into my life at just the right time. They gave me so much just by treating me like their own child.

I’m married now, but I still have my house key and a place to come home to every Christmas.

There’s a desperate need for more foster parents, particularly for foster parents who will help older children and teenagers.

People become foster parents for many different reasons. The best do it because they feel a deep, personal calling to help children in need.

This is Foster Care Awareness Month. If you feel a calling to help children, this is a great time to find out more about being a foster parent. There are hundreds of older children, like I was, who need a little boost toward adulthood.

You can do that for them.

Kaylee Allen is married to a member of the U.S. Air Force who will deploy to Afghanistan this fall. While she’s gone, she’ll be completing coursework to become an emergency medical technician. Youth Villages is a private, nonprofit organization that will help more hundreds of children find their way home in Mississippi this year.  To find out more about how you can make a difference by being a foster parent, go to www.youthvillages.org/foster or call 1-888-MY-YVKID.