We have all rejoiced with the local family who won the Extreme Makeover Home in Pekin. If you don't live in town, you now have a chance to see why they are so special.
Jeannie and Steve Grys have four biological children. She is a nurse. He is a Special Education Teacher. They saw a need for foster care parents in the community more than 20 years ago and put their names on the list. Since then, they have fostered more than 250 kids and adopted three children with special needs.
Here's the story we ran on WHOI:
Of course, I interviewed everyone for this story for an hour or so. I am sure the photographers dread going out on stories with me!
I didn't have time to type out the entire interviews, but here are some clips I wish I could have included in the story:
Jen:Why do you do this?
Steve Grys: "We're kid oriented and that's our future. Sometimes you get off, to a rocky start. If we can help smooth that out, that's what we want to do. We just love kids. I guess it's a way you think, you can make a difference in the world because like with Jake you never know how what you're doing is going to impact that child and that child is going to impact so many others that he'll meet."
Jen: How do you handle it when foster kids leave?
Steve:"I never treat the child like they're a foster kid or something that's not part of the family."
Jen:What happens when the child goes home?
Steve:"Most of the time it's a good thing, but there are those times when the child goes back to a situation they left that was not good. That's frustrating."
Jen:Why did you adopt?
Steve: "We never got into foster care with the idea of adopting-special needs or not. They said they were going to have to split them up-the twins-because of their medical disabilities. The only consistent thing they had ever had was each other. We asked the other kids what they thought about adopting the twins. It wasn't even an issue. It's lets do this. So that was awesome."
Jen:What about Jake's adoption?
Steve:"He knew us as mom and dad and as his brothers and sisters. We're in the kid business. I was not about to say we have loved you and taken care of you since you were three-now you're moving on. That's not gonna happen."
How do you deal with Jake's brittle bone disease?
Case Work Leona Zeigler
Counseling and Family Services
The counselors tell couples who are interested in foster care what they need to do to the get the process started. There are several agencies that can help. Some are public, some private. The couple will have to pass a background check, take classes and decide what kind of child will work best with their family. Zeigler says sometimes people are more apt to take kids with special needs. Other parents might do better with kids who are having behavioral problems. Some foster parents only take babies, some only take teenagers. There are even times when people who live in a mostly Caucasian community don't take kids of another race because they won't be accepted in that community.
Jen: What should prospective foster parents expect?
Leona:"When children first come into care, it's always very hard. They may have just been separated from their family. All kids love their family. All families love their children. So sometimes it's hard because you have to find the time an energy to let those children know that they are okay. Biological families when they are removed from them are ripped. They are tore. Their family has just been removed. Their kids are just in an uproar and parents don't understand."
Jen: What kind of kids are these?
Leona: "Most often-Babies who have been neglected or older kids who have been abused or neglected. They have mothers with mental health issues that are not self medicating correctly or parents with drug additions."
Jen:What is the goal of fostering?
Leona:"Optimal always is to return home-to help the biological parents address whatever brought those children into care and fix it."
Jen:Who makes a good foster parent?:
Leona:"I think our biggest thing is can you open up your home to these children? Can you understand the turmoil they're going through. Can you understand when they cry you sit and hold them?"
Jen: How did Jake end up being a Grys?
Leona:"At that point, we were looking at someone who could medically meet his needs, but knowing that this little boy's needs were going to be so extensive, We needed the creme of the crop foster family. I knew he was in good hands when we met again. Jake sat in the middle of the table at that review and sang Amen. When we got the initial call that he was born, we didn't even know that he was gonna live. So going from where he was years ago-not even knowing if he was gonna live to where he is now is quite a miracle!"
Jen: How can people afford to foster in struggling economic times?
Leona: "Many families think they have to do it on their own and certainly in the economic situations we're in now, they can't maintain that. The get a monthly stipend for each child. (The Grys say it's between $300-$350 a month. That goes toward medical costs, food clothing and anything else.)
Jen: Are there a lot of sibling groups?
Leona: Sibling groups are common. It's also common if there is only one child that the biological parents will continue to have more babies that also need homes. We try not to break up sibling groups, but sometimes have to. Foster parents can only have 6 kids total including the ones already at their home-they have seen sibling groups of 10."
Jeannie Grys Interview
Jen: What was it like when you got Jake as a baby?
Jeannie: "I took one look at him and said wait-this is more than just a leg surgery. I looked at my husband and said-this is some sort of syndrome. He said, that's okay. We can do this. I said are you sure? They didn't actually say it, but we were lead to believe he wouldn't live."
Jen: Why did you end up adopting if that's not what you set out to do?
Jeannie: "Jake was healthy enough to be put on the adoption waiting list at three years old and we were like no-we can't let him go. He was ours. We had spent three years keeping him alive. And we couldn't give him up. That's how we ended up adopting again."
Jen: Is it hard to give the foster kids back?
Jeannie:"We do grow attached, but we know it's not in their best interest to stay with us. There are a lot people out there who really want to adopt that cant' have kids. It's really rewarding when you take a sick child and they leave a fairly healthy child."
Jen: Who is the best person to become a foster parent?
Jeannie:"You can't be real pattern oriented because you are working different kids, different children, different temperaments into your family. You have to do it because it's a calling-because it's something you want to do for the child. It's a sacrifice."
Jen: What do the foster kids call you?
Jeannie: "99 kids out of 100 you don't know when they come in how long they're going to be there, what they're going to be like. You tell them you can call me-this, this or that and they usually end up calling you mom or dad because that's what the other kids call you."
Jen: Anything else you want to mention?
Jeannie:"If you have what it takes to do this, you're really, really needed because some of us are getting really old to be doing this."
Phone Numbers in the Heart of Illinois:
Counseling and Family Services: (309) 676-2400
Department of Children and Family Services: (217) 782-4000
Lutheran Family Services: (309) 671-0300
Adoption Information Center of Illinois
If you work at an adoption agency and you want to be listed, please let me know. BTW, November is National Adoption Awareness Month so this story is just a perfect example of what you can do to help these kids. Jeannie says there have been times when kids she has fostered had to leave her home because they were too destructive, but she says you take the good and bad and know in the end you are helping. She and her husband are amazing!
If you have adopted, I would love to hear your story!
Methodist Medical Center's new online healthcare program, MyMethodist eHealth, is a proud sponsor of this blog post. MyMethodist eHealth is the secure link to your doctor's office that lets you request appointments, order prescription refills, update your personal health record, and more. Sign up for MyMethodist eHealth here.