Saturday, November 14, 2009

Foster parents

Volunteers are special people - well, at least the ones that aren't doing it to fulfill a court order - and they almost always have good stories to tell about themselves and the people they serve.

Published March 3, 2006, in the Keizertimes

In 2005, more than 1,100 kids were removed from the homes of their parents in Marion County.

Crackdowns on meth abusers were the primary cause of the uptick. The increase has caused an already burgeoning system to nearly burst.

It's a cloud that doesn't have an easily visible silver lining, unless you look a little harder.

"The kids are the bright spot in the whole thing," said Ron Peters, a local foster parent. "You're going to find good people where you look for them. If you go in looking for bad people, that's what you're going to find."

Ron and his wife, Laura, began opening their home to children in the foster care system about six years ago. Since that time nearly 100 children have passed through their home.

While the number seems staggering, their resolve to be a positive force in their community is even more impressive considering most of their foster children were teenagers when they took them in. Teenagers are often considered some of the toughest to cope with in the foster care system.

Last month, the pair was honored by the Keizer City Council as the city's Volunteers of the Quarter for their commitment to volunteering.

Ron said the decision to become foster parents was easy.

"We had an eight-bedroom house and only a four-person family – a house isn't a home if it isn't full," he said.

Finding the right age group to take in took longer.

"We tried foster care with younger children at first, but I quickly realized I wanted kids I could reason with," Laura said.

While those six years were surely filled with as many tears as smiles, laughter is what fills their conversation – laughter at the best of times and the worst and every single time in-between.

"One time," starts Laura, "the boys got all dressed up as girls and had the girls do their make-up and then the entire crew walked six blocks from our home to Palma Ciea Swim Club where I was serving as president."

"One of the boys strapped so many pillows to his stomach he had to wear two robes to fit all the way around him," adds Ron.

Laughter fills the room.

The longest any one child stayed with the Peters was three years, but they often formed bonds that lasted well past their stint as stand-in parents.

"We've been foster grandparents twice already," Ron said.

Including the Peters' own children, Danielle and Brandy, their home had as many a 15 children at one time, which also added another element to what was already a sometimes tense situation.

Ron said, "They loved it … then they hated it, then they loved ... and the next week ..."

It's easy to see how teens would feel comfortable around Ron and Laura. Their eyes project no judgment and their smiles are endlessly welcoming.

While the Peters had rules in the home, only a few dealt with the day-to-day pressures the kids might experience. They had a zero-tolerance drug policy.

Most had to do with keeping the peace.

"All the kids new that Ron had 10 minutes after putting his lunch box down at night or the answer would be ‘no,'" said Laura.

After 43 years of living in the same house in Keizer, Ron, a contractor, decided he wanted a change. The couple moved to a house in Salem in December, but like the children they took in, they saw beneath the surface.

"It was a meth house," said Ron.

The Peters are taking a break from foster care while they undertake a massive rehabilitation project on the house, but fully intend to return foster parenting once complete.

"I think we'll start with just one, though," said Laura.

Laura said she was taken aback and even a little embarrassed by the award from the city.

"I don't see why I should get an award for simply living my life and trying to be a force for good in the community. If I deserve it then everyone does," she said.

The award Ron and Laura received came in the form of a clock representative of the time they invested in volunteering, but perhaps it's better viewed as a symbol of how long their presence will be felt in the lives of the foster kids and in their community long after they're gone.

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