by Youth Villages
(Above photo: Richard, Alvin, Robert & Jaz Lewis)
It’s Baby Steps
Richard and Alvin Lewis had been married for five years before Richard began looking into fostering and adopting. They both had high-stress careers, and Robert wasn’t fulfilled with his job. A former foster child himself, Robert felt the urge to give back to kids in similar situations, to offer help and a loving home.
After fostering a few children for a brief time, Richard and Alvin got a call about a teenager, 14-year-old Robert, who needed a place to live. After preparing to have Robert join their home, they learned that he had an infant sister who also needed a place to live.
“We weren’t planning for a baby,” Richard said. “We didn’t have diapers, car seat, any of the baby things.” Youth Villages Foster Care Counselor Savannah Nienhueser helped prepare them for the sibling pair, for Robert’s trauma and aggression, and how to
handle six-week-old Jaz, who was born with drug issues.
For the rest of the 2020 school year, Richard and Alvin worked with Robert to manage his school behavior, and he is now in good standing. Jaz progressed developmentally and physically, all before her first birthday in spring 2021. Their adoptions were finalized in March 2021.
“Both Richard and Alvin were involved in the school meetings, fighting for a good place for Robert,” Savannah said. “Having that support and loyalty stood out to Robert.”
And the Youth Villages team supported Richard and Alvin 24/7.
“Youth Villages was there for us through the whole process, even answering calls at midnight when we had baby questions,” Richard said.
Savannah said she has had a lot of good foster families over the years, but the Lewises really stand out.
“Don’t overthink it,” Richard said. “If you’re considering fostering, just do it. There’s no perfect time, all you have to do is try.”
Richard said they didn’t experience the expected hurdles of a same-sex couple fostering to adopt.
“We provide a loving, supportive household,” Richard explained. “That is all that matters.”
Embracing the Change
For newly certified foster parents Travis and Michael VaZant, fostering was on their minds for a long time.
“We knew that as a same-sex couple, we could not have kids the ‘traditional’ way,” Travis said.
After ruling out private adoptions and surrogacy due to cost, the couple began exploring fostering.
“We began to think about what we have been through and what we could offer to these kids and decided to give it a go,” Travis said.
Travis, a Cumberland Electric employee, and Michael, a woodworker, have been married for more than seven years. The couple looked at different fostering agencies and decided to go through Youth Villages for the therapeutic services the organization provides to the children and the families.
Youth Villages’ Therapeutic Foster Care program provides training and certification along with 24-7, on-call support and counseling services to the children and foster families in their services. The program’s goal is to ensure foster families are supported and never feel alone in the process, especially when caring for children who have experienced trauma.
“We saw the way Youth Villages was helping these children who have been through more trauma than most, who typically get tossed aside by society, and we knew we wanted to help them too,” Travis said. “We know there will be rough times, but Youth Villages has an amazing support system that guides you through it.”
Travis and Michael were certified in August of 2020 and so far have fostered seven children. There have been ups and downs, but the couple is making it work. Michael even transitioned to a “stay-at-home” dad to take care of the kids.
The process has opened their eyes to the amount of trauma some children have experienced and the need for ongoing support to help these children heal.
“These children have been through so much, but they give so much more especially once you break through that ‘shell’ that they have up,” Travis said. “The amount of love and patience these kids have shown is astonishing.”
Currently, there are more than 8,000 children in foster care in Tennessee and more than half are in need of a foster home. Foster parents provide these children with a stable home along with care and support at a time when they need it the most, until they can safely be reunified with their biological families or adopted.
At Youth Villages, our primary goal is to help children find permanency, either returning home with biological parents, finding a loving and nurturing foster-to-adopt home, or –in the case of older youth– transitioning successfully into the community through the support of our LifeSet program.
Travis and Michael are helping Youth Villages achieve this goal by helping children in foster care be successful. Currently, the couple are fostering two sets of siblings, and the family loves doing anything outdoors together.
“Our favorite moment with our kids is when they open up and trust you enough to tell you they love you,” Travis said. “It just shows we have gained enough of their trust to allow them to open up and become more of themselves.”
Adoption is Michael and Travis’ goal to add to their family. If there is an opportunity to adopt any of the children in their care, they plan to do so. They know fostering has been the right decision for them and encourage others interested in the process to move forward.
“Take the chance to step outside of your comfort zone and ‘embrace the change,’” Travis said. “You may think you are not ready to foster or ready to have children in your home. I promise that will change once they come into your home and you see the difference you are making by just loving them. Just remember they just need someone to love them and show them the way.”
Youth Villages is currently offering online training classes and will guide you through the certification process. For more information about fostering, visit youthvillages.org/foster or call 1-888-MY-YV-KID.