Foster parenting rewards can be unexpected.
It was quite a surprise. I was in West Eugene for a hair appointment when a burly man on the sidewalk walked right up and gave me a hug.
I had no idea who he was. The beauty operator saw the hug through the window of her shop and said she considered calling 911.
Fortunately, it turned out I knew the guy: He was one of the 260 young men I've had in my home as an Oregon Youth Authority foster parent. But no wonder I didn't recognize him - it had been 20 years!
Seeing young men turn their lives around and go on to become productive, law-abiding adults is among the rewards I've enjoyed during nearly three decades of foster parenting. I am sharing my experience because the Oregon Youth Authority desperately needs more caring people here in Lane County to provide nurturing foster care for these youth. The authority has only four foster homes in Lane County, and none in Eugene.
Being a foster parent brings the joy of attending high school commencements, seeing these young people get jobs and watching them go on to become good parents.
Sure, I'll admit it: Some don't turn out so well. But they are truly the exception.
Whenever I'm in Costco, I go through the checkout line of a former foster youth who always greets me with, "How are you doing, Char?" Probably 100 youth who were formerly in my home stay in contact, calling from weekly to annually.
Some call me on my birthday, others on Mother's Day. I am blessed to enjoy such a large "family."
These young people have been in trouble, but they weren't born that way. Most come from abusive or neglectful family circumstances. They have been incarcerated and received treatment for antisocial behavior, but for various reasons they cannot return home after they are paroled.
Foster care shows them the value of family, of doing well in school, of learning to meet expectations. I teach the boys to cook and such skills as budgeting, opening bank accounts, saving money, and using debit and credit cards.
Young men who were getting D's and F's in school are getting A's and B's now. I tell them not only what's expected, but I also require them to do their homework and bring weekly progress reports home from school.
I overheard the mother of one of these young people ask him, "Why didn't you do this for me?" And he replied, "Because you never told me I had to."
Recently, as I planned to travel over the McKenzie Pass, I asked one of the boys to put my tire chains in the trunk of the car.
But he did more: On his own, he decided to forego the satisfaction and income of a job he had planned and said he would go with me in case I needed help with the chains.
That's the sort of initiative, caring and self-sacrifice we want in all our kids.
These are youths - both boys and girls - for whom foster care is the best option. Yet the authority's Lane County foster care certifier, Kelly Crain, recently told me she has requests for four youth who need foster homes, but can fill none of them.
Readers interested in learning more may contact Crain at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-684-2622.
Imagine the disappointment of being ready to live in a family setting but being told you'll have to wait. One youth recently spent six weeks in shelter care until a foster bed opened up.
Being an OYA foster parent is rewarding work, the stipend is reasonable, and authority professionals are available 24/7 with support.
Of all the rewards, the biggest is seeing young people become valued members of the community, enjoying happy marriages, and raising their children to be productive, law- abiding adults.
It would make me proud to accept a hug from any of them.
Charlene Hall of Junction City is a foster parent for the Oregon Youth Authority.