Mike and Sharon Williams of Nacogdoches, Texas, have dedicated their lives to helping children in need. They have made their home available to foster children for 11 years, the last nine for those who are medically fragile. The Williams have been with LSS-Foster In Texas (FIT) since November 2009, and have endured many hardships and many joys in their journey as foster parents.
Before becoming foster parents, Mike worked for 35 years in the automotive business managing parts departments, and Sharon was a stay-at-home mom who took care of their two children. Mike and Sharon are avid square dancers and became good friends with another square-dancing couple who had been foster parents for many years. This couple planted the seed that grew into the Williams’ decision to foster.
Mike tells the story:
One evening I came home after work, and Sharon asked me if we could become foster parents. I replied, “Go for it, if that’s what you want to do.” She informed me rather pointedly, “You have to do it too. We are a couple and you have to sign on too.” So, long story short, we signed up with Child Protective Services (CPS) for the required PRIDE training (Parents’ Resources for Information Development Education).
The first night of training we had to stand up in front of the other attendees and introduce ourselves, and tell why we were getting into foster care. I stood and introduced Sharon and myself, and proudly announced that we were getting into foster care to “foster only, because we were too old to be adopting somebody else’s kids.”
We started out fostering “basic” kids and less than a year into it, Sharon announced to me that she wanted to do Primary Medical Needs (PMN) children; that she enjoyed what she was doing but it just wasn’t challenging enough. Once we ventured into PMN children, Sharon definitely found her niche.
Our birth daughter was a sickly child from the time she was 16 months old until she was grown, so that gave us the capability of caring for PMN children. We began taking care of PMN children in 2003, after fostering just about two years. It was a lot different than taking care of well children, but Sharon took to it instantly.
In September of 2003 we received our sixth foster child. He was a PMN child with special needs and he was just six weeks old when he came to us. Sharon took him to Texas Children’s Hospital and to TIRR (Texas Institute of Research and Rehabilitation) and he was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy and encephalopathy when he was about five months old. He was going to need constant care and help, and lots of therapy was ordered. We were doing range-of-motion exercises with him one evening, and I got up from the floor and sat in my chair and watched Sharon as she continued to work with him. When she was done, she sat down next to me, and I looked over at her and said, “You know he can’t leave …” and she agreed. At that moment we decided that we would adopt him if he came into the system. So we notified everyone concerned and eventually finalized his adoption. We also adopted a little girl who we were fostering about a year later.
So our family grew from the two of us and two grown children and three grandchildren at the time to four children and three (now four) grandchildren. And I was the one who stood up in front of a group of people and said, “We are too old to be adopting someone else’s children!” It was a decision we have no regrets about whatsoever.
Our adopted son (now age 9) is ADHD with mild cerebral palsy. He is on meds but he walks and talks and goes to school and is learning and doing well. Our daughter is a Trisomy 18 child with major medical conditions, but we love her, take care of her, and provide all she needs. She has nursing care and is home-schooled. Her life expectancy is between 10 to 12 years old. She is now eight and doing things the doctors said she would never do. She does not walk or talk, and is legally blind, but none of that slows her down. We thank God for them both on a daily basis.
Along with our two adopted children, we currently have four foster children in our home. All four of them are boys and all are PMN. All are bedridden and tube-fed and all have nursing care. Sharon makes trips to Texas Children’s Hospital on a regular basis for their care. Our pediatrician is 72 miles away in Livingston, Texas. We look for and find nothing less than the very best medical care for these kids. They truly need it, deserve it, and we see to it that they get it.
Our house is a busy place. It is full of kids and nurses every day, and during the school year a teacher is here twice a week. Our adopted son, Kyle, goes to elementary school and is the only child capable of doing so.
Sharon runs the house like a well-oiled machine and supervises all of the children’s needs. It is a coordinated effort on everyone’s part. Each child gets all the love and affection they can handle. They are touched and loved and talked to and held when they are feeling bad and played with when their day is good. We have birthday parties for them every year, and Christmas in this house is nothing less than awesome!
We have had 26 children in our home since we began fostering; eight were basic and the other 18 were/are PMN. In our 11 years of fostering there have been many up and downs. We have seen the children come and we have seen them go, and we have some who have been here for an extended period of time. One child passed away because of her medically fragile condition. Heartbreaking to say the very least, but we picked ourselves up with the help of family, friends, and the wonderful group of people at the LSS-FIT Tyler office. Our neighbors and friends and church friends helped us through that difficult time and we know that God is watching over her now.
The hardest part of fostering has been the death of this child. She came into our care when she was one month old and was four years and one month when she passed away. Her medical condition (1P36 Deletion Syndrome) shortened her life. She had seizures daily, sometimes 40 to 60 times a day. With her major medical problems she was not expected to live as long as she did. A failed shunt and a major seizure took her from us. She was buried in our family plot here in Nacogdoches.
The best part of fostering is seeing the great progress that these very sick children make and watching them do things their doctors and specialists say will never happen. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it is phenomenal! Our four foster children now are so very medically fragile they will never walk or talk, are legally blind, and two of them are deaf. They have wheelchairs, special equipment, special beds, and every one of them has nursing care because of their medical conditions. We love taking care of these kids and helping them survive on a daily basis.
Nacogdoches is a small town, but not too small. Our neighbors watch out for us and will call to see how things are going. If they don’t see what they consider to be enough cars parked outside our house, one of them will call to check on us and the kids.
On Being a FIT Family
When CPS stopped taking care of PMN children, they told us that if we wanted to continue with PMN foster care we would have to go to a private agency. We had a friend who knew someone at the LSS-FIT Tyler office at that time and we made the decision to go with LSS because we just felt good about what we heard about the agency. It has been a good choice in our lives of fostering and we will continue with LSS for what we hope will be a very long time.
We have encouraged others to foster, and we get the reply, “I (or we) could never do what you are doing.” We tell them that they do not have to foster PMN kids, that there are children who need love, care, hope, a good life, and lots of help. We have recruited a couple of families to take on foster care. When people ask us why we do it, we explain that the bottom line for us is that it’s about the children. It’s about providing whatever their needs are, the best way we can.
The Tyler LSS-FIT office is an awesome group of people who are there for us through thick and thin. I pick up the phone and call and it is amazing how quickly they respond to whatever it is we need, whether it is just a simple question, or an emergency. When our foster child passed away, the Tyler group was there for us in full force. I find them all nothing less than totally awesome. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our ups and downs as anyone in our situation would, but we love LSS and the Tyler office. And they have the best Christmas parties and appreciation dinners for their foster parents!
Last year I called Shelley Reese, Tyler FIT area director, and asked her if LSS could help with some sort of grant to purchase a generator to power the house and medical equipment when we had power failures. P&L, a local company, came out and informed us that a small unit would run a couple of bedrooms and the fridge, but a bigger unit would power the whole house and pretty much everything in it, including the ventilator that one of our children has to use 24/7. The LSS grant came through and we were awarded a grant for the smaller unit.
P&L then called to tell us that they would be at our home in two weeks to install the larger generator. Pineywoods Presbyterian, their small, newly started church, was donating the $5,000 difference between the smaller unit and the larger one! The installation fee was being paid by P&L, and they would maintain it for us, also at no charge.
That generator has been a huge help. We needed it to power the house twice since it was installed in March 2012, and it’s kept our kids’ equipment running without missing a beat. If we have a power failure, we just count 30 seconds and the generator starts, and the lights, medical equipment, and everything else comes humming right back on.
When I went to the church and thanked them for what they had done for us, our kids, and our home, one of the members asked me, “What else can we do for you? Let us know if there’s anything else you need.”
Sharon and I cried when they told us what the church was doing. It was truly a gift from God and this little church and its wonderful members in Nacogdoches, and the grant from LSS. It was, and is, nothing less than a miracle.