• WHAT: The Agape Villages Foster Family Agency Fairways Fore Foster Kids golf tournament .
• WHERE: Manteca Golf Course
• WHEN: Friday, Sept. 9, registration at 6:30 a.m. ; shotgun start at 6:30 a.m.
• COST: Golfers are $90 while foursomes are $340.
• TO REGISTER: Go to www.agapevillages.org or contact Joann at 992-8346.
RIPON — Liz and Scott Williams have opened their two-story north Ripon home to 16 children over the past 3½ years.
Liz is a marketing project manager for a software company in Pleasanton. Scott is a stay-at-home dad after being retired for a medical condition from his position in physical therapy in Fremont.
Agape Villages Foster Family Agency director Joann Beattie noted the couple make children feel wanted and welcome and take them everywhere they go and even include them on their vacations.
When Scott was still working as a professional in the Bay Area, he and Liz had met when they were commuting on the ACE train. Part of a group that gathered to play cards on the way to work, he invited her into the circle and they soon became friends. They eventually became more than just friends and established a home in the Ripon community.
“When Scott became medically disabled at about 40 and we started doing some soul searching to figure out what kind of meaningful lives we could have when he was not able to go to a normal work place,” Liz said. “Because he has a history with foster brothers, and I had foster parents and we love kids and we love helping; it really became something meaningful that we could do with our days – with our lives.”
She said being a foster kid in the system on a ranch in Northern California it wasn’t until she was about 30 before she was grown up enough and had kids of her own to realize exactly what foster parents had done for her.
“You really have to do more growing up than just being 18,” she said. “You really have to mature before you realize how much they really did without having to – they were being nice people.”
She went on to emphasize that foster parents do what they had to do even when it didn’t bring a “thank you.” Liz was the family’s last foster child of eight living on the 65-acre ranch at the Oregon border where there were 30 to 40 deer at a time roaming the fields.
She was 14 years old when she went to live with the family. The dad was employed as a forest ranger. Feeding the deer and nurturing some of the newborn fawns are among her memories of that foster home life. She said it was 10 miles from Happy Camp, a town of only 1,000 residents.
Foster parents for nearly 4 years
“It seems like longer and it seems like shorter,” Scott said of the nearly four years they have been hosting foster kids. “The time just flies by.”
They have had mostly boys from two months premature to 18 years old.
Liz admitted to being “a photography nut,” as well, who covers every game her kids are involved in shooting an average of 300 pictures per game.
“I take my camera to the high school and take pictures of all the teams’ sports,” she said. “I hope I can turn that into a career – practicing now taking pictures of my kids and their friends.”
The first children to walk into their home were 4-year-old twin boys who were picked up the same night they left their home.
“They lived with us for a year and a half. We were the only home they had, and they were reunited with their family – which is wonderful because you don’t often get those happy family endings,” Liz said.
She added that they have also had three siblings; they were the fourth home where they had been living. At the time they were nine months, four and five and they had been bounced around quite a bit.
“They lived with us for a little over a year and just a year ago they were adopted out together. In both cases all those children and families stay in touch with us. The first twins called Scott on Fathers’ Day to say happy Fathers’ Day and they had been gone for three years,” she said.
They still call quite a bit, Scott chimed in saying he went and fixed up a drum set for one of the kids for his birthday.
Liz said they have a lot of friends who ask them how they could possibly take in these kids, including an eight-week premature baby, and let them move whether it’s back to their parents or getting adopted.
Kids moving on calls for celebration
“That is a lot of care when we had four kids in the house at the time,” she said of the newborn. “We knew going into this what a lot of people don’t think about in their daily lives is that this is going to end and it is going to hurt. It enriches your life doing it just like all of us have parents, children and spouses, but we don’t consciously think about it every day that those are going to end – we do.”
She said they take a lot of pictures, have birthday parties, celebrate, and if it’s a sunny day on Sunday they go to the park.
“We know it’s coming, we know they have a court date,” Liz said of foster kids moving on. “The social worker calls and says, ‘I will pick them up in an hour.’ They’re getting reunited, they’re getting adopted – we celebrate. They are moving on.”
Scott said at that point he cries for three weeks.
Liz said they have empty beds now and are waiting for a call from Agape which likes to send them groups to keep siblings together. Now they have four beds in their home reserved for foster kids. There are also their three teenage boys who live in the home as well with the youngest in the seventh grade.
“They see this is how a family works, and yes, I’m going to get after them too for not picking up their clothes too,” she said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t love them or I don’t care.”
She said the foster kids are in need of more attention noting that they have time to do that with them. Scott noted that it is a blessing for him because he is the biggest kid in the house.
“We’ve had good, we’ve had bad,” Scott said. “We’ve had a scare. We’ve had all kinds of stuff. Especially with the little kids who don’t go to school yet, I get down on the floor and play games with them.
“They see the other side where people actually care. The three siblings we had were at their fourth house because they said the kids were unruly and they couldn’t make them do anything. When they came here, they were here for over a year and they didn’t want to leave,” he recalled.
It’s not children’s fault they are in foster system
Liz said she took a little psychology in college that help them deal with the children, adding that Agape gives them is training every quarter that is required by state law.
“It provides wonderful training classes,” she stressed. They do some 12 hours of childhood development training to keep their license every three months.
Liz said one major misconception by the public is that the kids are troubled and a handful. They are not in the system because they are troubled children. They are rather troubled children because they are in the system, she explained.
“All these children are removed from their biological home because the parent didn’t feed them or abused them or the parents were high and forget they were in the house with them. They are all in this situation because of something the parents did,” she said. “This is never the children’s fault.”
“Agape provides us with skills, training and support and they send a social worker out here every week to visit us – once a week they are in our house. They want to know how are things and what is going on with us and the children,” she noted.
The Ripon mom said it is good to invest in them. “Yes they are acting out. Yes they are misbehaving. They’re not acting normal. What can you do? ‘Cause they’re not bad kids at all.”
Liz said one of the greatest gifts for foster children is to learn to forget. She said many of her best memories is being brought up by her foster mother who always took her to the store with her, doing chores, feeding the animals and going outside with her on the farm.
“What I remember best is that constant being included,” she said.