Lisa and Jorge Alvarez wanted a child. One child to diaper, feed, cuddle, watch grow. Over the course of a dozen years, theyve had 90.
The Southwest Miami-Dade couple has fostered that many kids since they decided to take in a baby boy in hopes of adopting him. Though that didnt work out the child was adopted by his aunt they got lucky with their second placement, a cherubic-faced baby named Natasha whom they adopted soon after her second birthday. Today shes almost 12.
The Alvarezes also adopted Desi, a baby with myriad health issues including hydrocephalous, cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. Hes 5 years old now and loves watching Rachael Ray on TV from his wheelchair.
People tell me, Youre going to heaven, says Lisa, with a laugh, but Im not going anywhere. Ive already got heaven here. I have heaven on earth.
She gestures toward Natasha playing with her electronic tablet, husband Jorge feeding Desi through his G-tube and three foster children, all under age 3, playing, fussing and cooing.
Jorge agrees. This is heaven for her. She couldnt be happier.
The Alvarezes never have more than five children in their four-bedroom house, including their adopted two. Photographs of those theyve fostered line the walls, and the closets are stacked to the ceiling with clothes, diapers, shoes and accessories.
I dont ever get rid of anything, Lisa says. I dont know when Im going to need it.
Most of the foster kids stay for about a year. One little girl stayed three.
And some, as the Alvarezes joke, never really leave. They move down the block or to a nearby neighborhood when they age out of the foster system.
Vanessa Bello, 29, lived with the couple as their foster child for two years when she was 17. When she began looking for a house of her own recently, she made sure I was no more than two minutes away. This is my home. Its comfort food. If Im bored, I come here. If Im having a bad day, I come here.
She stops over after work several times a week for dinner, her 8-year-old daughter, Mya, in tow. They feed you with unconditional love, Bello says. Theyre so patient, so selfless.
Katherine Ramos, 23, is another former foster child who stops in several times a week. You know how they say home is where the heart is? This is where my heart is. This is my home. Lisa and Jorge are like angels walking on earth.
Oren Wunderman, executive director of the Family Resource Center of South Florida, a child welfare and advocacy agency that provides services to more than 1,000 children, calls the Alvarezes truly remarkable human beings. Their passion and calling to care for kids who face the most difficult health battles is extraordinary.
But hes quick to add that people interested in fostering shouldnt think they have to follow in Lisas and Jorges large footsteps. It is important to point out that all foster parents, from those who foster one healthy child to those that foster and adopt a sibling group, make a huge impact.
Lisa, 52, and Jorge, 56, were married in 1993. She was a waitress she still works one night a week at Deli Lane Café in South Miami and he delivered bread. They knew they wanted children, and when they couldnt conceive, they began exploring adoption. After waiting two years, they decided to try foster parenting in hopes it would lead them to a child of their own.