“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.”
Unexpected moments in life are often the most rewarding. May is National Foster Care month and it is also a time when our family reflects upon one of the most unexpected and rewarding times in our lives.
Education and improving the lives of abused and neglected children have been the focus of our family’s community service. For the past several years, Carlos has served as a volunteer board member and the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., the lead agency for Community-Based Care in Miami and the Keys.
For years our family believed that serving on boards and volunteering to support charities was the best and most effective way to give back to our hometown community. This thinking all changed abruptly last August when we received a call from Our Kids about a teenager attending school near Key Biscayne, where we live, who needed a temporary home. Our Kids’ staff wanted to ensure that she would not need to be moved from her high school and they contacted us to see if we knew of a family that lived nearby that might be willing to consider becoming foster parents.
Halfway through the conversation we had our eureka moment, and before the call ended we knew that by calling us, the staff had already found the family they were seeking for this teenager.
Although Carlos was very knowledgeable about Florida’s foster-care system as a result of his years of service on the Our Kids Board, the thought of becoming foster parents had never occurred to us — until that instant, during that phone call.
Without hesitation, we said we would love to be considered as her new foster family. That was the day our journey to become foster parents began. Without warning or planning, and only with our instinctual desire to help a family in need, we jumped in headfirst. We soon met with the young woman and we all knew that we immediately clicked. Our adult children and our extended family were enthusiastically welcoming and supportive — everyone was on board.
Our Kids’ staff visited our home, conducted the necessary background checks and we immediately began attending the training classes so that our new foster child could come live with us.
While we had been involved with Our Kids for years, this was the first time we had experienced firsthand, the amazing support, training and protections Our Kids and its network of case-management agencies provides for hundreds of foster children and families in Miami and the Keys.
That was almost a year ago, since then we have worked diligently to earn our foster child’s trust and the trust of her biological family. In between, we have attended many court hearings and staff meetings with her and for her.
This year we will celebrate her 18th birthday and we plan on having her remain with us after she ages out of foster care. We have already begun the planning to help her to transition to college and we will continue guiding her toward a fulfilling and rewarding life. Our home has been a perfect fit, matching her needs with our strengths.
We created a home for her that allows her to complete an impressive and competitive high school education without interruption or disruption. We are doing for her exactly what we did for our own children when they were teenagers: helping her prepare for SATs; supporting her preparation for AP tests; taking her on college tours; and otherwise preparing her for life as a responsible adult.
Many people tell us that our foster daughter is lucky to be with us, but through this fortuitous and very unexpected turn of events, we discovered that we’re the lucky ones. She is a brilliant child, blessed with many talents and gifts. The greatest gift of all is the joy that she has brought into our lives.
Despite all the years we’ve spent helping to positively impact the lives of children through our charitable work, we never could have imagined how personally rewarding it could be to serve at this level — as foster parents.
By becoming foster parents, our lives have been forever changed for the better.
If you live in Miami or in the Florida Keys and are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, contact Our Kids by calling 1-855-786-KIDS or visit us at www.ourkids.us.
Carlos de la Cruz Jr. is immediate past chairman of the Our Kids Board of Trustees and the ex-president of Eagle Brands, Inc. Claudia de la Cruz is president of Centro Mater.