She can’t have children of her own. Treatment for childhood leukemia cheated Natalie Roy of that ordinary prospect.
So she took on something extraordinary instead. Roy had lots and lots of kids. Not easy kids, either.
Unwanted kids, kids abused or neglected, sick kids and disabled kids: Natalie Roy and her steadfast husband, Kevin Roy, have opened their home to some 30 foster children. But that’s hardly the end of the story.
When they became licensed foster parents three years ago, the Roys quickly realized that all the help the state provides in stipends, day care, medical care and therapeutic support is simply not nearly enough. So Natalie created a network of volunteers who scour social media for donations for the things foster parents need, pronto, when the social worker calls in the middle of the night looking to place a child. Cribs. High chairs. Car seats. Strollers. Clothes. Toys.
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And when the stacks of donations turned the living room of their South Miami-Dade home into a warehouse, Kevin, an air-conditioning tech, assembled a massive, 20-by-12 storage shed in the back yard. Collecting and distributing the goods, Natalie says, is nearly a full-time job.
“Sometimes people come by here at 11 o’clock at night, and my husband says to me, ‘Don’t you ever close?’ ” Natalie Roy said. Cheerfully.
That’s not even the best part.
All along, since getting married a few years ago, the Roys, who are in their early 30s, had a plan. They would adopt children “when it felt right,” Natalie said.
Natalie and Kevin Roy have opened their home to some 30 foster children and adopted three.
The first one to feel right was a three-day-old baby girl who arrived at their home in a paper onesie and wrapped in a blanket. Something, in fact, wasn’t right about the girl they would name Isabella. Her tiny fists were clenched and held close to her chest, her limbs stiff, and she was always in a fetal position. Natalie took it upon herself to drive her to a specialty clinic in Sarasota, where the infant was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and a long list of associated health issues.
Thus would begin a daily roller-coaster of therapy and visits to specialists punctuated by frequent trips to the ER and hospitalizations.
Then came the second: After getting licensed as specialized foster parents for the “medically needy” to help Isabella, the Roys accepted another placement, yet another newborn girl with hard-to-fathom difficulties whose mother was ill with schizophrenia. The girl they would name Luna bore scars on five distinct portions of her brain because of an unknown trauma. She, too, would begin a routine of up to half a dozen therapy sessions a week.
In November last year, the Roys adopted Luna. In May, they adopted Isabella. And in August they adopted their third: Sofia, whose mother had abandoned her, walking out of the hospital and leaving her behind after giving birth prematurely. Afflicted by what doctors call “failure to thrive,” Sofia, who will be 1 year old the day after Christmas, also suffers like her sisters from developmental delays.
Not that you could easily tell as Luna and Isabella, both now 2, gleefully romped around the living room during a visit by a reporter and a photographer on a recent weekday afternoon, watched closely from Natalie’s lap by Sofia. The two girls, dressed like Sofia in identical red flowered dresses, retrieved baby bottles from the kitchen, stacked them on the coffee table and offered them to their visitors before pulling family photos out of a display cabinet.
Every day it’s a surprise with all of them. They’re sponges and they grasp new things all the time. I call them my little miracles.
While Natalie was distracted by the journalists, Sofia and Isabella began ripping open Christmas presents sitting under the tree. “I’m going to have to rewrap those,” Roy said with a contented laugh.
The one clue to the girls’ delayed development: the fact that their play was nearly wordless. They continue regular physical and occupational therapy, and speech therapy twice a week, and every day they go to a nearby school that specializes in kids with developmental delays.
But what to many parents would be a punishing regime is to Natalie Roy a source of joy — “a blessing,” as she frequently interjects.
“They’re doing amazingly well,” said Roy, a proud mom. “Every day it’s a surprise with all of them. They’re sponges and they grasp new things all the time. I call them my little miracles.”
The Roys aren’t even done. They’re also caring for one foster child who is scheduled to be reunited with his family and are ready to welcome more. They hope to adopt one more child, a boy if one comes along, but Natalie said they would be delighted by another girl as well.
“My husband loves his girls,” Natalie Roy said. “He spoils them.”
The couple also provide support and counsel to other foster parents, especially those considering adoption, and encourage others to become foster parents, through a WhatsApp group. At their church, Christ Fellowship in Palmetto Bay, Natalie Roy helps lead a ministry group that organizes a monthly mass birthday party for foster kids. “I have amazing girls for the ministry,” she says. “My church family is huge for me.”
What she barely mentions: Not long ago, Natalie Roy had a bout of thryoid cancer, a consequence of radiation treatment for acute myeloid leukemia when she was 11. She waves off an expression of concern. All clear, she said.
How does she do it all?
“Lots of B12 vitamin — and no coffee!” Natalie said with a laugh. And lots of help from her mother and family, always willing to help when she has to take one of the girls to the hospital, a still not-infrequent occurrence.
The Roys could use some help, though. They’re making do on one salary after Natalie quit work to stay home, but had to buy a big Suburban to transport their adopted and foster children, as well as the goods they pick up and provide to other foster families. A social worker at the Voices for Children Foundation who nominated the family for the Herald’s Wish Book said they were initially stumped when asked what they could use before coming up with a list.
The first: Replacing carpeting upstairs in their home with tile. All three girls suffer from serious allergies, and though Kevin Roy installed air purifiers, they still end up in the ER with attacks, and the couple believes the carpeting is exacerbating that. Diapers are also in constant demand, and help buying them would be welcome.
As the girls grow, and become more limber, they would enjoy a wooden swing and play set for the backyard. The Roys would also treasure a family studio portrait.
And their ultimate dream: A Disney Cruise. The family loves Disney World and has made half a dozen trips with the kids.
When Natalie mentions Mickey Mouse, Isabella pauses playing to exclaim: “Mickey!”
It’s not a struggle for Natalie Roy. Her life, if not exactly what she might have pictured as a child, is just what she always wanted.
“I come from a family of seven siblings,” she said. “I’ve always wanted a big family, a big home with a big yard.”
She’s been given all that, and more.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.