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Youth Villages staff, mother do whatever it takes for family

April 7, 2011

Family Intervention Specialist Karen Keeter, far left, and other Morristown Youth Villages staff worked with Angela, center, to create a stable home for her son, Chris. Johnson City Youth Villages staff worked with Chris and a foster family to provide support. Now mother and son have been reunited. Pictured above, left to right, are Keeter, Chris, Adoption Specialist Kelly Mullins, Angela, Transitional Living Specialist Cheryl Stayner and Clinical Supervisor Stephanie Garcia.

There was this turtle named Bobby that was rescued….

Chris saw it on the road, rescued it, and gave it to his mother one day during a visit. Chris was in foster care, and Angela, his mother, was working to prepare a home for her son.

The moment spoke volumes to Youth Villages family intervention specialists and foster care staff who recently reunited to tell the story of how Chris got to return home. For all of them, it was one of their most difficult cases.

“That moment showed me Chris wanted to give his mother a gift, something to take care of,” said Karen Keeter, Youth Villages family intervention specialist. “It also showed a level of trust.”

They shared memories of how Angela and Youth Villages’ staff worked together as she created a home for Chris, while a foster family did whatever was needed to help him and assist in reuniting the family. Chris celebrated his 13th birthday with his mother in their home.

“It was a real step-by-step process toward reunification,” said Stephanie Garcia, Youth Villages clinical supervisor. “But many of the steps in the process were difficult to complete.”

There was an exhaustive search for a water heater for a camper trailer. Angela didn’t have a car, and got by living with extended family or by doing odd jobs. Then there was Bobby.

“I didn’t know anything about turtles, what they ate or how to take care of him,” Angela said. “But it meant a lot to me.”

At the time, Angela lived in a camper trailer near a lake. After keeping Bobby for a time, she released the turtle. Angela methodically put things together to get her son back home – parenting classes, coordinating rides for visits with Chris, going to court, setting up medical care, creating a space for him – all geared toward creating a stable home. And Youth Villages family intervention specialists were there to help.

“It was amazing how Youth Villages helped,” Angela said. “I was going through a lot of changes and it wasn’t easy, but they stayed positive and I began to feel good about getting Chris back.”

Cheryl Stayner, Youth Villages transitional living specialist, Karen and Stephanie helped Angela understand the legal process toward reunifying mother and son. They helped Angela find resources to assist her efforts. In the meantime, Adoption Specialist Kelly Mullins worked in Johnson City with Chris and his foster parents.

“They were good to me,” Chris said about his foster family. “They wanted me to be happy, but they also wanted me to leave – in a good way.”

Chris participated in school activities. He ran on his school’s track team. The foster parents drove Chris to visits with his mom. Everyone worked together to re-join the family.

“This case really exemplifies how Youth Villages can utilize its resources through myriad services to help a family,” Karen said. “Mom was the chief, but it also took the tireless efforts of our staff in Morristown and Johnson City and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to make it happen.”

Through the process, Angela began to trust herself. She relied on support, but also began to take initiative to move the process forward.

“When we stepped up, she matched us,” Karen said. “Conversely, when she stepped up to do something, we were also committed to help in any way we could.”

Angela and Chris now live together in a nice home.

“I’m glad there’s a Youth Villages. It’s amazing how they came in and helped me make a home,” Angela said. “I was given an opportunity to grow and learn and experience being a parent. I’m enjoying it.”

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