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Legacy of caring left for family and foster youth

September 6, 2011

“Whatever happened before, it won’t happen here.”

Larry was a salesman for more than two decades when he was diagnosed with cancer. He wasn’t able to keep his job through the treatments. Unable to work, he confessed to his wife, Nancy, that he would go stir crazy if he didn’t find something to do.

Larry Plaisance

Nancy, a medical coder, heard a spot about Youth Villages and the need for foster parents on a local Christian radio station.

“I told him about it and he called,” she said. “I guess the rest is history.”

There are three boys in Nancy’s home, ages 16, 17 and 18. They all have difficult pasts. They’re just three of the more than 30 teenage boys Nancy and Larry have fostered over the years. Larry, the oldest of eight children, wanted to help the toughest ones. Larry and Nancy’s biological children didn’t mind.

“The teenage boys, that’s who Larry wanted to help,” Nancy said. “They seemed to be the best fit for us. We fostered juvenile justice children for a very long time. Some of them were very difficult.”

Devan, their youngest biological son, was more succinct.

“We got the kids nobody else wanted,” he said. “Dad was strict, but he was fair and honest.”

Larry told the youth when they first came to the house that everyone was treated the same. The first priority was safety and security.

“I’d show them their room and sometimes they’d come right back out, sometimes they’d stay in there for a while,” Nancy said. “Then we’d tell them, ‘You’re safe here. Whatever happened to you is in the past, and it won’t happen here.’”

“When you’re family, you pull together.”

Larry passed away last summer. His last years were spent helping foster teenage youth and assisting his youngest son, Devan, with a mixed martial arts training center. The foster children also helped with the business, some even participating in the classes. Devan runs the center, trains and fights professionally.

Just a few short months after Larry’s death, his imprint is left on the youth he helped and the children he raised with Nancy. Devan returned home to help.

“I couldn’t ask for better parents,” Devan said. “Mom and Dad were always taking care of people, and there was always someone at the house when I was growing up.”

At the heart of their success were Larry and Nancy’s complementary strengths, and love.

“What made us a good team was that he was very strict, but fair and consistent with all the children,” Nancy said. “He wouldn’t lie to them. Granted, we had older boys, but they respected him for the way he treated them.”

“She’s the best mom I’ve had,” one foster youth said.

“Mom’s better at sugar-coating things,” another said. “She’s very comforting and motherly. She listens, doesn’t judge and genuinely cares about you.”

The family spoke often about the inevitable.

“We knew cancer would eventually get Larry, and I knew the children were wondering what would happen,” Nancy said. “I brought it up one day and told them odds are Larry’s not going to live a long time, you never know, but I’m still going to be a foster parent.

“I’m not giving you kids back. When you’re family, you pull together.”

Many of their former foster children come back to visit. Nancy and Larry thought about fostering children many years before, but they wanted to wait until their children were older. Devan was a senior in high school when Larry was first diagnosed. Now the family is stronger and more committed to one another.

“These kids are like brothers to me,” Devan said, acknowledging the three youth in their home. “They help out with the martial arts center and help around the home.”

Devan’s move back home has been good for the children and her, Nancy said.

“It’s just the same as any home,” she said. “They tried me a little bit to see what they could get away with, but Devan’s stepped up to help. They really love Devan.”

Nancy’s oldest son is in the Air Force. Nancy said Larry was a tireless advocate for the children, going to court on their behalf, cooking for them, helping them, coaching them and most important, letting them find their own way while having a safe place to stay. Larry’s passing has brought the family closer, but it’s also strengthened Nancy’s commitment to helping children.

“I don’t think they know how much they really help just being here and helping to get through this time,” she said. “We’re just plain old people. But so many kids need somebody to be good to them and be there for them.”

In addition to the family, Larry will also be missed at Youth Villages.

“What an honor it was to know him and serve with him,” said Julie Bauman, treatment foster care supervisor in Youth Villages’ Knoxville office.

Hilary Campbell, placement specialist for the East Region, said: “After learning of Larry’s passing, I asked one of the boys in Larry and Nancy’s care how he was doing. He said, ‘OK … well, not good … I mean, I just lost my dad.’”

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