“We talk about all of the atrocities occurring all over the world, but one of the things we need to realize is it’s happening here. The front line is here and we need to step up,” Kelly stated.
According to Charles Bagley, the June chairman for Kiwanis Club, there are currently around 200 minors in Bradley County and surrounding areas who need such help.
“We need foster parents in the community,” McAndrews stated. “You can’t turn on the TV or radio without seeing some poor child who has been abused. The training is not easy, but thank God for that. We don’t want these kids in just any old home.”
McAndrews explained the background check for foster parents is intensive.
“They are going to search your life like you have never been searched before. You are going to feel like somebody from the FBI is checking you out. They are going to research you, your children, and your background.”
Assured McAndrews, “It is going to be OK. ... My husband was frustrated with some of the questions and I asked him, ‘Where would you want your child if something happened to us?’ Would you want your child just to go to anybody? No, I want my child to go to a stable, reliable family with a firm foundation.”
Both Kelly and McAndrews are dedicated to being foster parents, as well as raising awareness of the foster care system. McAndrews has been a foster parent for 20 years. During that time she has seen over 80 foster kids walk through her door. The longest she has ever had a foster child under her care was three years.
“It tears your heart out to say goodbye,” McAndrews shared. “But, is it better to tear my heart out when I am an adult and can handle it and I have given that child a firm foundation, rather than to not do anything at all.”
Kelly was a social worker for 33 years and today she is going on her third year as a foster parent. She told the Kiwanis Club members, “I think we have had less money than we have ever had in our lives, but we have had every need met. We are doing well, we are happy, and we are a family.”
Continued Kelly, “As a social worker I have tried to leave a positive mark on the world. I wanted to make sure that I did what I could to make this world a better place and to teach my children the same. It’s a trickle down effect. Being a foster parent is leaving the biggest mark I have ever [left].”
The foster children Kelly has had over the past three years often share her effect on their lives.
“They say, ‘You know what I learned while I was with you,’ or, ‘When you used to do this that meant so much to me, so now I do it.’ Those are the things that make life great.”
As Kelly spoke, her foster daughter sat in the crowd listening attentively. Every now and then she smiled and nodded her head as Kelly explained the joys and trials of being a foster parent.
“I had one little guy who I could not get to. I could not get to his heart,” Kelly shared. “I would try to talk to him and he would get so frustrated. He was not used to the physical contact and it just bothered him that someone would want to touch him.”
The 6-year-old boy finally gave Kelly an opportunity to make a connection.
“I noticed he was in the bathroom for a long time so I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ No one had ever showed him how to take a shower,” Kelly shared.
Kelly explained she showed the little boy because, ‘after all, at 6 you are still a baby.’
“When he was clean I took the towel and wrapped it around him and he just fell into my arms and he sobbed-and I sobbed, because I’m not going to let anyone cry alone,” Kelly said. “After that it was, ‘Mommy, can I do this?’ It was the softness in this little boy with his big blue eyes that was just incredible.”
Information on becoming a foster parent can be found at www.greaterhopefoundation.com and www.tn.gov/youth/fostercare/becomefosterparent.htm.