As certified foster parents, Lisa and Alonzo White, an ECBC-matrixed employee to the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM NBC CA), have kept their front door open to children in need. Despite the ups and downs of serving in the foster parent role, the couple – who also raised three children of their own ages 28, 25 and 16 – said having the opportunity to change the lives of the children who have come through their doors is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world.
Alonzo serves as a Senior Acquisition Logistician for the Joint Chemical Agent Detector program within JPM NBC CA.
“Foster parenting is an education within itself in that it gives you a real understanding of how abuse, neglect and poverty can change the course of a child’s life,” Lisa said. “Being a foster parent affords you the opportunity to impart your knowledge of parenthood, your parental teachings garnered from your parents, and to watch as the children progress from one phase to the next. It is fulfilling that you can make a difference no matter how insignificant or significant, and give back the training and love that your parents gave you.”
Lisa and Alonzo’s venture into foster parenting was influenced by many factors, one of them being a tragic situation that happened in Lisa’s life. Lisa’s mother was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident when she was eight years old, leaving her and her father to take care of her three younger siblings. At the time, foster care was a possible option for her and her siblings, but extended family took them in. The possibility of being split up from her brothers and sister and put into the foster system resonated with Lisa, guiding her decision to become a licensed foster parent.
Additionally, a number of years later, a family friend asked the Whites to take their daughter in when they were faced with a tragic situation. Alonzo attributes the couple’s decision to become foster and the discipline and responsibility learned from working within the military. In addition to being full-time foster parents, Lisa and Alonzo are also licensed as a therapeutic and 24-Hour Emergency Care home. In the past 13 years, the Whites have provided a temporary home for over 75 children.
Alonzo admits that foster parenting can be difficult and has its rough moments. Multiple court dates, unstable and sometimes violent parents of their foster children and the general adjustment of never knowing whether or not a new child is going to walk in or out of their house are just a handful of the conflicts and uncertainties the couple has weathered. Special cases require the family to change their lifestyle. “Sometimes you are required to maintain a higher level of privacy and security with certain children due to their tumultuous family background, avoiding otherwise common public outings for the sake of their safety,” Lisa said.
“We’ve had children with us and when they first arrived to our home they were broken, despondent, angry, with their clothing frayed and not certain of their future,” Lisa said.
Through motherly conversation, the children opened up and began to express to Lisa their situation.
“The kids had very little concept of family, their education neglected [their grade point average (GPA) below 1.0], and they thought that physical punishment was a norm,” Lisa said.
However, through much nurturing, compassion and attention the boys have made a drastic turnaround. Lisa said their manners have improved, their discipline intact, their GPAs now above a 3.0, and their experience of what a family structure looks and feels like has made them change the outlook of their future.
“On this one particular occasion I was on TDY, Lisa phoned me and stated that she had just taken in a sibling group of five. I replied by saying ‘Are you kidding!’ She replied ‘no;’ I asked her to put all of the children on speaker phone so that I could speak with them and say hello; then there were five!” Alonzo said, laughing.
The Whites feel that opening their home to foster children has enriched their lives by the many lives that they have impacted. Persevering through the tough times has taught them a valuable lesson in self sacrifice. The Whites said their youngest son has definitely been affected by foster parenting as he has become more responsible and a leader. Seeing the different situations that the foster children have been through gives him a broad perspective of the challenges that life can bring.
“He helps Lisa with the day-to-day home management all the while taking care of his own responsibilities as a junior in high school and an athlete, while I’m away on TDY,” Alonzo said.
“Being part of a foster parenting home helps him understand that family is important and that decisions you make, appropriate or inappropriate, not only affect you, but the others around you. Being exposed to the varied backgrounds of some of these children makes him grateful for the family that he has and for what he has.”