Brandy Denson, a Catholic Charities West Michigan foster parent, says the secret to her success fostering teen girls in her home is simple: “Patience, patience, patience.”

With that, she says, good things can happen: “I think fostering can be very rewarding.”

And it can even have side benefits: “As I progressed as a foster parent, I was able to be a better parent with my biological child.”

Brandy, who lives in Lake City, has been a CCWM foster parent for four years, assisting multiple foster children.

That’s important because the need is great.

In 2016, Catholic Charities West Michigan provided foster parenting services to 378 children who were under the age of 18 and also to 29 young adults between age 18 and 21.

The agency will be able to serve even more children when it meets its goal of adding at least 50 new foster families this year (to learn more, call 616-356-6202). Foster parents are needed to meet the demand for providing a safe place with to live for children who have been removed temporarily from their homes by the courts because of abuse or neglect.

Brandy admits that being a foster parent is not for everyone, but it is a great opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of a child.

She has even gone a step further and become the legal guardian to 15-year-old Makenzie, who had been a foster child in her home.

“She’s a strong girl and she has a loving nature,” Brandy said of Makenzie. “You have to treat everyone in the home the same way. First, you build trust. The child comes in scared to death.

“Fostering teen-age girls is top-of-the-line hardest,” she says. “But I had a rough childhood myself, so I know what they’re going through. I accept kids as they come in and respect them as a human being.”

That made a huge difference in 15-year-old Makenzie’s life, but not at first. Makenzie and her biological mother had not been getting along and the mom turned verbally abusive toward her daughter.

“My mom didn’t want me there,” Makenzie remembers.

Even so, when the courts removed her from her mother’s house and Brandy became Makenzie’s foster parent, the healing took time.

“The first few months were tough. I didn’t want help,” Makenzie says now. “I wanted to be who I was. It’s just really hard, but she (Brandy) was patient with me.”

That patience paid off.

“I think she is an amazing person,” Makenzie says of Brandy. “I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without her. She’s helped me through everything.”

This led Makenzie to ask Brandy to become her legal guardian, which happened last year.

That’s a far cry from the time Makenzie told a Catholic Charities West Michigan social worker that “foster care will never change me,” shortly after being placed in Brandy’s home.

The social worker remembers: “Brandy never gave up on Makenzie… She showered her with love and support. Makenzie started attending counseling, which did wonders for her. In counseling, she was able to open up about her past traumas…

“Makenzie began to mature and grow in an incredible way,” the social worker remembers. “She was invested in her schooling, counseling and relationships.”

Brandy recommends that people consider becoming foster parents.

“Be thorough and careful and look into it,” she says. “You can realize your own ability as a parent.”