Can you tell us your story about how you became involved with Catholic Charities West Michigan?

We are the DeVoogd family and we live in Kent City. There are 6 of us: parents Ben and Michelle, and 4 biological children. Morgan (16), Emma (14), Zachary (12), and Ayden (11). We started our journey into foster care in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Michelle, Morgan, and I went with a group from our church to serve in an orphanage in Haiti for 2 weeks in the summer of 2014 (Morgan celebrated her 12th birthday there). While we were there, all 3 of us fell in love with 2 twin Haitian baby boys. At the end of our time there we came back determined to adopt those 2 boys internationally. As determined as we were, it didn’t take long to realize that we were no where near being able to afford or facilitate an international adoption, let alone laws preventing us from adopting international children that we had already met. As we realized that those 2 beautiful orphans in Haiti would never be a part of our family, we were left wondering why God had given us such a burden if there was nothing that we could do to help those babies. As that realization set in we were also in close contact with our pastor and his family who had been fostering 2 children from the Grand Rapids area. At the same time they had to make a decision about adopting them, (they came to the conclusion that these amazing kiddos didn’t fit into their family), we were looking into ways to get involved in orphan care of some sort. Our son Zach had made fast friends with the boy in that case, and we decided that we would get licensed so that we could foster them (with the intent to adopt). Since our pastor’s family was already licensed through CCWM, it only made sense for us to get licensed through the same agency. We got licensed and those 2 moved in December 2014. Those 2 beautiful children eventually moved out and have since been adopted locally. In fact we are still in contact with them and Zach still gets to play some summer basketball with the boy from that case. Including those first 2 kiddos we have fostered 9 different kiddos in the past 4 years.

Can you describe why you feel foster care is so important? And how it has changed your life?

Part of the reason that we believe foster care is so important is simply because scripture says so, James 1:27 says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” There is no better way to help orphans than to give them a safe, loving, structured environment when they are at their most vulnerable. As a foster family, we have the ability to make the most traumatic part of a foster child’s life a little less scary. They didn’t choose to leave their homes and families, and certainly didn’t choose to move into my home. The best we can do is help them grow and develop as appropriately as possible. Foster care gives parents in a hard spot, an opportunity to get things straightened out while their kids are being given a loving home environment.

Is there anything else you would like to add/talk about?

Foster care has changed our lives collectively and as individuals. It has made our bios more independent, because we simply don’t have the time to hover over them the way we used to (which is great for our kids development). It has certainly added some minor stress here and there as well. More than that it has added 9 hearts to our lives that we will always love and care about, even if we never have the opportunity to see some of them again. As a foster parent it’s easy to assume the worst about birth parents but time and again that assumption has been proven wrong. We cherish the cases where birth parents are active in working their plans. We celebrate with them and cheer for them, as our hearts break when the kids finally get to go home. We get to comfort kids whose parents aren’t making a concerted effort at working their plan, and try our best to encourage those parents as well.  One of the toughest parts to remember as foster parents is that this isn’t about us, it IS about the kiddos and their parents and doing everything possible to facilitate reunification.

The short answer as to why we continue to labor in these difficult and messy situations is because it’s a chance to make maybe even a small difference in the lives of children.  It’s better to be the muddy mess of a football player who just scored the winning touchdown than it is to have a clean uniform because you watched the whole thing from the sideline.  As a family we have many shortcomings, as individuals we have even more.  But as long as we are able to keep fighting for vulnerable children, we will be happy to be a part of the mess.

We love the caseworkers and other staff at CCWM! We truly believe that caseworkers are some of the most underappreciated people in our community. They are overworked and underpaid for the hours they put in and the family lives that are continuously interrupted, they are always stuck in the middle of every bio/birth parent conflict, and it seems like they’re on trial every time court rolls around and attorneys start asking questions. As much as we love fostering, there’s no way that we could do the jobs of our workers. Without them we wouldn’t have a role to fill. If you are reading this and currently have a caseworker or licensing worker, please remember to thank them for the selfless jobs that they do!

Sincerely,  Ben and Michelle DeVoogd