‘The phone call felt like a punch in the stomach. He’d become part of the family.’: Foster mom starts nonprofit to help families through ‘the cycle of love and heartbreak’

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“I am a wife and mother of three girls. I was a teacher for 11 years and always had a desire to do more to help my community. After becoming a stay-at-home mom, I started hosting Give Back opportunities once a month. I would choose a local nonprofit organization and invite people to come and bring items needed by the organization. After successfully doing this for over 2 years, I was looking for ways to do even more.

My family was invited through our church to learn more about a local foster agency. We had no interest at the time in foster care but were open to hearing how we could help in other ways. After listening to the presenter talk about providing basic need items foster families need, my husband began elbowing me saying, ‘This is something you could help with.’ The wheels started turning, and I quickly realized what I had been doing with my Give Back events could translate into helping foster families. After a few weeks of brainstorming and talking to a few people, I was encouraged to reach out to a local foster mom. Kristy Inoa was someone I had met through moms’ group, and we quickly realized through our hour-long chat there was a huge need in foster care, and we could help. That was how the idea for our nonprofit Seeds of Hope OH was born.

Two foster moms smiling about nonprofit
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

At the start, it was the perfect combination of a foster mom and a mom who wanted to help foster care. We used social media to start connecting with foster families. We created a foster support page and encouraged families to reach out to us for help. Our original idea was to provide small bags with a couple of items of clothing, diapers if needed, and a few hygiene items. We wanted to encourage families who would just take new placements and let them know they weren’t alone in this journey. Very quickly we were asked by families for larger items such as swings, car seats, beds, clothing, and more. Our fear of not finding people to help changed into ‘how can we keep up!’

We were working around the clock to gather donations, connect with families, and provide items to help them support the kiddos in their homes. After a few months of working out of our basements and garages, we knew we had to find a space for Seeds of Hope OH to grow. We started in a small garage on a family’s property, which they graciously donated to us, but we knew this was just a stepping stone. We connected with other nonprofits to find leads, and in September, about 6 months after starting, we signed a lease for our current office space.

Since then we have been providing beds, car seats, baby items, clothing, diapers, wipes, hygiene items, and more to foster and kinship families as well as single moms from our local abuse shelter. We have served over 1,000 children in a little over two years. We also host a number of support events such as School Supply Drive, Trunk or Treat, Christmas Angel Tree Gifts, Ice Cream Social, Coffee and Chats at the park, Snow Cone Day, Drive-Thru Pizza Night, and more. These events are offered for free to our families to support and encourage their journey through foster and kinship care. This helps to build community and gives families people they can talk to in similar situations. We are a nonprofit organization running solely on monetary and item donations. We could never help this many people without the generous donations of the community.

Woman holding nonprofit foster care tote bag, smiling
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

During the first year of running the Seeds of Hope OH organization, my husband and I began to open our eyes to a world we didn’t know much about before. Hearing the stories and seeing these children made it hard to turn a blind eye. We started questioning the idea of becoming foster licensed ourselves. The more we talked, the bigger the pull on our hearts to start exploring. We were nervous about how bringing new children into our home would affect our children, but we also believed we had a caring family who could help children from hard places. We met with a local agency and decided to start taking classes. After 30 hours of classes, a home study, and a lot of questions and paperwork, within about 6 months, we were licensed.

Our oldest daughter was very hesitant about the idea, but our younger two were excited. We decided to start with a respite placement. This meant a child would come for a short-term stay of a few days. We felt like this would be an easier intro for our children and help them to ease into the foster journey. In June of 2020, we welcomed a 14-year-old girl into our home for 5 days. I was nervous: at the time our oldest daughter was 11, and having a teenager was very new to our home. She was sweet, got along great with our children, and made us realize we could do this. She had already lived a very hard 14 years. It was emotional to hear her story, but talking to her, giving her a safe spot even if it was short-term, we felt confident we could do more. We could take a child for a longer-term placement, and who knows, maybe we wouldn’t get a call for a little while.

Foster family smiling outdoors in the grass
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

Within a few days, we received our first placement call. The call was for a sibling set of three children. It was heartbreaking to get the call, hear the story of three children displaced because of things out of their control. Hearing their names, ages, and a list of all of their struggles, and realizing we had to say ‘no’. Yes, you can say ‘no’, in fact, there are a lot of ‘no’s in foster care. It is very important to say ‘yes’ to calls that truly fit your family. Taking a child or children you don’t feel completely comfortable or able to care for just ends in disaster and can make families feel as if they are not meant to foster. More calls will come, so it is important to know what your family can handle, and I knew this call was not it.

The next day came our second call and our first ‘yes.’ I listened as they described a three-year-old boy, nonverbal, tantrums, aggressive, climbs on everything, a runner; the list was long, but for some reason, we felt called to say ‘yes.’ We hung up from the call and discussed what this would look like for our home. My husband said, ‘We have to say yes sometimes right?’ So now was the time, we felt excited, scared, and a little shocked when we called back and heard ourselves say ‘yes.’ Then we waited to hear back on the decision. When you say ‘yes’ to a placement, it does not mean you automatically get the child. Your name goes on a list so the county that holds custody of the child can find the best-fit home. This child had been in 3 homes in one month: this list was short, and we were chosen.

The next day, we got the call that ‘T’ would be coming to our home. My husband and I looked at each other with nervous smiles, not knowing what was ahead but knowing we were going to do our best. We had a few hours to prepare our house, get his bedroom ready, and head over to Seeds of Hope OH for clothing, diapers, and some basics. I realized then how beneficial our organization is to families. We didn’t have to run to the store and spend a ton of money. We could quickly gather items needed and be home ready for his arrival. That afternoon, a car pulled up with the most adorable brown-haired boy sitting inside. The caseworker was frazzled, as she had spent the morning trying to maintain him in her office.

Foster family posing with foster son, smiling
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

It was quickly apparent that ‘T’ would not be easily contained. As soon as he entered our home. he jumped onto the table, grabbed an apple from a bowl, and ate it all down to the seeds. He was like a feral animal, he ran through our house, and we chased. We kept looking at each other with wide eyes, a million thoughts running through our heads. We knew then we needed to make a lot of changes in our home, and this was going to test our abilities on a whole new level. That first day was a blur, but at the end of the night, we found a cartoon he liked. He sat on my lap, still for the first time that day. and we watched the show together. I could feel my heart opening to this boy we never knew we needed in our lives. We began our journey, not knowing how long this sweet boy would be ours.

foster family posing with foster son, smiling on porch
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

‘T’ was from a neighboring state, and this would make things a little different. The county was working hard to get him back to his home state, so this stay would be shorter than normal. We decided to get into action and do everything we could for this child while he was with us. I have a background in special education, and my husband is a principal, so we have worked with many children and could tell immediately ‘T’ had a lot of needs that needed to be addressed. Over the next two months, we were able to get him diagnosed with autism, and he began medication, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. We had so many appointments with doctors, caseworkers, anyone we could reach out to hoping to get him the most help possible. It was a frantic mission as we knew we were up against a clock and time was not on our side.

Foster dad holding foster boy
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

We had him on a great routine and could see progress, and then came the phone call we were dreading. They found a home in his state and would be coming the next day to pick him up. The phone call felt like a punch in the stomach. This boy had become part of our family in his short two-month stay. We loved his sweet smile and giggle. He loved to dance and play chase with our daughters. He never said a word while he was here, but we know he felt loved.  The next day, we stood on our curb while he was loaded into the car, wanting so badly to hold onto him, to explain to him it wasn’t our choice. Then just like that, he was gone. We opened our hearts and now a piece was gone forever. This is foster care, the cycle of love and heartbreak. People ask all the time how can you let them go. You just do, and you cry, and scream, and wish things were different, but you just do.

Foster son and sibling eating breakfast together at table talking to each other
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

Foster care’s main goal is always to reunify children with their families. ‘T’ had to leave to be closer to family so they could work a plan and have visitation in person. It is all part of the process. We did our part, and you have to find some peace in that. It doesn’t make it easy, but you will make it, and in the end, you might even be better for the experience.

We said we were taking a break, letting our hearts and minds heal. and one week later we got another call. This time it was a 4-year-old boy and sounded similar to ‘T,’ so we felt like we could do it again. That night ‘A’ came to our home and was with us for 8 months. This time it was different. He was trauma-filled and hard to connect with for both us and our children. We set some small goals with the hope we could help him make some age-appropriate changes in behavior and social skills.

Foster family and foster child posing and smiling on porch
Courtesy of Katie Vasil
Foster dad holding daughter and foster son in pjs, smiling
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

It was a long 8 months, with rollercoaster emotions for all of us and 2 steps forward, 3 steps back at every turn. Our kids frequently talked about ‘T’ and how much they missed him and wished we could have him back. The feelings were not the same with ‘A.’ They asked for him to leave. This happens in foster care, but it weighed heavy on my mind. I questioned myself daily, wishing I could connect. We made progress, and I tried hard to focus on the positives. After 8 months, he was moved to his bio family to work on a permanency plan. We pray it will work out for him and his family. And now for the first time in 10 months, we are back to the Vasil 5 while we wait for the phone to ring.

Siblings with foster brother smiling on porch together
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

Our families have been very supportive, but it is really hard to understand unless you are in it every day. We have family asking why we say ‘yes’ when we say we were taking a break. But they aren’t taking the phone calls, they don’t hear the stories and imagine these little faces sitting waiting for a safe place to sleep. That is why I am so passionate about sharing our story with foster care so others can see themselves in our shoes. We want people to learn more about foster care and if it would be a good fit for their families.

Starting Seeds of Hope OH has changed my life and the lives of my family. We have become part of a group of people who do hard things daily for other people’s children. They pour love into children knowing that heartbreak is coming. Our organization has begun to fill a need in the puzzle of foster care. We help to make of possible for families to say ‘yes’ and not be held back by the fear of the stuff they need. We are foster moms, our children and husbands are going through this journey with us, and we can relate, empathize and understand. Foster care is messy, but when we work together to foster love, we can change the world one ‘yes’ at a time!”

Foster mom smiling wearing foster love t-shirt
Courtesy of Katie Vasil

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Vasil of Troy, OH, founder of Seeds of Hope OH. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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