“When I see them achieve, it’s rewarding to know I made a difference in their lives.”
Brenda Washington says that even as a kid and into her adult years, she always had a strong desire to be around children in any way possible. Her home was the neighborhood home where kids would congregate. Her family’s station wagon took kids to the zoo and for a meal, and so when she became an adult, “I always knew I wanted to foster children.”
In 2006 and as a then empty-nester, she worked with UCAN staff to complete the requirements to become a licensed foster parent. She raised her nephew for several years and post divorce, her stepdaughter remained in her care. Foster parenting was in her blood, so to speak.
Over the years, Brenda has found satisfaction and joy in being a foster parent to children who have presented with various medical ailments and challenges. Currently she’s fostering a teenager of middle Eastern descent (“I’m really spending time learning her culture”) and a two-year-old girl who is medically fragile and requires a high level of attention and care (“She would not take her eyes off of me in the hospital.”)
On top of the 20 or so foster youth who have called her home their home since 2006, Brenda, who has two adult daughters, also cares for – and spoils – two young ladies, ages 17 and 19, whom she adopted at age 6 and 8.
“I thought I had a lot to offer children,” she recalls of her early years as a foster parent. “I try to give them something they never had and that includes spending Thanksgiving in Atlanta every year where one of my daughters lives, and then spending Christmas in Chicago. Sometimes it does get hard. Your feelings will get hurt from time to time but you have to move beyond that. I know my effort is appreciated. When they excel, like when they graduate and get jobs and have families themselves, it is so rewarding.” She proudly adds that some have gone on to college and others into independent living.
Brenda, who lives in Chicago’s south suburbs, is aware that “kids who have suffered trauma are going to test you but you must have patience and work with them. Every child is different,” she adds, “but I’m in it for the long run. While I get a child, I keep a child until they age out of the system.”
Regarding her partnership with UCAN, she notes: “It takes a team and I have a great team. UCAN has great caseworkers, respite workers and licensing representatives,” says Brenda. “The UCAN staff provides me with a great support system and they make sure my kids and I have everything we need. I think I work with one of the best organizations there is.”
For more information about becoming a licensed foster parent, contact MichaelAnn.Wiley@ucanchicago.org.