Oak Park children’s charity helps foster families grow

Hephzibah Children's Association is located at 946 North Boulevard in Oak Park.
Hephzibah Children's Association is located at 946 North Boulevard in Oak Park.

Norma Husick’s voice swells with pride as she talks about her children, their lives, their desire to give back and their goals.

Husick has two biological sons, but the 22 children she and her husband, George, have fostered — eight of which they’ve adopted — have just as much of her heart.

“They’re all doing really well for going through what they’ve been through,” she said. “I wish you could meet my kids.”

Norma and her husband, George, of Cicero, have fostered children through Hephzibah Children’s Association for almost two decades. Hephzibah, based in Oak Park, is in search of more people like the Husicks, as the ongoing need for foster parents is great.

“I think the need speaks for itself. What I don’t think people see is the reward you get for yourself,” Norma said. “[The children] become your own if you open your heart up.”

Amy O’Rourke, foster care services coordinator for Hephzibah, said they get about 150 inquiries regarding foster parenting per year. Of that number, about 10 percent actually follow through with the process.

That number could triple and Hephzibah would still have foster children that need homes, she said. About 75 children are fostered each year.

“It’s kind of dire,” O’Rourke said. “The need far exceeds what we have available.”

On top of that, it can be more difficult to place specialized foster children, because they often have special needs, behaviorally or emotionally, said Julie Dvorsky, Hephzibah’s director of family-based services.

“The children have many more needs, so it does require more of the foster family,” Dvorsky said.

Hephzibah helps children ages 5 to 14 from all over the state, although most come from Cook County. When the organization first encounters a child, the goal is to return the child to his or her biological family, but in many cases, that can’t happen, O’Rourke said.

From there, they hope to have children adopted or fostered with the possibility of adoption.

Foster families must have not only the willingness to take in a child or children, but also patience and space to accommodate children. Flexibility in their schedules and parenting approaches is critical as well, as is participating in initial and ongoing foster parent training.

It’s a lengthy process and there are lots of state requirements — “not just that they have an available bed in their home,” O’Rourke said.

After a person or couple is licensed, it can take time for a child to be placed with that family.

Foster parents have to be at least 21. Some are well into their 70s. For several families that Hephzibah works with, it’s second time around parenting, Dvorsky said.

O’Rourke said those couples are a great resource to Hephzibah, because they know the ropes and often have the time to devote.

“I would say that’s definitely a great target population for us,” she said.

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding Hephzibah’s foster program is that the children are all waiting at the group home on North Boulevard. In fact, children are in foster homes; they just might not be permanent homes.

“It’s not just about putting a child with that family, but how do we make it a good fit for what the child needs,” O’Rourke said.

The greatest recruiting tool, O’Rourke and Dvorsky said, is word of mouth. O’Rourke said Hephzibah officials are willing to speak to local organizations about the need and what they’re looking for in foster families.

Being a foster parent isn’t the only way to help, said foster parent Carol Kelly of Oak Park. Tutoring children or volunteering at Hephzibah Home are other ways to get involved.

“There’s a lot of different ways you can support foster families in this area,” Kelly said.

Kelly, a single parent with two grown biological children, is a recently retired judge in juvenile justice and has fostered more than 20 children. She’s had a child as briefly as a weekend; one of her current foster children is going on three years in her care.

She said prospective foster parents need to realize that they may not have a child forever. Seeing the children she’s fostered go on to lead happy, successful lives has kept her fostering over the years, she says.

George and Norma Husick have been foster parents for the past 18 years. Norma, who works with children through their church, and George, a youth wrestling coach, thought about fostering to adopt because they were often helping children from broken families or who were in abusive situations.

“We had always seen a lot of potential in these young lives and parents who were shattering that,” Husick said.

They’ve since fostered 22 children, and are about to adopt their eighth child. Husick’s biological sons are 37 and 38, and she and George have grandkids now, too.

They’ve continued to foster and adopt children because of their strong desire to see children be the best they can be, Husick said.

“We want to love them. We want to carry them through this hard time,” Husick said.

Some of the children they’ve encountered have returned to their biological homes; others have moved into Hephzibah Home.

As she talked about her children, she mentioned she cried as she dropped off one of her sons at the airport recently. And one of her daughters plans to become a foster parent herself, she added.

To see their children become contributing adults who have healthy relationships and a desire to help others is “just really amazing,” Husick said.

“I think we have to look past what they’ve been through and try to make it better for them,” she shared. “Who better to do that than you and me?”

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