Community Story: Father Finds New Purpose
Eric never imagined that his nonprofit board service would change the composition of his family.
Many people volunteer with local nonprofit boards simply because they want to make our communities a better place. Eric lives in Williamson County, and he volunteered with area nonprofits before joining the board of directors at My Friend’s House Family and Children’s Services.
My Friend’s House is a safe haven for at-risk boys that need a temporary group home. This United Way partner agency provides therapeutic, residential support to boys ages 13–18 as they transition in foster care or back home to their families. Board members have the opportunity to meet and chat with the boys, learning more about their circumstances and hopes.
This is how Eric and his wife, May, established a connection with Liam*, a 16-year-old resident. With each conversation, the couple learned more about Liam, his aspirations and needs.
Eric experienced his own challenges as a youth and personally understands how important mentorship and positive influences are during formative years. “I was frustrated that I couldn’t spend more time with the boys,” Eric says.
Eric and May were part of the My Friend’s House family and knew first-hand the obstacles the boys often face. Some of the boys maintain good relationships with their family of origin and could leave the group home for weekend stays. “Liam didn’t have the opportunity for respite,” Eric explains. “He didn’t have an outlet.”
Before long, Eric and May wanted to do more. They wanted to provide Liam the opportunity to leave the group setting and enter a foster home.
This desire led Eric and May to become foster parents. Prior to this point, the couple had never considered fostering. “We did it because of Liam,” Eric says. The road to foster care was long and tedious, but the education and qualification process exposed Eric to a significant community need. “I never gave pause into realizing how many foster kids need a home,” he says.
There are approximately 9,600 children in private or state care across Tennessee. Of this population, 41% of children in care are ages 14 or older. For teens who are never adopted or too old to remain in care, the road to adulthood is littered with vulnerabilities such as homelessness, unemployment, and substance use disorder. Without a foster home, Liam would have aged out of My Friend’s House and, possibly, state care. He would have faced the world on his own.
When Liam was placed in Eric and May’s care last summer, he became the middle child of the family. Despite a few bumps in the road, Eric says, “We’re blessed to have come into contact with Liam.” Liam has accomplished milestones that many foster teens don’t have the opportunity to achieve, such as obtaining a driver’s permit and car, and maintaining a part-time job.
Eric has learned that Liam is fiercely independent. “He has a good work ethic and saves his money.” As the weeks rolled by, Liam settled into a routine of home-school and work, and Eric and May completed the requisite six-month foster care placement before finalizing and celebrating Liam’s adoption this year.
“The older [foster] kids get forgotten about,” Eric shares. And this is one reason why Eric and May were impassioned to open their hearts to Liam, offering him a chance to transition to adulthood in a loving and permanent home.
*Name changed to honor confidentiality.