LOCKPORT – Sandra Marbeth never had children of her own – but she always wanted to be a mom.
She got her chance when she became a foster parent for SOS Children’s Village in Lockport, where she raised 41 children and adopted six. God blessed her with a home and children, she said.
One of her daughters who grew up in the village decided to have it be the place for her wedding reception. She now works for the village, Marbeth said.
“I think for me it’s full circle. SOS gave to her, and she in turn is giving back to SOS,” she said.
It’s not just her child who has given back to SOS: The Lockport community also has given back to the international nonprofit child care provider that began in Austria after World War II.
That local support has been key for the organization that allows parents such as Marbeth to care for children in need of a protective family environment.
“To the credit of this community, they quickly found out and committed – which is probably important in today’s society – that the more we invest in our children, the better society we will have,” said Tim McCormick, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois CEO.
Paving the way
SOS Children’s Villages provides foster care where children live with their siblings in an SOS single-family home with a full-time professional foster parent.
While SOS Children’s Villages runs more than 2,100 facilities and programs worldwide, Illinois and Florida are the only two states in the U.S. that have villages.
Lockport was the first to become the site for one, when the SOS village opened in 1993.
“What is interesting is that at the very beginning, no one knew what it was. The local community didn’t know what it was. There was a lot of education,” McCormick said.
Lockport was chosen for three reasons, McCormick said: It provided a big enough footprint to create a village, there was an emerging need for foster care in the area, and there was community support.
The support has come from local volunteers and major companies, such as Imperial Crane Services.
The success of the SOS Children’s Village model in Lockport paved the way for future villages in Chicago, McCormick said. The organization has two villages in that city.
“I think, in many ways, Lockport was the very fertile ground to show in the state of Illinois how this process could work,” he said.
Raising foster children
The process has been rewarding for three foster parents, including Marbeth.
Michelle Haldeman, who’s worked at the Lockport SOS Village since the beginning, said the experience is rewarding as she sees her children change and grow. They have been integrated with her biological family and, as a result, have aunts and cousins.
“One of my kids, when she turned 6, she came to me and said ‘Someone called me a foster kid; what is that?’ She didn’t even know she was in foster care until later on,” Haldeman said.
When Joy Herth – a foster parent for five years in Lockport – was growing up, she always knew she wanted to work with children. She once struggled with knowing what she wanted to do with her life before focusing on working in a foster care agency.
When she discovered SOS Children’s Village, she knew it was where she wanted to be.
It’s not always easy raising foster children who will push back to see if a foster parent will truly stay with them, Herth said. Children will sometimes hit, fight and call others names.
“You always have to remind yourself of why you came in the first place,” she said.
McCormick said children in foster care today are the kind people see as more behaviorally and medically complex than in the past.
Before coming under the care of foster parents at SOS Children’s Village, those children already have met adults who have failed them, he said.
“It could be the school system, it could be their own biological parents, it could be other foster parents. … That child says, ‘Well, how are you going to be different than anyone else I’ve met?’ And they test that, and at some point in time they realize these people truly are authentically committed,” he said.
Foster parents work to be the child’s advocate when it comes to their education or health.
The children under Haldeman’s care do not attend the same schools, as she has sought to find the right one that will meet their needs, she said.
“They do very well. Once you find the correct placement for them, our kids flourish,” she said.
Marbeth said the children at SOS Children’s Villages need good foster parents who will dedicate part of their life for them. Some foster parents come and go and that’s not what they need, she said.
“They need somebody that’s going to be here a while for them. … Somebody that’s going to say, ‘You know what? I’m here for you. I understand that your parents can’t be here for you right now or your family can’t be here for you right now but we are here for you.’”
For information about the SOS Children’s Village in Lockport, visit www.sosillinois.org or call 815-740-7280. To learn about becoming an SOS Children’s Villages foster parent, go to www.sosillinois.org/contribute/careers.