DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — On the chalkboard tucked in the corner of the dining room, where the family unfailingly gathers around the table for supper every night, appears a prayer. “Bless the food before us, the family beside us and the love between us. Amen.”
The message greeted two young Hispanic children as they learned the alphabet, a pregnant teenager and a 3-year-old girl, who talked every day about the aunt that ended up adopting her.
Those faces around the table at the home of Steve and Jamie Reeves in southeast Decatur change, but the message of love, acceptance and the importance of family remains the same.
“Foster care is an eye opener. You don’t realize how other people live unless you live that lifestyle with them. You don’t realize how bad other people have it right in your backyard,” Jamie Reeves said. “We know that when the children come into our home, it could be the only time in their lives when they feel 100 percent safe, secure and loved.”
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For the past five years ago, the Reeves offered their home as a safe haven to 16 foster children. Some stay for a few days, some for a few weeks, some for a few months. For one young girl, Hunter, the stay became permanent when the Reeves adopted her last year on Nov. 28.
“When we got into fostering, we got into it to foster only. We didn’t have any intentions to adopt. But, then, the first placement we had, even though we asked for ages 4 and younger, was a teenager and she was pregnant,” Jamie Reeves said.
The teenager, who gave birth while in the Reeves’ care, stayed with the family with her infant daughter for two years. When the teenager decided she was unable to be the parent her daughter needed, the social worker contacted Steve and Jamie. Would they consider adopting the child, the social worker asked.
They answered immediately.
“There was no question. We already felt like she was part of our family. We heard her cries as a baby and watched her learn to crawl, walk and talk. Of course we wanted her,” Steve Reeves said.
For the Reeves, the journey to adoption began in 2012 when Steve, who had two adult daughters, Jessica and Emily, and a granddaughter, Lenox, married Jamie, who had a 6-year-old daughter, Maysen. They talked about the future and the possibility of more children. While Jamie wanted to expand their family, Steve was uncertain.
They found a middle ground in foster care. After 10 three-hour classes, the Reeves attained certification and became one of 40 foster care families in Morgan County.
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, 141 children in Morgan County, 128 in Limestone County and 26 in Lawrence County spent time in foster care in 2016. Last year, the Department of Human Resources placed 37 percent of children in foster care because of parental drug abuse. That is an increase from 11.5 percent in 2006.
“We have a pretty normal home, everything is clean and there is a routine. A lot of the kids we take in, this is not normal. We had one girl that thought when we got together with my family that it was all a show for her. Spending time with family was not normal for her,” Steve Reeves said. “We got into foster care because we want to do good for kids. It’s a hard commitment and a big sacrifice, but it’s worth it. These are just kids. They don’t get to choose their parents.”
Jamie Reeves knows intimately the struggles children face. She heard the stories of neglect, abuse and hardships while serving on the board of directors for Decatur Charity League, Parents and Children Together and CASA of North Alabama, a nonprofit organization focused on meeting the needs of children in foster care. She also volunteered with Families and Children Experiencing Separation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County.
For her dedication to child advocacy, Jamie Reeves received the 2017 Alabama Realtors for Children Award.
“I was shocked that someone would give me an award for something I love to do and something that has brought me so much joy,” Jamie Reeves said.
Along with impacting the lives of children in their home, foster care shaped Steve and Jamie.
“Being a foster parent has taught me a lot of stuff. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m enjoying it,” Steve Reeves said. “I try to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Hunter and the foster children. I didn’t do that with my other kids. When they were growing up, I was young, trying to make money, have a career and provide for my family. I see the importance of spending time with them now.”
Emily Reeves noticed the change in her father.
“It is like night and day. I’ve seen good changes in my dad,” she said. “He is more involved, compassionate and puts others first. I’m really proud of Dad and Jamie for becoming foster parents.”
Through their actions, Steve and Jamie are teaching their children the lessons of compassion and acceptance. Jamie’s biological daughter, Maysen, 11, who Steve adopted, plays an important role in the family’s foster care outreach.
“Every time DHR calls, Maysen is whispering in my ear, ‘Say yes, say yes.’ If it was up to her, we would take in every child that came into foster care,” Jamie Reeves said. “Every time we get a new child, she goes with me. She is like their comfort because she is a child, too.”
On Thanksgiving, the Reeves family will gather around the dining room table and offer prayers of thanks for their biological, adopted and foster children.
“We are so thankful for our family, our relationship with God and our church,” Steve Reeves said.
“We are thankful for adoption. We are so fortunate to have this little spitfire in our life. She has brought us so much joy,” Jamie Reeves said. “Foster care and adoption has been a blessing for us. Our mission as a family is to love on people, and that is what foster care allows us.”