This holiday season, many of the 14,000 children and families we serve are in need of holiday cheer, meals, and gifts. We are lucky to have wonderful clients such as Clayda Nicholas, who is opening her heart and home to a houseful of children in foster care. We hope this story will inspire you and perhaps also inspire you to give back to Hillsides during this time of year to make other children’s dreams come true and experience a loving household.
By Alison Bell
Six children. This number sounds like a lot to most people, but not to Clayda Nicholas, a resource (foster) parent for Hillsides’ affiliate, Bienvenidos.
Six is the number of nieces and nephews she took care of when her brother was in the military and her sister-in-law sidelined with cancer. And six is the number of children in foster care she filled her house with after her nieces and nephews returned to their parents.
“When my brothers’ kids left, I was melancholy,” she recalled. “I had a big house with seven bedrooms, but it was empty.”
Her mother, a social worker, suggested she become a resource parent and referred her to Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption program located in Pasadena, California. “Naturally I had a few concerns, but the staff there made me feel at ease,” said Nicholas.
After six months of training, she became a licensed resource parent. Soon afterwards, she received a call from Bienvenidos social worker Sandra Zuniga. Zuniga started the conversation hesitantly, saying in a tentative voice, “I know you just got out of training and it’s a lot to ask, but I have a set of siblings, and there are six of them…” The children’s ages ranged from 9 to 16, and they needed a place to live.
Without hesitation, Nicholas said yes, she would take the children. She quickly went to work, transforming her house from boy-centric (her brother had five boys and one girl) to girl-oriented (the new family had five girls and one boy). Within days, the children moved in. Used to sharing one room, they were thrilled to each have their own bedroom, and the six quickly settled in to their new home. “I was blessed by them – they were so sweet,” said Nicholas.
Three months later, their grandmother gained custody of them. While Nicholas felt a stab of pain at losing them, she was also happy they were going to a good home.
She didn’t have long to dwell on her feelings, however. A day or two later, Bienvenidos sent four siblings and a set of twins to live with her. They wound up staying a few months, before being replaced with another six children in need of a loving home.
Currently Nicholas’ house is filled with five children (one was just placed so she will soon be getting a sixth), two of whom are siblings sets. She never turns down siblings because she understands the value of being with those you love. “You already have had the loss of your house and your parents, so it’s important to be with those you are related to,” she said. “Siblings need to be kept together.”
Over the two years she’s been a resource parent, she has helped raise some 25 children. She sees herself as a second mom. When new children come into her home, she tells them, “I don’t know how long you will be here and we may not know much about each other, but let’s take it as a learning experience and make the best of it.” She explains to children that just like in their previous homes, there are rules – she expects them to do chores, go to school, and keep up good grades. Usually kids are shy and standoffish at first. However Nicholas’ self-described “big, maternal heart” wins them over.
Nicholas believes that many people have the wrong idea about being a foster parent. “People see it as a job, but it’s much more than that. These are children who need you to be their parent. It’s not a job, it’s about providing a child with a home and the same care you would give your own children,” she said.
Nicholas says one of the most rewarding aspects of being a resource parent is maintaining relationships with the children after they leave. She spent last Mother’s Day with the original six siblings she fostered, and another youth who lived with her for six months spends the holidays with her. “It gives me such an immense extended family,” she said.
Since becoming a resource parent, Nicholas has moved from the six-bedroom house to smaller one with four bedrooms. Despite the downsizing, one key element remains the same. The house can still easily accommodate that magic number of children she likes in her life – six.
To support children in foster care, as well as thousands of children and families in need we serve, please visit: http://bit.ly/hillsidesholidaygiving.