Richer and Better with Them

Please note that some names and other identifying information in these stories have been altered to protect the confidentiality of those involved.

Written by Emma B.

A few weeks before Christmas almost a decade ago, Candace received a call asking if she could take a 16-year-old teenage girl for the holidays. Her name was Fiona. 

Candace Johndrow is now the Vice President of the Hope division at Family Service of RI.  It was her work that led her eight years ago to become a mentor for teen girls in the foster system. It was through this mentoring program that she decided she wanted to foster. She had recently finished fostering her first placement with one of her previous mentees when she was asked to take in Fiona.  

“The first day that Fiona moved in I was happy to have her,” Candace recalls. Fiona on the other hand was less sure. “She shows up and she’s standing in the yard and she doesn’t want to come into the house. She was not terrified but she was very timid and nervous. She came in with the State Department of Children Youth and Family Services (DCYF) worker and sat on the opposite side of the couch.”  

“For the first couple days, she would ask if she could use the restroom, she would ask if she could have water, she would ask if she could leave her room. She was very, very conditioned from where she came from to kind of be invisible…to where she couldn’t do anything by herself and she didn’t feel very powerful.”  

However, with Candace’s help Fiona was able to quickly feel at home.  

 “Within two weeks,” Candace shared, “we were singing songs together and she got up early one morning and started making pancakes… Fiona was only meant to be with me for a few weeks but it worked out really well. She asked if she could stay and I was grateful she was staying and our relationship took off from there.”  

Candace always had room for two so over the next few years she continued to foster other teen girls, most of them working towards reunification or a kinship placement. But Fiona remained a constant. Finally, after two years together and a few weeks after Fiona’s 18th birthday, Candace adopted her.  

Less than a year later that 15-year-old Amelia came to stay with them. Amelia, much like Fiona, was initially quiet.  “Most of the teen girls who come into my home never truly know themselves and they’re either passive and quiet and don’t seem to have much of a voice yet or everything is outward and loud. To me, both are consequences of not having true confidence and knowing their worth, but when you can help someone stay safe for a while you see their growth,” Candace explains.  

Under Candace’s love, care, and support Amelia began to experience this growth, something Candace refers to as “finding your swagger” which she describes as “the day you see a change within these young women when they start to feel more confident, and when they start to better understand themselves. When they believe they have value and that they trust you. It’s a hard thing to explain but it’s a vibe in the air and a look in their eye and it’s a swagger in their step, and it takes time for that to grow but when you first start seeing that it feels really good.” 

While Amelia very much wanted to go home to her birth mom and reunification was initially the goal, she and Candace still had an extremely close and loving relationship.  Unfortunately, Amelia’s birth mom’s rights were terminated due to some troubles she was unable to resolve.  At that time, Amelia asked Candace to adopt her as well.  

Today Fiona is in cosmetology school, and Amelia lives in her own apartment while working part-time and attending CCRI to get her bachelor’s degree. They continue to have family dinners with Candace every week and remain extremely close.  

“I’m meant to be their mom and my life is so much richer and better.  There is no part of my life they haven’t touched in a deeply positive way,” Candace remarked “I encourage everyone and anyone to give it a whirl and do not think you have to be some perfect person. I encourage anyone interested to reach out and learn more.”  

There is no one right path. Candace began by volunteering as a mentor and then decided to become a foster parent for girls working towards reunification, before eventually adopting her two daughters.  Other foster parents have different stories and different fostering journeys.  

Connect with FSRI today to start your path toward helping a child in need. To learn more about what is means to foster, please give us a ring at 401-900-8499. 

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