Dana and Dave Williams just celebrated their tenth anniversary. In that time, they've had 120 children.
That's not a misprint. When the couple married, they learned they couldn't have children and decided they'd like to adopt. The classes they had to attend in Walker County in order to adopt were the same ones required for becoming foster parents. They ended up doing both – in a big way.
The Williams' journey started with a few short-term foster children who needed a place to stay for just a weekend or so. Then Grace came along. She was two years old. "She pitched terrible fits for two weeks," says Dana. "Dave said he didn't think he could handle it, but I asked him to give me just one more month." The couple adopted Grace two years later. It wasn't long before they'd adopted two more young children and two older children, and had fostered dozens more.
Dana and Dave met at the bank where Dana worked as a teller. "I never had any intention of getting married," says Dave. Nevertheless, three months after their first date, the two were engaged, and Dave, who works as a warehouse manager, took to marriage and fatherhood like a fish to water.
Now, at 34 and 37 years old, Dana and Dave are one of just 23 foster families in Walker County. The make-up of their family can change at any moment. "We never know when we'll get a call from DFCS asking us if we can take a child," says Dana. The couple almost always says yes.
"We keep a stockpile of clothes in all different sizes, toiletries, anything we might need, so we're prepared for whatever child might come our way," says Dave.
According to NaTasha Christian, who serves as resource developer for Walker County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) under County Director Teresa Hughes, as of Aug. 25, 159 Walker County children were in the foster care system, but
Foster Care in Georgia, Region 1
(as of 8/25/17) There are 11 counties in Region 1: Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Pickens, Walker, Whitfield Georgia children in foster care: 13,680 Children in foster care, Region 1: 1301 Children in foster care, Walker County: 159 Children in foster care, Catoosa County: 143
due to a shortage of foster parents, only a small portion of those children are living in foster homes within the county at this time.
"We're part of an 11-county region," says Christian. "When a home can't be found within the county, we start branching out and looking in other parts of our region."
That means, says Christian, that children can end up as far away as Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens or Cherokee counties. "It's not good for the children, their families or us," Christian says. "It makes visitation, court dates and our monthly DFCS visits with the children difficult."
Christian says the first goal of DFCS when a call is received about a child possibly at risk is to make sure the child is safe. "From there," says Christian, "we start working with the family. That often involves drug or alcohol treatment programs and parenting classes, stabilizing living and working conditions to make sure a child will be provided for. There are so many different situations, so there's a lot to consider."
The primary desire of DFCS, says Christian, is to see children returned to stable, loving homes. Sadly, that is often not possible when parents can't seem to overcome addictions or abusive behavior, so their children remain in the foster care system.
"We have the best foster parents in Walker County," says Christian. "But we need more of them. We're always looking for more foster homes so we can keep children close to their families and close to us."
Dana and Dave Williams have as high an opinion of Christian as she does of them. "She's been just great," says Dana. "You can call her any time of the day or night. She's always there for you."
Support is a vital part of foster care and it's a complex network, both formal and informal.
Dana and Dave say they're especially fortunate to have their families firmly behind what they're doing. "My mother will call a couple of days before Christmas to see if we have any new children staying with us so she's sure to get them gifts, too," says Dana.
In 2014, the Williamses faced one of their biggest challenges. Their house burned to the ground. "I had the younger kids with me," says Dana. "Three teenagers were at home, but they all got out okay." The fire was caused by a faulty dryer vent.
DFCS offered to place the children in other homes while Dave and Dana got back on their feet, but the couple declined. The family stayed with Dave's mother for a while then rented a place while their home was rebuilt.
The fire turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "I was able to design the new house," says Dave, "to better suit our needs." In their previous house, Dave had been turning every available nook and cranny, including a foyer and the dining room, into a bedroom. To accommodate the crowd they always had for mealtimes, Dave had nailed two pieces of plywood to their existing table and Dana had covered it with a plastic tablecloth from a dollar store.
It took ten months to rebuild, but the end result was a roomy home with nine bedrooms and a large basement, a table that seats twelve, a long porch the kids can play on and many other improvements over their previous house.
The open-floor-plan kitchen-dining room-living room is especially nice, since Dana and Dave are big on celebrations and often have company, including former foster children, in addition to their own current configuration of children. "We like to celebrate birthdays," says Dana. "One of the first things we find out about a child is when his or her birthday is. Even if it's the day they come to us, we rush around and pull together a party."
Besides the enthusiastic support they get from their families and their church, Dana and Dave are part of a group of foster and adoptive parents, Walker County Foster Adoptive Parents Association, that keep in constant contact with one another through Facebook, by phone and text and in person. "If one of us has a situation we've never faced or we're just overwhelmed, there's always someone who can help," says Dana. The group also has picnics and get-togethers for entire families.
Then there are the families that have had their children removed from their homes. Often, the parents are allowed visitation with their children, sometimes for a few hours at a time, sometimes for weekends.
Dana likes to stay in touch with the children's families. "I'll text the mom pictures of the kids, let her know how they're doing. If they're going home for a weekend visit, I put things in their backpack, like school work and art projects, for the parents to see."
Christian says that when a family can be reunited, it's a happy day for everyone. "We had one set of parents who worked really hard to get their kids back. They got off drugs, got a house. They're doing great."
Those children had stayed with the Williamses for six months. "We keep in touch," says Dana. "They still come to visit and come over for birthday parties."
The peace of the Williams' home belies the amount of work involved in fostering a lot of children. Days are filled with things the average family doesn't usually deal with – many visits to doctors, counselors, court, getting kids ready to visit their natural parents and often dealing with behavioral issues when they return, paperwork, social worker visits.
"Nighttime is hard for young children," says Dana. "They need a lot of comfort." Sometimes an older child will run away, and all the children need a lot of TLC.
Dana says her grocery bill averages $250 a week. She does one big shopping order a week, then she or Dave pick up extras as needed. "We go through a lot of milk," says Dave. The children help cook and they all have a few chores. The family eats all meals at home, because the cost and logistics of eating out with so many children is too much.
After 120 children, you would think Dave and Dana would be losing steam, but they're not – they're more like "full steam ahead."
The couple recently established a non profit organization, Our Kindred Community, to work toward helping children who are ageing out of the foster care system but need a family and support. Their plan is to turn their basement into living quarters for girls and a nearby house they're in the process of buying into living quarters for boys. Their mission statement for this new project: "We exist to connect young adults who have aged out of foster care, or for any other reason lack a healthy support system, with families willing to embrace lifelong relationships."
Dave and Dana have advice for others who feel moved to help children in difficult circumstances, "Fostering is the hardest, most rewarding thing you'll ever do, but you don't have to do it like we do. If you have room, do weekends or respite or short-term care."
The second and fourth Thursdays of every month, NaTasha Christian offers a one-hour overview of how to be a foster parent. She covers the different types of fostering, responsibilities, training requirements, support services and answers any questions someone might have. "We need all kinds of foster parents," says Christian, "loving people who can open their hearts and homes to children in need."
To learn more about foster care in Walker County, readers can call NaTasha Christian at 423-355-8097 or email her at natasha. firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Our Kindred Community, visit their Facebook page at: facebook.com/ourkindredcommunity.
After the recent qualifying period for the Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe city elections, two new faces will seek seats in Ringgold, while three incumbents will run uncontested in Fort Oglethorpe.
Ringgold's City Council election, which has two at-large seats open, saw incumbents Randall Franks and Jake Haynes qualify, as well as candidates Kelly Bomar and Rhonda Swaney.
Bomar, a music teacher, Gray and Swaney, a speech-language pathologist, will try to garner enough votes to win seats in the atlarge process, which will award the seats to the top two vote-getters among the four, rather than candidates running for a specific ward like in Fort Oglethorpe.
Mayor Nick Millwood says he has a lot of respect for anyone who has the courage to run for public office.
"I truly appreciate all these candidates putting their names in the hat and showing their love for our community," Millwood said. "Elections are so exciting."
Across the county in Fort Oglethorpe, no new candidates qualified to run against incumbents Jim Childs, Craig Crawford, and Paula Stinnett, who will run unopposed in their quest to keep their Wards 2, 3, and 5 seats.
During Monday night's council meeting, Mayor Earl Gray said that this qualifying period was very telling of the stability that now exists in Fort Oglethorpe. "Congratulations to Ms. Stinnett, Mr. Childs, and Mr. Crawford," Gray said. "The scheduled election, thankfully we're not going to have to have because there was no opposition. I think that speaks highly of their job that they've done and the job that our city manager and other council members have done. I'd like to thank members of the council for that. Y'all's decisions are why we didn't have any opposition this time. That shows that we've got a good crew here that's working hard for the citizens, and I think the citizens recognize that, so congratulations."
Early voting will run from Oct. 13 through Nov. 3, with the general election to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Catoosa County commissioners recently approved the purchase of more than $2.5 million worth of trucks and equipment for its fire department.
During the Aug. 15 Board of Commissioers meeting, Fire Chief Randy Camp explained that the county is getting close to bidding out the remodel construction of Fire Station 3 located on U.S. Highway 41.
In addition to that pending work, Camp presented the commission with the bid results for 11 new vehicles; five pumper trucks, and six smaller, more frequently used trucks.
"We went out for bid for the pumper tanker project, and the budget for that was $1,750,000," Camp explained. "After a detailed review of specifications, we've selected the bid of Rosenbauer South Dakota LLC. They were the second lowest bid of the six bids received. Our recommendation is to purchase five pumper tankers from Rosenbauer, and the actual cost is $1,647,450."
Camp explained that the purchase would be covered through SPLOST funds.
"The money that is currently available in SPLOST is $1.1 million from 2009, the SPLOST availability from 2014 is $1.5 million, so the total funds available of $2,729,000," Camp said.
Camp says the last purchase of such trucks was in 2008.
In addition to the pumper trucks, the commission also unanimously approved the purchase of five smaller service trucks and one air light unit, which acts as a mobile breathing unit that can also provide lighting to scenes.
Camp said the budget for that purchase was $920,000, but that the low bid saved the county a little bit of money when it came in at $862,060 from Custom Truck and Body Works Inc., based in Woodbury, Ga.
The commission also opted to add lighting towers to five of the six smaller vehicles for an additional $46,000, bringing the total fire department expenditure approval to $2,555,510.
Commissioner Ray Johnson asked for and received clarification from Camp that the new smaller vehicles will see most of the action on calls.
"These units probably respond to about 75 percent of our calls," Camp said. "This should add longevity to the bigger trucks and lower maintenance costs on our engines."
Commissioner Jim Cutler pointed out that the available money Camp discussed has already been earmarked for such purchases.
"These are designated funds for the fire department, so we have to spend them. ... I mean, we don't have to, but if we spend them, they have to be spent on the fire department."
Camp says the new trucks will be staggered among the county stations.