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Foster Parent Profile: Willa Armour

In 1995, Willa Armour was taking a stroll on her lunch break through Severance Mall when she stopped at a table to learn more about Beech Brook’s foster care program. Since her three children were growing up and out of the house, she thought it sounded like a good idea. Soon after she went through training and received her license, she became a foster parent to the first of many children.

Her first child was a young girl who was very sweet and quiet. She had never been in school until she came to Willa at the age of 8, but she demonstrated such a high level of intelligence that she skipped a grade. While she returned to her biological family for a time, she ended up back in Willa’s care. Eventually, Willa officially adopted her, even though she had been a part of the family since the first time she arrived.

In her 18 years as a foster parent, Willa has provided a safe and loving home to over 20 children and teens. She has never once had a child removed from her care due to disobedience or other issues. She gives much credit to Beech Brook’s support. “The training is beautiful,” she says. “I have never called and not gotten the help I need.”

Last winter when her current foster son, a teenage boy, needed emergency surgery on Christmas day, Willa immediately called Beech Brook. “It was the smoothest sail due to Beech Brook,” she says. “I have never ever been stressed during an emergency because they are always there.” Being a parent who has never been stressed is rare, but Willa’s testimony demonstrates how foster care employees understand the necessity of ongoing support and strong relationships with families.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me boys are so much easier?” Willa asks with a laugh as she fondly remembers the first foster son she ever had after ten years of girls. Matthew was a smart and lovable 5-year-old who had been the product of a violent home. “He was an old man in a child’s body,” she describes Matthew’s intelligence and outgoing personality.  Everyone at church, in the neighborhood and at the grocery store knew Matthew and loved him almost as much as Willa did.

While Matthew was with Willa, Beech Brook hosted mixers for potential adoptive parents and foster children to interact. He only attended one mixer and part of Willa was okay with that because she wanted to adopt him, but she knew the age difference would be too much. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to adopt him,” she says. “He was a young boy who needed to be active.”

At the mixer he did attend, a nice couple fell in love with Matthew, as do most people he encounters. It has been two years since they adopted Matthew, and he is enjoying a life full of activity with his loving parents. Now 12, Matthew still visits Willa regularly. She considers herself an extended grandmother and couldn’t be happier for Matthew and his family.

Matthew is not the only one that still visits “Nan,” as most of her foster children call her. All of them still come to her when they need help, but mostly when they need a good home-cooked meal. Willa always makes sure to find out a child’s favorite meal, and based on how they keep coming back for seconds and thirds, it’s safe to assume she does a fine job in the kitchen.

The most important thing Willa has learned over the years is patience. “I wasn’t patient until I met these children who have been in charge of their own lives and missed out on so much of childhood,” she explains, noting the patience it takes as they navigate the transition to just being a kid for the first time. “It is important to provide them with a lot of encouragement,” she advocates, noting the lack of self-confidence in most foster children. Willa serves on Beech Brook’s foster parent board, which meets once a month to discuss best practices, issues and ideas for recruiting new foster parents. She also participates in Beech Brook’s mentoring program in which experienced foster parents provide guidance to newer ones. Any new foster parent would be lucky to have Willa as a mentor, as she is someone who truly understands these children and how to successfully care for them.

“The Bible tells you that when things have been good for you, you’re supposed to do good back,” Willa explains her lengthy duration as a foster parent. She praises Beech Brook for their training and ongoing support, and she has definitely learned plenty of lessons on her own. There is no doubt that she has made a difference in each and every one of her children’s lives over the years, although she swears they’re the ones who have changed hers. When asked how long she plans on remaining a foster parent, she simply responds, “As long as I can, the kids keep me young.”