‘I will continue … as long as my health will allow’

Lillian Baker also knows the challenges of fostering alone, especially as a widow. Her own beloved Robert died five years ago. The couple began fostering in 1998, when they received custody and then adopted their young grandson. Before that, he’d been in the foster care system, and it was his stories about that experience that inspired Lillian and Robert to give back.

“We wanted to help children,” she said. “We decided then to be the best we could be and to try to understand how a child feels to be taken from their home and placed in a home where they know nothing about the people.”

They started with taking care of both boys and girls, then just girls. Neither seemed a good fit, so they switched to teenaged boys, most often troubled ones. With their three biological children grown and gone, they usually kept four boys at a time, along with their grandson. Lillian figures they fostered hundreds of young men over the decades. Over time, they began asking to go to the Baker home, where they were always treated with love and respect.

“Most often, kids just want a good ear, someone who will listen,” Lillian said. “They don’t need our opinion on everything; they just want someone they can talk to and who will understand what they’re saying.”

Still, Robert’s passing made a big difference. Suddenly a single parent, Lillian had to make some adjustments. Robert had provided a strong male figure in the house, something teenaged boys often need. But Lillian was up to the task.

“One rule I’ve always tried to follow is to ‘say what you mean and mean what you say – and stand on it,’” she said. “When a kid walks through my door, I introduce myself. I tell them they can call me ‘Miss Lillian’ or ‘Miss Baker,’ what I call ‘putting a handle on it.’ It’s a measure of respect. If you give respect to kids, most of the time, you’ll get it back. I’ve been blessed and fortunate that I’ve had no problems with any of the boys I’ve taken care of since Robert’s death.”

At 65, Lillian can’t keep up with those boys as well as she used to, so now she primarily takes emergency placements.

“When you’re a permanent home, you have to go to doctor appointments and such, and it’s hard right now for me to meet those needs,” she said. “But I will continue to give back as long as I can, as long as my health will allow. I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t take much to make a child happy. He just needs to feel that you care about him and that you understand him. So, Robert and I always tried to listen hard and to remember what it was like to be a child.”

This story originally appeared in the 75th anniversary issue of Hi-Lites. You can view past HiLites here.