It’s been said that “timing is everything.” Consider how often a chance encounter has altered the direction of a life – or lives? Kim Johnson never saw it coming, yet five years ago she embarked on a journey that has provided hope and empowerment to dozens of youths in foster care – while healing herself along the way.
“So, I have this close friend by the name of Rochelle,” said Kim. “I’ve known her all my life, but she just came back into my life about six years ago. At the time, she happened to be president of the Foster Care Association of Oklahoma. One of her foster kids became best friends with one of my biological children, and Rochelle said, ‘You know, she has a sister, and if you would open your home and start fostering, we could move her sister up here in Moore to be with her.’”
A single mother of two teenaged girls, living paycheck to paycheck, Kim protested. “They’ll never approve me,” she said. Rochelle persisted. Finally, Kim said, “Whatever. I’ll do it just to shut you up.”
But Saint Francis didn’t care about Kim’s marital state. More importantly, could she properly care for the children in her care? Could she love them? Within three months of licensing, she received her first placement – a teenaged girl. It was a rough start.
“It was kind of crazy,” said Kim. “I didn’t know how to foster a kid that wasn’t my own, and I remember being on the phone with Rochelle, crying, ‘They’re talking about me, they’re making fun of me!’ She’d say, ‘You’ve got to brush that off, they’re teenagers. They’re going to do that.”
That was then. Now, Kim rarely turns a child away, especially if the alternative is a shelter. She’d rather fill her home with beds, and her home has become a sanctuary of sorts for teenaged girls.
“This is an all-female house, even the dogs and cats. We have plenty of hormones in here. We’ve had at least five girls in here using one bathroom … so you can imagine how fun that is,” Kim said, grinning.
Over the last five years, she’s fostered around 10 long-term placements, ranging in ages from 12 to 17. Several have aged out of the foster care system while in her home. She’s also provided respite care for countless other children, some of whom have been babies and toddlers. She’s currently fostering two girls, 13 and 14. All this Kim has done while raising her two daughters, Marissa, 21, and Mariah, 18.
One of those long-term placements was Brianna.
“She came here when she was 13,” said Kim. “I found out that she had been in more than 25 different placements. What bothered me most was that she would be placed in an adoptive home – where the family would tell her they were going to adopt her – but then she’d do some typical teenager thing, and they’d tell her to leave. That’s why she’d had so many placements.”
After a year of living with Kim, her permanency worker mentioned that Brianna would soon be moved to yet another adoptive home. Kim couldn’t bear the thought of Brianna dealing with another disappointment.
“I said, ‘I didn’t get into fostering to adopt, but you’re not going to tell me this child has to move again. This is home. Don’t make her leave again.’”
So, she decided to adopt Brianna herself.
For the entire year, she’d lived with Kim, Brianna had kept a closed box in her closet. Inside were personal items of particular importance and meaning to her. Often, when children in foster care are placed in a new home, the move occurs with little advance notice. After so many placements, Brianna had grown used to having to leave quickly. It became easier to just keep her stuff packed in the box.
“I’ll never forget the day I told her that I’d signed the paperwork for her adoption,” said Kim. “She went into her closet, removed the box, and unpacked it for the first time. This is her home, and no matter what she does, I will love her.”
Yet, Kim is proof that fostering doesn’t just change children’s lives.
“Fostering saved me,” she said. “When I first became a foster parent, I told Rochelle that she came back into my life for a reason. About six months prior, I had just gotten out of a very abusive seven-year-long relationship. Eventually, it got so bad, I had to tell him to leave. After that, I became very depressed. But when I started caring for others instead of lying around worrying about what was wrong with me, and when I saw that other people had trauma greater than my own, it saved me. It got me out of my funk.”
That’s why she sees empowerment as one of her most important responsibilities to the girls she fosters.
“I tell them all, ‘You’re not a victim in this home. I will treat you just like I treat my biological children, but I will not treat you like a victim.’ I want to teach these girls to say, ‘I’m great. I’m powerful. I can face the world and all the challenges that lie ahead of me.’
“They just need love and a normal lifestyle. That’s all it usually takes.”