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Family opens hearts and home

October 30, 1999



How to become a foster parent



To become a foster parent through the Washington County Department of Social Services, you must:

* Be at least 21 years old.

* Be in good health.

* Be able to meet your family's financial obligations.

* Be able to pass a home health and fire inspection.

* Agree not to use physical punishment.

* Agree to a criminal background check.

* Complete training requirements.

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Interested persons can call 240-420-2143.

Related Stories:

-- Adoption in Washington County

-- Adoption reforms


By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

Joey Kegarise knows he is special. His parents tell him so- all the time.

Hagerstown residents Bob and Diana Kegarise adopted Joey, 5, and his sister, Caitlin, 2, through the Washington County Department of Social Services.

"God has sent us angels," said Diana Kegarise, 43. "I wonder what our life would be like without them."

The Kegarises have served as foster parents to 12 children referred to them by the county agency since they adopted Joey. They are now sheltering three foster kids, ages 5, 9 and 11.

"They all want to be loved and want somebody to love," Diana Kegarise said. "There's so many needy kids out there- the number is staggering just in Washington County- and we thought we could make a difference," she said.

Fostering and adopting children in need isn't something the Kegarises ever thought they would do, they said.

Diana was satisfied with her career in home health care and Bob was happy with his 30-year job as a truck driver for Martin's Elevator Inc.

The couple had already raised Bob's sons- Jason, 27, and Jeremy, 24- and reared their birth children, Robbie, 22, and Bradley, 20.

"We had that big dream for our kids to grow up into productive members of society so we could travel and go," Diana Kegarise said.

Then baby Joey was in Diana's arms when Bob came home from work one day in 1994. His niece was unable to care for her newborn son, and asked Diana to take him, she said.

The couple went through the county DSS to "prepare us for what we were getting into," she said.

The agency then recommended a home care worker from Washington County Early Intervention Services to help the Kegarises deal with the special needs child.

Joey is a higher functioning autistic child who also suffers from epilepsy and bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, Diana Kegarise said.

The youngster underwent surgery to close the soft spot on his skull, didn't speak until he was almost 3 and wasn't toilet trained until after age 3, she said.

Diana Kegarise quit her job to attend to Joey's needs, and the change in the household landscape created some stresses, she said.

Bradley Kegarise was 15 when Joey entered his life, and the Kegarises' youngest birth child didn't like the new addition one bit, he said.

"I was jealous. It was a big adjustment."

Many foster kids followed Joey into the Kegarise home, including three-week-old Caitlin in 1997.

"God love Bob. He could go to work and have five kids here and come home to 10, and he never bats an eye," said Diana Kegarise. "He's my rock."

The bi-racial infant of a crack-addicted mother, Caitlin's medical needs were even more extensive than Joey's, Diana Kegarise said.

Cabbage Patch doll clothes fit the infant, who was born four months premature, weighed little more than three pounds, and suffered from apnea.

Some people in the community have given the Kegarises "looks" when they see the white parents with their mixed race adoptive daughter, but, "To me, Doodles is my child," said Bob Kegarise, 47.

"You can't go into this thinking it's going to be a piece of cake. It isn't," Diana Kegarise said.

Despite the obstacles, the Kegarises never considered letting Joey or Caitlin go, they said.

The "very complex and congenial" Joey is now enrolled in kindergarten at Salem Avenue Elementary, Diana Kegarise said.

Caitlin still suffers from mild cerebral palsy, but her other medical problems are now clear, Diana Kegarise said.

"Big Brother Brad" and his fiancee take Joey everywhere with them, and the foster care experience has had such a positive impact on Bradley he has switched his college major from law to elementary education, he said.

"We're loving life," Diana Kegarise said. "People really expect us to be June and Ward Cleaver, and we're not. We're just like you. We just opened up our home and our hearts to kids who need to be needed."

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