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Couple honored by county as foster parents of the year

July 15, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Bobby and Tricia Coe have been foster parents for the past three years. They have sheltered about a dozen children in that time. For their efforts, they were named Washington County Foster Care Parents of the Year by the Washington County Department of Social Services.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

In many ways, they are typical children. Their favorite foods are macaroni and cheese and anything from McDonald's. They love to play video games and download the latest music. Some play baseball. Others like karate. And most of them have dreams. Maybe they'll be a movie star, a teacher, the next Kobe Bryant.

But these young people's lives are decidedly not typical, with the odds seriously stacked against them.

At an early age, many have been abused, neglected or abandoned and surrounded by the negative influences of adults unable to cope.

Love is a four-letter word they don't understand — until they step into the arms of a foster care parent.

For the past three years, Tricia Coe and her husband, Bobby, have nurtured about a dozen children whose innocence has been betrayed.

They've welcomed them into their home, fed them, clothed them and helped them navigate the challenges of their young lives.

Most importantly, they've worked hard to give them a future.

Being a foster care parent isn't easy and requires a special commitment, the Coes admit.

Each day can bring a new obstacle or even a new child at your front door.

But the Hagerstown couple wouldn't have it any other way.

"People say we have changed the lives of these children," Tricia Coe said. "They have it wrong. These children have changed our lives."

The couple's dedication to reaching out to the youngest members of the community hasn't gone unrecognized.

Recently, the Coes were named Washington County Foster Care Parents of the Year by the Washington County Department of Social Services.

Though thrilled with the recognition, "we were shocked, quite honestly," Coe said. "Being new resource parents and not having that many kids, we never would have hoped to even be nominated, much less be selected.  It is quite an honor."

But what set them apart was their devotion to keeping siblings together, which was the theme of this year's award.

"Too often, when children enter foster care, siblings are split up," Coe said. "I feel that siblings deserve to know about each other and have the best possible relationship. Anything my husband and I can do to facilitate sibling relationships among our children, we will do."

Coe knows first hand the love of foster and "forever" parents.

"I was a foster child who was adopted," she said. "Being a foster and adoptive parent is just something I always wanted to do. Luckily, Bobby was all for it. So we pursued it."

She also understands the importance of keeping siblings together.

Coe said she had two brothers and two sisters in her adoptive family.

"We were a close family and I treasure the childhood I had," she said. "I did, however, wonder if I had brothers and sisters out there somewhere. Ultimately, I found out that I have many of both. I'm the oldest of six children in my biological mother's family and the oldest of three in my biological father's family. Bobby grew up with three brothers and a sister. So family has always been important to both of us."

The Coes began the foster care licensing process about four years ago and Tricia Coe can vividly remember the couple's first foster child.

The child was in their home for only one night before being reunited with her family. But it was long enough for the Coes to realize this is what they were meant to do.

Since then, "we have provided foster care to about 12 children over the last three years," she noted. "Most of those were short-term placements. The ages of the kids we've had range from 2 years up to 17 years of age."

Coe said the couple has had twin teenage boys for a couple of months, and the day they left, "we were asked to take a pair of sisters. We were told it would be a long-term placement. And it was.  We adopted those two girls — Laiaunya, 16, and Ayana, 14, in April 2012, after they had been here two years."

The sisters' younger brother came to live with the Coes almost a year ago and the couple is in the process of adopting him, as well.

In addition, Coe said the children have an older brother who resides in an out-of-state treatment facility.

"He is like a son to us, also," she said. "We stay in touch through weekly phone calls, letters, packages, and we visit him as often as we are able to. We even took a 10-hour road trip to see him during the holidays."

Coe said the couple's family also includes her husband's adult children from a previous marriage, as well as four grandsons.

Although being a foster care parent can be challenging, Coe said "It's definitely rewarding. Seeing a child's face the first time they go to a farm or the first time they had a birthday party feels so good. Fostering and adopting our kids has been its own reward. These kids are so resilient, so determined and so amazing."

Coe said it takes a special commitment to be a foster-care parent, and her parents had that kind of commitment.

"They instilled it in me at an early age," she said. "I was helping feed and change babies for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate enough to marry a wonderful man who is equally committed to foster care."

With that commitment comes a special bond, Coe noted.

"You do develop a bond with each child who enters your home," she said. "You just have to hope you have done something good for them while they were here, and you wish them a bright and happy future."

After leaving the Coes,  some of the children make a point of keeping the couple up to date on what is going on in their lives.

"With social media, it's pretty easy to stay in contact," she said.

Coe said she and her husband received their award at a reception at Government House in Annapolis.

"In addition to a beautiful certificate, we had our picture taken with the governor's wife and our family was given a year's membership to the Baltimore zoo," she noted.

They also received a card and gift certificate from the Washington County Department of Social Services.

"The whole experience is something we will remember for a lifetime," Coe said.

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