When did you meet? July 2013
Where did you meet? Princess Cruise Lines. Andrew was a personal trainer and Janelle was on an Alaskan Cruise with her family.
Who was interested first? Both.
When did you get married? May 2014
Valentine’s Day celebration? Our son was at a birthday party, so we took the three girls ice skating! It was Rose’s and Ella's first time and it was incredible the JOY we experienced seeing their confidence grow and then soar on the ice.
What did you love first about Andrew? Besides his English accent? I love his positive spin on life and entrepreneurial spirit.
What did you love first about Janelle? Janelle has a light about her!
What’s your favorite thing to do together? Outdoor activities- especially skiing and biking. Working out. Traveling whenever we have the chance!
How did you work together to finish the licensing process? We fit it in the nooks and crannies! We had support from another family to help with the kids while we went to training. That was incredible!
How did becoming foster parents impact your marriage? It tested our marriage. We are thankful Project 127 didn’t sugar coat anything in the training. If our marriage, our communication, hadn't already been in a good place, I honestly don’t know if we would have made it through the way we did. We both sought outside counseling/coaching to have outside perspective and wisdom. That was the best money we have spent.
Tell us about your kids. Anja is 10.5, Rose and Kade are both 9, one week apart to the day and hour! Ella is 8. January is our "triplet" month, when the younger three are all the same age. Fun! (But I still haven’t figured out how to plan that many birthday parties.) When we were in Foster Training, we were asked what kind of kids we were hoping to foster. We were being a bit silly and made a comment that we were looking for kids who liked to bike and ski. Well, our two new daughters love nothing more than to bike and ski! So many metaphors for life being tough and God giving us strength to overcome are being learned as the girls have now skied their first "double black" and earned the BLACK ski hat.
How have your kids impacted your marriage? Our marriage has been made richer - because of the tough times, the arguments, the frustrations with each other, the working it out - we feel more grounded, more stable for life's storms.
How do you show your kids how much you love each other? We hug lots in front of them. We talk about how we feel about each other in front of them. We want them to know that we, too, have hard times and God has given us His strength when we feel weak. We assure the kids our marriage is #1 and then it's them. They see us have date nights and take trips just the two of us. Our goal is that they trust our words and feel our love.
What were some fostering challenges you faced together? The system is super frustrating. It was hard to see past the "broken” system" some days, especially when we were so ready for our girls to start building up a more secure identity.
How did you support each other through the hard days as foster parents? This we are passionate about! We “kick each other out” often. We each chose a healthy outlet activity and made sure it was happening every day. Or MOST every day. For Andrew it is getting out on his mountain bike. For Janelle it is hitting the gym first thing in the morning.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about Andrew as you parent together? Andrew is consistent. I knew that about him when we first met on the cruise ship, and as we emailed and spoke on the phone while dating. He was true to his word. Now that we are parents, it is that exact characteristic that allows our kids to thrive and our marriage to be strong.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about Janelle as you parent together? Janelle can handle more than she thought. It is not my job to fix her, but to support her during tough times. Janelle needs her own time and sleep is vital for her to be full of the joys of spring! Janelle brings tenderness and fun to the kids’ lives.
What are some ways your church or support team help you keep your marriage strong? We recently moved to a smaller church and the community has been exactly what we were needing. Many other families in the church have adopted and fostered children. Recently, we shared about adoption during a service and it was very emotional to recap the past three years. The church has been such a support and encouragement to us.
What’s one thing you’d recommend to other couples considering foster care? If you feel called to foster, know that it WILL be hard. Don't be surprised when tough times come your way and you have moments of thinking, "Why am I putting myself through this?" Set up a fantastic counselor or coach ahead of time. The bottom line is foster children don't deserve any of this hardship. It's not easy for these kids. It's not going to be easy for you. That said, God wants you to show up in kids’ lives in the most powerful of ways. We have personally witnessed God on a whole new level as a family, as a couple and personally. Through the storms, we clearly see God's purpose, path and provision.
No one ever looks back on his or her life and says, "I'm so glad I took the easy road."
How can we pray for you and your family? Pray our children would have their identity cemented in Christ. That all four see how God is at work in their lives and the world. Pray they fully experience the joy that comes through hardship, even at a young age.
As a support team member to your foster family, you likely have love and generosity to spare. As your loved ones welcome children and settle into a routine, the foster child will become a part of outings and everyday events. You want to play a role in ensuring the child feels welcomed and included but sometimes it’s unclear how to navigate the new relationship. Children who have experienced trauma show and receive love differently than you might be used to due to the hurt they have experienced.
Below are four ways that you can show love to kids from hard places that encourage connection, but still honor the boundaries and relationships they are building with their new foster family.
Write encouraging notes to the foster child. Encouraging quotes, age-appropriate stickers, coloring pages, hand-drawn cartoons and other creative expressions let the foster child know he is a welcome part of the community.
Use kind words around the foster child. Notice the things that a child is good at and point that out. For example, ‘I saw you share your toy with Casey even though it is your favorite. That was very kind of you.’ Your kind words help the child identify her positive attributes and gain much needed self-confidence.
Play board games together. Spending silly and unstructured time together shows a foster child he is loved and a valued companion. A game of Sorry, Hide and Seek, or basketball can go a long way in building connection.
Be patient with challenging behaviors. Foster children often have multiple traumatic experiences and may show behaviors you haven’t seen in a child. While the foster parent is working to set household structure and correct behaviors, an understanding on your part will go a long way in creating a safe place for both the foster child and parent. Even when expressing feelings thru negative behaviors, children want to be understood and valued. A child may not have learned the skills to handle situations in a healthy way, but loving, nurturing, patient adults can help him learn positive social skills while navigating complex emotions and experiences.
Happy New Year! As 2019 ushers in new opportunities for goal setting and pursuing ambitions, now is the perfect time to consider how to renew your commitment to actionable steps to support the foster families in your life.
Pray – Reach out and ask about how you can be specifically praying for your foster family. Prayer apps like Echo allow you to enter a prayer reminder and it will pop up at the same time every day. Consider setting a reminder in your phone to text or check in with your foster family about their prayer request and ask how they are doing.
Bring a meal or care package – No matter what stage of placement your foster family is in, the scheduling demands of foster care can leave little time to plan a meal. Offering to drop a meal in their refrigerator or freezer can be just the relief needed at the end of a long day. Gift cards for the family to order in are great too! Another option to consider is providing care packages for children and adults. Deliver a sack of kid-friendly snacks such as juice boxes, protein snacks, apples, granola bars, or fruit snacks. Don’t forget the adults with favorites like dark chocolate, donuts, or coffee!
Considering a gift for the foster or adoptive family you support? We have a few ideas that may be the gift that keeps on giving!
When Pete and Ellie decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child, but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hope of becoming a family.
This film is not recommended for young children or children who have been a part of the foster care system. If an older foster/adoptive youth would like to see “Instant Parents”, I suggest watching it with them and following the film with a discussion about your personal attachment to the child. It may be triggering to their situation as well as verbalizing fears that they may have about self-worth and abandonment.
I’m thankful that “Instant Parents” is receiving attention and I hope that it does draw in people to consider becoming foster parents or providing more support to foster families in their community. The intention of the film was to be a blessing to the foster/adoption community as well as to hopefully recruit more families for kids!
Foster parents Todd and Heather Lessem, along with their sons, Asher and Jadon, are currently fostering a 15-month old girl, “Peanut”. In a recent phone interview with Project 1.27, Todd and Heather shared their experiences so far.
What made you first consider serving as foster and adoptive parents?
Heather- I had adoption in the back of my mind after our second son was born. Todd was a little hesitant about the idea. One Sunday at church, our Pastor had invited a representative from DHS to share the need for foster parents in our county. That was the first time we’d considered foster care as our path. Coupling my passion for orphans with the need in our county started our journey.
Todd- I looked back at our premarital counseling and realized we’d both answered the question, “Would you ever consider adoption,” with a yes! Right about the time our pastor brought in the local DHS, two of our family friends started towards foster care. We didn’t realize it then, but God was using those friends to get us started.
Our news is consistently flooded with stories about people who have been subjected to sexual abuse. Working with kids from hard places, we know that sexual abuse is not new, but more and more people are willing to come forward to share their experience.
Statistics say that 1 in 10 children (1 in 3 girls; 1 in 6 boys) experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. 90% of children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator from school, church, friends, or their own family.
One of the most significant factors that make a child vulnerable to abuse is not having an involved caregiver. Perpetrators watch children and their families to see if they can gain access and privacy with the child without gaining attention. As you can imagine, children who are experiencing neglect or have a caregiver who struggles with substance abuse often fly under the radar.
Not just students are in need of more information! When we provide care for children from hard places and support foster and adoptive families it is essential that we have an understanding of what children experience and what the family might truly need. Sometimes we help others in the way that WE think is best and it isn’t actually beneficial for the child or family. The best plan of action is to always ask the family what we can do to be a blessing to them.
There are many trainings offered in Colorado and all around the country that teach us about trauma, how to relate to teenagers, build attachment, and effectively support developmental and mental health disorders. If there is a topic that you think would help you better understand the family you serve, please explore the following resources for trainings, blogs, and books that will equip you in loving foster and adoptive families well.
BLOGS AND PODCASTS
By contacting a local Child Placement Agency or county Human Services Department, you may learn about additional learning resources outside of Colorado.
In the busyness of summer, it’s easier to turn inward to survive than to think about how to foster love with those around you. Summer tends to be a time where you’re thinking about your vacations and your favorite summer activities. What if we found ways to take an hour or two a week throughout the summer to foster love for our foster and adoptive families?
Any time you’re serving others, it is crucial to find out what they actually need. So many times we decide ways we want to bless someone without considering if it’s really helpful to them. Maybe there is a desperate need for a date night to talk outside the earshot of little ears, but you bring a delicious meal to their home. No doubt they will appreciate it, but ultimately their need still exists.
We hope that you have the kind of relationship with your family where you can ask them their greatest need and they will honestly share their answer with you! Don’t let them get by with, “We’re ok… I don’t think we need anything right now”. Foster and adoptive parents are infamous for pushing through challenges, so they may need some prompting. “If you don’t “need” anything, what’s something that would be really helpful for you?” You could list out a menu of things you could do for them and allow them to pick.
May is National Foster Care Month. Around the country, the faith community is working with child welfare to recruit more foster families and increase funding for services as the number of children entering the system is increasing at an overwhelming rate. Having 5,734 Colorado children in foster care on a given day in 2017 is a problem, especially with only 2,200 licensed foster homes.. To confront this, we welcome friends, families, churches, and support team members to join Project 1.27 as we foster love during the month of May and beyond