SPRINGVILLE — Six of Cheryl Brown’s boys fixed her a special breakfast and dinner on Mother’s Day Sunday. The 50 or so others couldn’t make it.
Brown’s Springville foster home has housed a marching band’s worth of teenage boys since 2002, though fortunately not all at once. She and her husband, Les, take in adolescents six at a time, sometimes for a few months, others a few years.
The boys get to call the Brown house “home” until they can either rejoin their separated families or set out on their own, and Brown sees to it they don’t go to either without having learned and laughed plenty.
Besides the ever-growing line of unofficial progeny, the effort has earned her the distinction of becoming the Utah Foster Care Foundation’s western region Foster Mom of the Year — an honor only a handful of foster mothers out of roughly 1,200 in the state can claim.
Local case workers who nominated Brown have watched her knack for teenage foster care set her apart, UFCF Retention Specialist Jessica Hannemann said. Teaching the boys self-sufficiency is her first priority, but providing a little levity — a luxury in some boy’s backgrounds — is a close second. They get everything from couponing to campouts while under her wing.
“In general, most people shy away from caring for teenage boys, for a variety of reasons,” Hannemann said. “She doesn’t.”
Not by a long shot. Brown wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Teenagers are my bag,” she said.
Brown’s foster boys are placed by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, some as a result of tragedy, but most from unsuitable family situations, and many of them come with special needs. But at the end of the day, they’re just kids that need a family, she said.
“There is no reason why a kid shouldn’t have a family,” Brown said. “But for the grace of God, it’s not us,” she said of her family [five biological kids, one adopted son and 13 grandkids], but it could be your child or your family. You never know.”
In fact, it was the last Brown child leaving the nest that got Cheryl into foster care eight years ago. Now, loneliness is hard to come by, between taking the boys camping, fishing and swimming, helping them get jobs and teaching them to cook. Brown is even going head-to-head with one of them in a Wii Fit weight-loss contest this summer. But it’s the moments when these boys who never truly got to be boys finally get a chance to be, well, boys — Cheryl happily recalls a carefree walk in the rain collecting rocks with them — that make it worthwhile.
“It keeps you alive,” she said. “I talk to other people my age and say, ‘That is all you have in your life?’ Not to put down prize rose bushes or anything, but kids are our future.”
Brown still hears from many of her kids, many of whom are married, employed and having kids of their own. The same kids that she once (briefly) feared around her valuables grew up to be chefs and athletes who visit her with their families on Christmas Day. Her one hope is that more kids can find families willing to shove aside that fear.
The process to become a licensed foster family is fairly simple. It takes three to five months, on average, UFCF area representative Wendy Bunnell said, to complete the weekly classes, paper work and home study course. Once licensed, foster families can choose how old and how many — 75 percent of Utah foster parents opt for 0- to 5-year-olds, she said.
There are also opportunities to be part-time mentors or “relief parents” for one weekend out of the month to give full-time foster families a break.
“If people are interested and have a desire, we can more than likely find a way for them to help,” Bunnell said.
For more information, visit UtahFosterCare.org or call (801) 373-3006.
• Matt Reichman can be reached at (801) 344-2907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.