By Jessie Hellmann Kokomo Tribune
---- — Al and Rena Parks have taken care of 20 foster children in the past two years, and they say it comes with all the joys and pains of being a birth parent.
“Sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I love it,” Al said with a smile. “It’s just like being a parent. You sometimes wonder why, but other times you say, ‘if not me, who?’”
But it’s always worth it, the couple said, even though the children all eventually leave.
“They just laugh us to tears sometimes because of the things they say,” Rena said. “It’s hard letting them go back, but hopefully they’ll get back in the right situation.”
Currently Al and Rena are taking care of five foster children, whom they took to the 2013 Books for Youth program Wednesday at Haynes International, organized by the Indiana Department of Child Services, the Indianapolis Colts and Cargo Services, Inc.
“We started with the partnership with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006,” said Stacy Lozer, Books for Youth coordinator. “ Since then we’ve had a commitment with providing a backpack with 25 age-appropriate books into the hands of the 10,000 foster kids in Indiana.”
The program all began with Steve Pemberton, a former foster youth who is now the executive vice president of monster.com, giving a keynote address at a local conference.
“He was a former foster child who aged out of the system, and it was a horrible situation,” Lozer said. “He credited [all of his success] to a random family who said, ‘We have this box of books, and we’d like to give them to you.’ It was the one thing that made him feel that as a foster child, there’s a bigger world out there.”
In all, 50 foster kids received 25 books in Colts backpacks, a total of 1,250 books donated.
“Through Cargo Service and the Colts, we can make it exciting and fun, and let them try new things,” Lozer said.
Chief Financial Officer of Cargo Services Steve Fugate said the company has sponsored the event six years in a row to give back to the community.
“A lot of the time what happens when these kids are moved through the foster system, they’re just taken away,” Fugate said. “They don’t have anything that’s really their own. So, they get these backpacks and all of these books are theirs and nobody else’s. It gives them a little ownership that they don’t have otherwise.”