By KATIE EUBANKS
How foster care has changed this Fondren family’s life
When I ask 10-year-old Octavius why he was sad to leave his previous foster families — even the ones he didn’t like — he gets quiet.
Just a few minutes ago, when he learned he was going to be in a magazine, he jumped up, pumped his fists in the air, hugged his current foster mom (whom he adores) and said, “I’m gonna be famous!”
Now he says, “Well, sometimes (the other families) would do good things and buy me stuff, but sometimes they were mean to me.” One foster mom, in his words, “just sat on the couch” and was mean to him.
Nobody likes being carted off from one home to the next, even when the home you’re leaving isn’t great. Octavius says he’s had seven previous foster families. He remembers most of their names as he lists them aloud.
Thankfully, he’s spent over nine months now with the Meador family in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood. Chuck and Katie Meador, who also have three biological children, are licensed through Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi (MCH).
At first the Meadors took Octavius temporarily. Then “I had to come back (here), and I was pretty sad, but now I’m happy because I have a Christian family and they’re nice and kind and wonderful,” he says.
“They enjoy having me here. They say I’m a very nice person.”
“You are,” say Katie and her son Jonathan, 8, who are also in the downstairs den where the kids do schoolwork.
“I am a very nice person,” Octavius says.
Two things are clear: 1. Octavius has never met a stranger. 2. The past nine months have been a valuable adventure for everyone in the Meador house.
‘We’re to care about orphans’
Chuck and Katie met in a college Sunday school class while they were both attending the University of Southern Mississippi. Even before they were married, they supported MCH when they could, Chuck says.
The Meadors moved to the Atlanta area for a while, and loved Georgia, “but we felt God leading us back to Mississippi,” he says. They’ve been back in the Magnolia State, mostly in Jackson, for more than 20 years now.
Katie’s background is in special education, and Chuck’s is in psychology. At one point, the couple started a house church that wound up turning into a ministry for at-risk children. “We’ve always had a heart for kids,” says Chuck, who is now senior pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Fondren.
“We had talked about (fostering), then had (our) older two (biologically — Lindsay, now 15, and Nathan, now 14). We looked into fostering and adopting through Mississippi Families for Kids. Then we got pregnant with Jonathan and we backed off,” Chuck says with a laugh.
“We started pursuing fostering again five years ago when we were in Meridian, and then moved here and got licensed through MCH.
“Then you wonder, should we wait? You think about your kids’ ages. (We thought) ‘When the kids go off to college, we’ll foster.’”
Many parents of younger kids feel a similar hesitation about fostering, because “it (changes) your routine,” Katie says.
“But the big determining factor was, God’s very clear in scripture, we’re to care about orphans. And we had the means and the ability,” Chuck says.
1 day at a time
Young Jonathan Meador says he was nervous when he first heard that Octavius would be living with the family for a couple weeks.
“It was the first time we’ve had someone stay with us that I hadn’t known for the first seven years of my life. But by the end of the first week, I started really liking him,” Jonathan says.
When he found out Octavius was coming again to stay longer, “I was actually very, very excited about it,” Jonathan says, talking faster now.
“We were sitting at our desks, and Mom said, ‘How would y’all like it if Octavius came and stayed with us for a longer time?’ and we were like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”
Octavius shares his side of the story:
“When I got here, I saw you in the window,” he says, laughing.
Older brother Nathan doesn’t talk a lot, but he says life with Octavius has been “fun, interesting (and) different. When we go on trips and all, stuff that we’ve done a bunch, he gets very excited about it.”
For instance, Octavius now has experienced his first hike, his first big city (New Orleans), and his first roller coaster. He has loved it all — well, except maybe the roller coaster.
Nathan’s advice for teens about to welcome a foster sibling? “Be ready for a big change,” he says.
While navigating those changes is hard for everyone, including the foster child, Octavius “laughs a lot,” Nathan says. “He’s very optimistic.”
Katie says the family’s New Orleans trip a couple weeks ago was “a fun thing to watch a child (experience). Fun things we get to experience with new eyes.”
If Octavius is gaining new experiences, his foster family certainly is, too.
“There are cultural differences,” Chuck says. “We want to honor that. … I’ve learned to cut a black boy’s hair. I cut my own hair and the boys’ hair, and we got to the point of being like, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’”
The Meadors are also figuring out how to show love to Octavius when other families and experiences have made him sad.
“When we first got married and moved to Georgia, (Katie) worked in the Oakland Center, a special education center, and (her) coworker and his wife had fostered and adopted,” Chuck says. “They gave us strong encouragement to (foster), but they were quick to remind us you can’t undo what’s (already) been done,” Chuck says. “(Foster children are) going to have struggles and get mad.”
Chuck feels strongly about being honest with Octavius and talking out conflicts as they arise. But sometimes, “you’ve got to let it go (for the time being),” Chuck says. “Take it one day at a time.”
“(Fostering) has helped us focus on the day to day, and not try to predict the future,” Katie adds.
And sometimes, when life gets frustrating, “(Octavius will) say, ‘I’m going to go run,’ and he’ll run down the street,” Chuck says.
“We run a mile and a half every morning, and he does it,” Katie says.
“He didn’t at first, but now it’s an outlet,” Chuck adds.
The best part?
“When he’ll really get open and honest and talk and share, and you realize … you’re making a difference in providing a place of safety and support,” Chuck says.
In fact, the Meadors are so committed to providing that safe, supportive space, they’ve told MCH “we’d be open to having an additional child in the home,” Katie says.
‘Jesus was keeping me safe’
Another major lesson the Meadors have learned from being foster parents: Government agencies and programs often form “a system that’s hard for children to manage and thrive in,” Chuck says. “We’ve come to the realization of how big the need is.”
That’s why he and Katie are so thankful for MCH.
“The support from Methodist Children’s Homes has probably made the difference in us being willing (to foster). There would be someone to call in the event of a critical issue,” Katie says. “We haven’t had any critical issues, but — ”
“It makes it kind of a team effort,” Chuck finishes, saying MCH has been “a gift.”
“We still had concerns, but … we were like, we can try this,” Katie says.
Meanwhile, even before Octavius came to the Meadors, God was protecting him. And he knows it, Katie says.
“He can see God’s hand in his life. He’s said, ‘When I was little, Jesus was keeping me safe, even before I came here.’”
‘I want to be a dad’
All but one of Octavius’ previous foster placements were with single mothers.
“(That’s) great, but I think it’s also good for him to be in a home with a family,” Katie says.
Chuck says Octavius “didn’t know what to do” with a foster dad at first. “He’s gotten used to me. Now he says, ‘I want to be a dad … and take care of my family.’”
Despite the challenges of adjusting to a foster dad, family dinners, a pandemic, and virtual classes at Casey Elementary (all MCH kids attend public schools), Octavius is grateful, Katie says.
“He’s so excited to get to go to church and read the Bible and get to listen to Christian music.”
He didn’t get to attend church at first, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Once the family went back to worship at St. Luke’s in person, “he realized I was the pastor,” Chuck says. “(He said) ‘We’re going to go every week? Wow!’ And he got excited.”
“These are formative years of a child’s life to be void of any Christian influence,” says Katie, who adds that Octavius has marveled at being able to attend both Sunday school and church.
That gratitude translates into action — or it will when Octavius is able, at least. Once this article brings him fame and fortune, he says, he could buy his foster dad an RV.