Anderson Family Story

Anderson Family Story

A Hard-Won Tenacity: The Andersons’ Story

A string of pennies hangs from the rear-view window of Annie and Eric Anderson’s car like a cluster of copper grapes. Stamped on those pennies are the names and birth years of their children, both biological and not. The Andersons have been foster parents for thirteen years now, and have been together for thirty.

Annie says that their foster parenting journey began while working as a nurse in an advanced care facility. One of her coworkers, a single mother, was struggling to take care of her daughter while working multiple jobs. The Andersons began caring for the little girl five days a week and eventually invited the mother to move in with them while she got on her feet. 

“After two years of living with us, they were able to successfully move out with a fresh start,” says Annie. “The experience of offering help to a parent that was struggling cemented our calling to become foster parents.”

The day they completed their certification, the Andersons were matched with two brothers, Russell and Michael, ages two and three. Both had experienced extreme neglect and abuse, were non-verbal, malnourished, and had not been outside the walls of their house for most of their young lives. Both children had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a host of other diagnoses, including Cerebral Palsy for Michael. Annie recalls how much of a shock it was to Russell to suddenly find himself in a safe environment where he could play.

“The first week was spent just letting him explore his world,” she says. “He was enamored with everything: trees, the sky, grass, the cat, literally everything. He would walk, and I would follow him. He’d reach his hands out at what had his attention with staring eyes and a grin and say ‘aww…aww’ with the most amazement and wonder I’d had ever seen on a human face before.”

The boys had a long road of recovery from their trauma, but the Andersons were there every step of the way. Through multiple rounds of therapy, doctor appointments, hard work and a strong support system,, both boys are functioning far beyond expectations. Russell is now sixteen, and Annie says for as much as he’s grown, he’s still the same curious boy that they met all those years ago.

“He still has the same sparkling blue eyes that are filled with wonder at his world,” she says. “But most importantly, he still loves to sit by me and lay his head on my shoulder and snuggle. He is warm, loving, caring, nurturing and so very kind and responsible.”

In the case of Russell and Michael, reunification with their birth family was not a viable option, and the Andersons adopted the boys into their family. However, most of the children they have fostered have successfully and safely returned home to their family.

Recently, the Andersons cared for one-year-old Jacob* and his infant sister Keyla*, whose parents were battling drug addiction. Annie says Jacob cried for a week straight after he arrived, then became incredibly angry and resistant to comforting. It took months of consistently showing him that he was safe, loved and that he could depend on the Andersons. Slowly, he began to open up and form a bond with Annie and Eric. 

Tonya and Mitch, the children’s’ birth parents were incredibly motivated to make progress towards overcoming their addictions, and to become the parents their children needed. Annie recalls the roller coaster of emotions she and Eric experience when they realized that they needed to work toward reuniting Jacob and Keyla with their biological parents.

“This is the hard part of fostering,” Annie says. “You love these kids, you get attached to them, and you want so much to protect them. But part of truly loving them is loving the people that gave them life. You can hate the choices they made, but ‘There by the grace of God’ springs to mind so quickly.”

The reunification process took time as the Tonya and Mitch completed their treatment and learned how to safely care for their children. As visits between the children and their biological parents grew longer and more frequent, Annie and Eric developed an incredibly close relationship with them, so much so that they were asked to be the children’s’ godparents. Jacob and Keyla now safely live full time with their parents, but the Andersons still get to babysit frequently and are very involved in their lives.

“I can say that these children have had the benefit of seeing adults in their lives work together to effect change for their welfare and benefit,” Annie says. “While they could never articulate it and lacked the cognition requisite to process it, the outcome is still the same: happy, stable, securely-attached, trusting little humans with so many people to love and support them.”

Annie and Eric have developed a tenacity and resilience hard-won on a road of hard decisions and heartbreak. One of the Andersons’ strengths as foster parents is their ability to sacrifice not only for the needs of the youth in their care but also to the families they come from. Annie talks of dark, difficult nights where it felt the tears would never stop and their hearts would never heal while preparing to send the children they had been fostering back to their birth parents. But all of the sorrows, she says the joys have made it all worth it.

“If I had never done this, if I had actually quit just because it was hard or because my heart hurt so badly, I would have missed so much,” Annie says. “In the end, these kids will always give more to you than you could possibly give them.”

If you are interested in joining the Andersons in caring for youth in our community, please download our Become a Foster Parent 101: What You Need to Know webinar, attend a virtual Real Talk with a Real Foster Parent, or call 1-855-SRV-KIDS.