Rena Nichols lived in the Longview, Texas, area her whole life, raising three children and tirelessly providing for them as a carhop, hotel housekeeper and furniture office manager. When they grew up and moved out, Rena suddenly felt alone.
An unexpected call from her daughter changed all that.
“Come to the hospital because [Child Protective Services] is going to take the baby,” Rena daughter’s said.
Rena brought the baby to her home to prevent her from going into CPS custody.
“Ashley* needed to stay with the family, no matter what,” Rena said. “I knew I would do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Rena believed the situation was only temporary while her daughter made some life changes, but when Rena realized she needed to take care of Ashley for an extended period, she knew she must take a big step to properly care for the child. She contacted CPS about their kinship care program.
Kinship care places children in the homes of family members or close family friends known as fictive kin, helping prevent further trauma to the child.
To become a foster parent or licensed kinship caregiver, individuals and families must meet state requirements as well as taking extensive classes and passing rigorous home inspections. The process can seem overwhelming to families who have suddenly become caregivers. Buckner Foster Care and Adoption can help alleviate some of the burden.
Linda Womack oversees the new Buckner kinship care program in Longview and worked with Rena to begin the kinship care licensing process, which would provide financial and legal support to Rena to care for Ashley.
Buckner helped Rena find a correct car seat and facilitated paperwork, but Rena’s biggest obstacle to becoming a licensed foster parent was passing her home inspection. The roof leaked. Admitting that the roof was horrible and she could not fix it, Rena called Linda heartbroken that Ashley would be taken away.
Buckner immediately started investigating possible options. Skeeter Boats, a company located in Kilgore donated the funds for the roof, and volunteers from First Baptist Church in Longview and Hickory Grove Baptist Church joined together to install it. Soon after the roof was completed, Rena’s license was approved.
Rena is now enjoying life with Ashley, and Ashley adores Rena, staying by her side all day and playing with Rena’s ear as she falls asleep at night.
“Ashley has changed everything – the way we live, the way we eat,” she said. “Everything has changed. For the better.”
Due to the special nature of kinship care, Ashley meets regularly with her birthmother.
“We’ve been going to the park every time Ashley’s mom visits, and they are starting to bond,” Rena said. “Her mom will hold her hand and walk around the park, and at the end, Ashley clings to her. She knows that is her mom.”
“This is one of the wonderful parts about kinship care,” Linda said. “Even if the changes can’t be made to have the child live with the parents safely, the parental bond can still be created in a safe manner. Rena would’ve figured out a way to care for Ashley without Buckner because that’s the type of person she is, but that would’ve been so hard. I’m so glad we can help.”
Rena’s life initially followed what she thought was a typical plan of being a grandmother. God changed what ‘typical’ looks like for Rena – all starting with a life-changing phone call.
“It’s been hard but it’s been great, too,” Rena said with a smile.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Written by Kayln Grider, a summer intern with Buckner communications.