BEAUMONT, Texas – Diverna Abatte learned everything from her mom.
“My parents were always giving and doing,” she remembered. “My mom used to say having kids is like money in the bank.”
As the local high school custodian in Beaumont, Texas, her mom taught her to build self esteem through hard labor and treat everyone as if they mattered. And her dad, a long-time local produce salesman, taught her to care for her community and share what she had with others.
But it was Diverna, the youngest of three children, who at the age of 12 first encouraged her parents to start fostering. “I just thought we needed more kids,” she said.
Now, more than four decades later, former foster children still drop by her cream-colored 1930’s pier-and-beam house to see their old bedroom. Some even bring their families to show them where they grew up.
“This house hasn’t changed that much,” Abatte said, looking around the room. Neither has Miss Di.
Diverna Abatte, 53, is a tall woman with gentle eyes. She moves smoothly around her home, fixing hotdogs for her 5-year-old foster son and checking on her 18-month-old foster daughter napping in the crib. Her 10-year-old is at cheerleading practice. Her 21-month-old is visiting her birth family. The house is peaceful, lived in. Remarkably quiet.
“Oh, if these walls could talk, they could tell some stories,” she says, as she sits down in a pink antique chair. Family photographs of children spanning the rainbow line the shelf behind her.
Almost everything else in the house belonged to her mom.
Abatte’s mother encouraged her to get an education, and she left home at age 18 to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse. After graduation, she quickly fell in love with one of her mother’s foster children, Peter, and at age 20, she adopted Peter – now 37 – as her only son. Soon thereafter, she started fostering.
It’s been 31 years and Abatte continues to fall in love with her foster children each day.
“The most important thing I can teach a child is that God has a plan for their life,” Abatte said. “It may seem bad right now, or really difficult, but he has a plan for you. When they’re older, I see, they did get the message.
“Sometimes I just sit in bed after everyone has gone to sleep at night and I’m praying to God for wisdom. I’m so thankful to get the opportunity to parent someone else’s children. I don’t take it lightly. I thank God and I’m grateful.”
New systems, same stories
Abatte was licensed as a foster parent for 21 years with Child Protective Services before moving to Buckner Children and Family Services in 2000. The foster care system has changed a bit since she first began fostering in 1979, she said.
More parental contact means foster parents often find themselves mentoring the child’s parents as much as the child. Abatte seems to do a good job at both.
“The goal of foster care is family reunification, so it’s good to show the children that we can come together,” she said. “I always let my kids know, ‘I’m not trying to replace your parent.’ Even when we pray, we pray for the kids’ parents.”
Abatte said it’s important for foster parents to remember that they are just temporary parents.
“You have to realize that there is another set of parents out there, and if you establish a relationship with them, it’s only going to help the child. No matter how bad their life was, those kids still love their parents,” she said.
Abatte said she receives more preparation and training now than ever before through Buckner. Foster parents are required to complete more than 50 hours of training a year to keep their license with the State of Texas.
“Buckner does all the training for you. They organize it all, and they have lots of activities for you to bring the children to and be a part of,” she said. She also gets support from other Buckner foster parents and especially her church family.
“You need a good support system to foster a child,” she said.
Some of the most difficult children sometimes turn out to be the best stories. One child, she remembers, came to her house with flea bites on his legs where he used to walk around the streets with his mother who was a prostitute.
“He was a tough kid, street smart,” she said.
They started out on rocky water, but one day at a doctor’s appointment the doctor asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“He told him he wanted to be a pastor. The doctor was surprised, and so was I,” she laughed.
She recently saw two of her children graduate – one went to Lamar University and the other one joined the military. She received a letter from her son in the military thanking her for teaching him so much.
“Most of the kids who leave I maintain contact with them. Just to think they still want to share their lives with me and want me to be a part of it. It’s the little things that are so rewarding,” she said.
Abatte’s biological family may be small, but her actual family is growing every day. And even after more than four decades of her involvement in foster care, she said she has no intention of cutting her family – and her family’s legacy – short anytime soon.
“Who else could do this but God? Bring people together like this to be your family?” she asked. “I’m so thankful and grateful. This is my purpose.”
To learn more about being a foster family with Buckner, visit www.beafamily.org.
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