After Finding Forever Family, Former Foster Child Gives Back
Lifestyle| | By Lauren Boudreau
Robbie was four years old when he was taken away from his drug-addicted and homeless parents, explains Jim Westhoff, Robbie’s father, in a post on Imgur. Jim and Cindy Westhoff discovered Robbie when he was placed in Cindy’s second grade class halfway through the school year.
“Before he joined the class,” Westhoff said, “a social worker explained to my wife that he was four years old when he was taken away from his drug-addicted, homeless, criminal parents. Since then, he has been in at least six different foster homes, some better than others.”
Later that summer, the Westhoffs found out his current foster parents were getting divorced, which would mean that Robbie would be sent back into the system to only “God knows where.” That’s when they knew Robbie should become their son.
“…We had a three-bedroom house, no kids, a half-acre yard, a big, dumb dog, everything a person needs to raise a boy…” Westhoff said in his post.
This is my son, getting a hug from his case worker, during the adoption party we held the day when he officially joined our family.Here's the story — My wife teaches second grade at a public school here in Delaware. One year, halfway through the school year, a boy was placed in her class. Before he joined the class, a social worker explainied to my wife that he was four years old when he was taken away from his drug-addicted, homeless, criminal parents. Since then, he has been in at least six different foster homes, some better than others. The state had stripped his biological parents of any parental rights years earlier. The good news, the social worker explained, that now the little boy has been placed in a good home, and these foster parents plan to adopt him. That following summer, my wife and I driving to the movies one evening, and she starts telling me that she received a call from the school secretary, saying that the little boy's foster parents were getting divorced, and that little boy was going back into the system — God knows where.So I started thinking — We had a three-bedroom house, no kids, a half-acre yard, a big, dumb dog, everything a person needs to raise a boy — So I said, "Why don't we take him?"My wife said, "Good. They're coming tomorrow."After two weeks of inspections, classes and background checks, he was delivered to our door, holding a half-filled garbage bag containing everything he owned.We officially adopted that little boy after being his foster parents for the mandatory six months. Now he's 19, a grown man, and my wife and I agree that adopting our son was the best decision we ever made.
Finally in a loving home, he flourished.
Robbie became a star athlete, particularly thriving at cross country. He was so inspired by the movie The Blind Side, about Michael Oher who was in a similar situation early in life and became a professional football player, that Westhoff wrote the Baltimore Ravens asking if they could send some signed memorabilia. Only a couple months later, Robbie got to meet Oher and have a “long and personal conversation” with him about overcoming challenges when Oher’s agent called and said they would be in town.
When the movie, "The Blind Side" came out, it had a big emotional impact for my son, because in the movie, Oher was taken from his parents in a manner similar to what happened to my son.Three years ago, in November, I wrote to the Ravens, told the story about my son, and asked if they could send me something signed and personalized from Oher to my son. I should mention that my son is one of the top distance runners in the state.In time for Christmas, Oher's book came in the mail, signed from Oher to my son.The present meant more to him than the iphone we purchased for him.Then, in March, I got a call from Oher's agent.The agent said that Michael was going to be in a nearby town, and Michael would like to meet Robbie. He was wondering if I could possibly bring my son to the signing event so that Michael could meet my son.So I took him of course. As soon as we walked in, Michael saw my son and told him to wait in the back until the event was over. After about an hour of singing books, Michael had a long and personal conversation with my son. They talked about how my son can overcome challenges like college sports, how to handle his biological parents, and how to use his past as fuel.We're Michael Oher fans now. :).
After realizing his luck in finding a loving family, Robbie knew he had to do something to help other kids in the system.
Westhoff recounts on Imgur: “Rob and I were building something in the workshop, when he starts talking about what it’s like to be a foster kid during the holidays. He said one year, at one family, he had to sit under the tree, on Christmas morning, and be happy for the biological kids who were opening presents, but he received nothing.”
Therefore, they started Presents From Robbie, a secret Santa service that matches kids with their secret Santas. They worked with Delaware’s Division of Family Services to identify kids in need and get their wish lists. That year, they delivered gifts to 50 foster kids. However, the project soon grew and they eventually matched 284 secret Santas for 136 children.
Last November, Rob and I were building something in the workshop, when he starts talking about what it's like to be a foster kid during the holidays.He said one year, at one family, he had to sit under the tree, on Christmas morning, and be happy for the biological kids who were opening presents, but he received nothing.But even when he was with better families, he said the holidays were tough because the ads and everything is all about family. And it just reminds the kids every time that they don't have a family.So he and I decided to fix it.Last year, we started a Secret Santa program where we match up Secret Santas with foster kids. The state children's agency helps by getting foster kids to fill out a wish list, then we match each kid with a Secret Santa. Last year, we received wish lists from about 50 kids and we matched every kid with a Santa.This year, we had 284 Secret Santas for 136 children. The santas purchased more than 1,300 presents. Each child had at least two Secret Santas.Next year, we plan to match a Secret Santa with every teen in foster care in Delaware.
Now, Robbie is all grown up and entering the Air Force Academy. Already having passed his fitness tests, his goal is to become an instructor for the Air Force’s SERE program.
Rob graduated high school this past Spring. This Spring, he will be leaving for Air Force boot camp. He plans to be an instructor at the Air Force's survival school, called SERE. He has already passed the fitness requirements to be enrolled in that school. My wife and I plan to fly to Texas when he graduates Air Force boot camp. Thanks for reading.