A few years ago, a woman told her young daughter to wait outside of a store on the Leeward Coast while she went on a drug run. The woman never came back.
At age 7, after living in various foster homes, the girl arrived at the Hauula home of Tracy Lewis, her husband and daughter. As a therapeutic foster parent with the Na Ohana Pulama program at Catholic Charities Hawaii since 2007, Lewis cares for children who have suffered trauma or abuse.
“If not me, then who?” Lewis says. “My family has been in this town for a long time. It has been a safe place for me to grow up, to raise my child – to raise all of my (foster) children. And we need to give back.”
While she is responsible for logistical tasks like taking the child to doctor and psychiatrist appointments, she says that the bulk of her work is teaching. She works with the child on social and behavioral issues, helping them to reintegrate themselves into society and into a loving family.
“Generally, they come to us if they have blown out of a lot of foster homes,” Lewis says. “A lot of times, the foster parents have said, ‘We can’t do this.’ The (children’s) behaviors are intense.
“Sometimes we have a youth come in who is so traumatized that they can’t even say hello to strangers,” she adds. “We teach around that. We work on scenarios where they have to meet somebody for the first time … And we also work with them on something as little as what they do when they are angry.”
In her spare time, she also volunteers as a kumu hula and as a youth ministry coordinator with her church. Lewis and her husband also are active members of the Hauula Community Association Board, where they organize regular cleanups around the neighborhood and host an annual fair that highlights area shops and restaurants.
“My husband and I have always been of the mindset that if you are going to grumble about it, go do something about it,” she says.
During her time with Catholic Charities, Lewis has cared for about 20 children, ranging from babies to teenagers. Some of these children were with her just for a weekend, while she has had six longer-term placements.
Lewis says that the goal with therapeutic foster care is to reunite the child with his or her family, if possible. If not, Lewis aims to help the child transition into regular foster care. In the case of that 7-year-old girl, she was adopted by another family after two years. But the bond that she and Lewis formed is so strong that the girl still calls Lewis regularly to chat.
“We touch the future with these children, and they touch our lives,” she says.
Catholic Charities always is looking for more therapeutic foster parents. For more information, visit catholiccharitieshawaii.org.