GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Sujey and Jim Daniels are used to what Sujey calls the “puzzled faces” on people as they look at her family of eight.
“I have three children who are black and three children who are white,” she said, but added, “Even though I have a rainbow at home, they’re all mine!”
The Silver Spring couple’s rainbow is the result of their decision to foster children. “All we wanted to do was have babies, but God had other plans!” Sujey said, laughing as she recalled their initial decision when they first married.
She does a lot of laughing. And her children — two of her own and four foster kids — laugh a lot too.
They were gathered at an annual picnic organized by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. The picnic, at Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg, Maryland, featured games, a bounce house, hay rides and a hula hoop contest.
Bouncing from one activity to the next, the Daniels’ 7-year-old daughter, Madison, says she liked having an extended family: “And I’m lucky I have a girl that I’ve been wishing and wishing and wishing and wishing for!”
Her brother Alec says that he likes having kids his own age to play with. “But when it comes to babies — hmmm — they’re too wild!” he added adamantly.
Sujey says fostering children is rewarding and challenging — but not in the way many might assume. The toughest part is saying goodbye to a child you’ve helped nurture, she explains. But, she says, that’s the difference between fostering and adopting a child.
“You have to know what you’re getting into,” she added. “They come and they go, and when they go, I cry. And cry. And cry.” But she calls each and every experience with a child a blessing.
Jeff Ganz and Daniel Williams feel the same way. The couple has been fostering children for six years. Ganz said, “People say the parents are heroes, but the real heroes are the kids.”
He says it’s the children, who are uprooted from their families for a host of reasons, who have to make adjustments: adapting to the absence of their biological parents, fitting in to a new situation, adjusting to new rules, new personalities, new routines, even new pets.
Evan Lewis, 17, was placed with Ganz and Williams in the middle of his senior year of high school — a turbulent time for any teenager. Lewis says it was jarring at first: “A new set of rules, a new set of people that I would be residing with — but once I moved in and got all my things in my room, I was more settled, yeah.”
Lewis says being able to graduate from his home high school helped too — it gave him a sense of continuity, and keeping the support of friends and a trusted guidance counselor was also helpful.
In any given month, Montgomery County has up to 300 children in foster care — some will be in for short periods; some may stay in the system for years. And Sujey Daniels wants them to know: “The moment they walk in the door, they’re family.”
Each month, Montgomery County holds informational sessions on becoming a foster parent. For more information, visit the county government’s website or call 240-777-1664.