PHILIPPI - As if it's been etched on her heart, Philippi resident Becky Kropf remembers the question one of her first foster children asked soon after arriving at her home.
"He was a little 5-year-old boy in the first set of foster kids I had," Knopf recalled, "and he asked me if Santa had time for kids like him. He'd never had a Christmas and his (biological) mom had said Santa didn't have time for kids like him."
From that moment, Kropf - who has fostered about 17 children with her husband Alan, in addition to previously raising four of her own - knew she had to take action.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
Three-year-old Jordan Walters tells Santa what he wants for Christmas — a motorcycle — Friday night at Foster Kids’ Christmas party, which took place in the Philippi City Building. Walters was recently adopted by Elkins resident Loretta Walters.
"I had to do something more to make sure no kid has to say that," she said.
So Kropf and several friends who are also foster parents annually organize a holiday party for foster children. This year's Foster Kids' Christmas Party took place in the basement of the Philippi City Building Friday night and featured kid-friendly food like pizza and cake in addition to a slew of festive activities like crafting, cook decorating and, of course, visiting with Santa Claus.
Foster parenting came naturally to Kropf, whose mother, a special education teacher, worked regularly with children who needed extra attention.
"My mom was a special education teacher, so growing up, I was brought up in a world of special needs children and I was blessed with all of my (biological) children not having any special needs," Kropf said as she looked around at a group of smiling children running through the room, many clamoring to say "hi" to Santa. "So that's my goal is to help (some are) drug-exposed, they've been abused, they've been neglected and there shouldn't be any child that doesn't have a home."
Kropf is a Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education, or PRIDE, trainer - meaning she teaches would-be foster parents what they want and need to know before officially becoming a foster parent. Information about the course, she said, is available from local Department of Health and Human Resources officers and spans 27 hours over a nine-week period.
"(Foster parenting) is the greatest, hardest thing you'll ever do in your life," she said. "And it is the most rewarding thing. For somebody who has given birth to four children and I've been so blessed in my life, this is the best thing in my life."
But seeking support and networking with other foster parents is crucial, Kropf says. That's why she and several friends started a private Facebook group called Region III Foster/Adopt Parent Support Group.
Through the group, parents are able to coordinate special events, such as a spring fling, a summer evening camp, a fall bash and next year's Foster Kids' Christmas Party.
"We want to meet once a month as a support group for foster parents," Kropf said. "I'm not going to say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community." For instance, only another foster parent can babysit for a foster child, she said.
Elkins resident Loretta Walters attended Friday evening's holiday bash with her recently adopted son, 3-year-old Jordan, who was eager to visit with Santa Claus.
"He's been with me since he was 5 months old, and I love him," she said. "He's my little boy."
Walters had been interested in fostering for some time before she was awarded guardianship of her grandson.
"We decided that we were going to do it then, but I've wanted to do it for a lot of years," she said. "We finally did it, and I've had 18 children through my home."
Jordan, she said, has his heart set on receiving a motorcycle for Christmas.
"He has a four-wheeler but he wants a motorcycle," she said, smiling.
Twenty-two-year-old Elkins resident Stormie Ware, who recently became the foster mother of 2-year-old Javia, was motivated to take on the task at a relatively young age because of her own life experience.
"I was in foster care as a child since the time I was 8 until I was 18, so I've always had the passion to work with kids," she said. "Originally I wanted to be a teacher so I have my degree, but I kind of put that on hold to take care of her."
Kropf encourages anyone interested in foster parenting to learn more by contacting their local DHHR office.
"With us, family is defined as anyone who loves you and steps up to the plate to take care of you," she said.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kub