David and Maria Mihm - Helping kids get back on track

The year 1997 might seem like a long time ago: Bill Clinton was beginning his second term as president, the movie “Titanic” was playing in a McMinnville theater and the first Harry Potter book was setting records.

It also was the year our first foster child came into our home, and we remember him well.

The teenager brought with him a history of drug addiction, the experience of living with people who manufactured drugs and a dad who was in and out of prison. We essentially were told, “We’re sending you a really tough kid. If it doesn’t work out, don’t take it personally.”

We encouraged him to get active in school, to play sports and to be a part of our family. As with so many youths like him, no one had ever taken time to watch him play football and tell him, “Good job!”

We are foster parents for the Oregon Youth Authority, the state’s juvenile corrections agency. By our count, this lad was the first of 102 youth we’ve welcomed to our home — including the boys with us today — on their way to getting their lives back on track.

After he left us, the first one briefly relapsed into drug use and law violations. But he cleaned himself up, enrolled in aeronautics school in Oklahoma and became certified to inspect airplane welds for safety. Today, he works for a Portland company, is married, has four children, and joins us for family gatherings such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas.

As with any worthwhile endeavor, there are times when we ask, “Why are we doing this?” But most days, there are satisfying experiences.

For example, there’s Josh. We really took to him, and he to us. It was then we decided to become a long-term foster home. He was a good athlete, graduated from McMinnville High School, enrolled at Linfield, joined the military, did a tour in Iraq and now works in McMinnville. Although we never legally adopted Josh, he calls us Mom and Dad. He has a 2-year-old son — our grandson!

We give the boys limits and structure, often new to them. We work with their teachers, coaches and counselors. Maria usually attends their athletic events. Our foster kids also have managed school sports teams and sung in choirs. We take them to church, where a youth group allows them to share their joys or concerns with other adults.

When we asked one how often he’d attended church before he came to us, his reply was, “Never.” Now, however, when he goes home on a weekend, he takes his dad to church.

After he left our home, one of our boys reoffended and wound up incarcerated at an OYA facility. He wrote us, “If I had just listened to you guys, I would have made better decisions.” He’s earned his high school diploma and is taking online college classes.

For many, a stable home feels odd at first. Many never had birthday celebrations, for instance, and one boy didn’t even know his date of birth. We do family things together, ranging from watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve and enjoying the Super Bowl, to fishing together and going camping at Honeyman State Park or Crater Lake. We still hear from some, either with holiday phone calls or by staying in touch as Facebook friends.

The experience is rewarding. We never saw ourselves doing this as long as we have. Now we don’t see us not doing it any time soon.

Forest E. Witcraft said, “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” We try to make that difference every day.


More on Youth Authority foster parenting

Oregon Youth Authority has five foster homes in Yamhill County and always needs more. When foster care is considered the best option to prepare young people for independent, crime-free lives, qualified foster parents provide the needed environment and support.

Fostered youth attend public schools and benefit from evidence-based treatment for their crimes. OYA professionals stay in contact with them and provide 24/7 support to the foster parents.

Foster parents encourage success in school and community activities as well as participation in a stable, wholesome homelife. They teach budgeting, banking, cooking, shopping, using public transit and other skills these youths may have missed.

Although the Mihms have no children of their own, some OYA foster homes include biological children. Foster parents receive a fixed monthly stipend to reimburse expenses. Respite foster parents take in youth for short periods when regular foster parents are away for an evening or weekend.

To learn more, contact OYA foster care certifier Heidi Lung at heidi.lung@oya.state.or.us or 503-378-2571, or visit www.oregon.gov/oya/pages/foster.aspx.

Guest writers are David and Maria Mihm of McMinnville.

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