Sondra Lawson was nine years old when she first met Beau Necco at the Necco office in Ashland, Ky. She was mad at the world, and with good reason. Her parents were not in her life, nor did she have any adult she could trust.
Beau Necco, Founder and CEO of the foster care company that bears his name, tried to convince Sondra he could help.
“I kind of blurted out, ‘You don’t know what the F I’m going through. You don’t know what it’s like to be in my situation,’” said Sondra, now 32 and married with an 11-year-old son. “I’ve taught him a lot and he’s taught me way more.”
For more than 20 years, Beau Necco has provided adoption and foster care services in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia.
Chief People Officer Rob Goodwin and Beau Necco would get to know Sondra well over the years as she weaved through the foster care system. On one of the toughest occasions, they encountered Sondra as a teenager in an orange jumpsuit at a max security detention facility complete with razor wire. Clearly, it was not the right environment for her. Because of their history with Sondra, Necco was able to place Sondra in a foster home with a loving family.
“That was our value proposition back then — to be able to place children like Sondra and provide her with those things that she desperately craved as an adolescent. She deserved to experience the kind of life events that every child should experience.”
Older children are the most difficult to place with a foster family, primarily because of the perceptions that older foster children will be harder to discipline or control than children who are fostered as infants.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, half of the 437,465 children in foster care were 7.8 years old and above on Sept. 30, 2016, the latest data available. Fifty-five percent of those children had a case goal of reunification with their parent or a caregiver.
“They are really our most vulnerable children,” Beau Necco said. “It only takes one caring adult to change the trajectory of a child’s life, and as the foster parent of an older child, you can share many of the same types of ‘firsts’ that you would with an infant, like first dance, or first birthday party.”
Beau proved to Sondra that he would be there for her when no one else was. That was solidified when Sondra was married at 18 and was divorced at 19. Another relationship failed. She was an adult, but she did not know how to be an adult. The only person she could call was Beau, she said, who was in her wedding.
“Everything went south again. I was not in the system. I had no clothes. I had nowhere to go. Beau was able to get me a clothing voucher and I was able to get clothes. He found me a place to stay. He gave me money probably out of his own pocket. He was not judgmental. It was then I knew that I could count on him.”
Having Beau Necco to count on, to be a peer and, in many cases, a surrogate father, turned her life around. In addition to having her own son, she has been a foster parent with Necco and has had an opportunity to help kids who are going through the same things she went through.
Sondra said she enjoyed fostering children ages 14-17 because she had been in their shoes.
“I was the best for them and they were the best for me. Anything triumphant in their lives was just an out-of-the-park homerun for me. Every small success for them was a homerun for me,” she said.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children available to be fostered. The heroin and opioid epidemic is taking its toll.
Said Beau Necco: “On a recent weekday between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. in just one of the 24 locations Necco operates, we received calls for 14 children in need of placement. It can be heartbreaking, which is why we need to be able to have the capacity to meet the supply of children who need a family.”
Increasingly, the next of kin are being tapped out. In many cases, a grandparent may already have custody of a child family member and are simply not able to care for another child.
Meanwhile, it’s important to note that qualifying to become a foster parent is a relatively easy process and does not take superpowers.
“You just have to be flexible because things change. Every kid comes with a unique set of circumstances, but they all need the same thing. A loving family.” Necco said.
Twenty years later, Beau Necco speaks of Sondra Lawson with great pride.
“To watch her celebrate her own family, and get to share that with her, has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life. It feels good.”
Be a part of the community that will make you feel good. Go to Necco.org to get started today.