‘The Most Rewarding Thing in the World’: COAD Employee Reflects on Foster Journey, Offers Advice for Prospective Families

(CAMBRIDGE, OH)—For Elke King, being a Family and Community Support Specialist at the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) is personal.

More than a decade ago, Elke started her own foster journey. Now, she has adopted three biological brothers – ages 17, 16 and 8 – and uses that experience and knowledge to recruit foster/adoptive families through COAD.

“I think the biggest thing is if you decide to become a foster or adoptive parent, it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what resources are out there.’ And that’s really why I love what I do now,” Elke said. “It’s crazy that life has made a full circle. I never thought in a million years I would be a foster/adoptive recruiter.”

The two older brothers came into Elke’s care 11 years ago, and her youngest, Blaiz, has been with her for six and a half years.

Elke started fostering for a few reasons, one being her background at a residential center. Many of the children she worked with were in foster care, so she saw that there was a greater need for quality foster parents than she initially realized. From there, the boys were placed in her care, and she then went through the process of adopting them.

“It’s like the most rewarding thing in the world. It’s very humbling because you’re giving kids who don’t have a chance, a chance,” Elke said.

Elke recognizes that foster care can be seen as intimidating as well.

“I think foster care is so stigmatized. When people hear, ‘Oh, that kid’s in foster care,’ they immediately think that child is bad, but they’re not,” Elke said. “They’re coming from an environment they can’t control, and people need to realize when they come into care, they’re just as scared as you are.”

The biggest responsibility of foster parents? Elke says making sure children know they are loved.

“(They need to know) they’re appreciated, they’re validated, and, most importantly, they’re wanted because so many kids in foster care don’t feel wanted,” Elke said.

And through her foster/adoptive journey, she has seen her boys blossom and grow.

“Aden really struggled in public school, but this year he’s rocking it out. He’s doing really good. He’s found something he loves and enjoys,” Elke said. “My middle one, he’s the more introverted child – this year he’s found friends that he really enjoys. And Blaiz, he has done really well, he has adjusted. … The biggest thing is just seeing there is that light at the (end of) the tunnel. Even though the days are hard still, we have a light, and we have met our light.”

Aden, the oldest, was six years old when he was placed in Elke’s care. He experienced a lot of trauma, and Elke said he’s just now beginning to work through it. Aden talked about his experience, and how the struggle has improved through the years.

“It was kind of hard at first, but it has gotten a lot better. When I was younger, I used to think more about stuff and not know how to cope with it. But as I got older, I found ways to help,” Aden said. “It’s a really good thing to be adopted. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

When asked why people should consider foster care and adoption, Aden says it’s all about the opportunity given to the child.

“You’re given another chance at life, to become something greater than what you came from,” Aden said.

Blaiz, the youngest, came into Elke’s care when he was just a year and a half old, and though he was a surprise addition to their family, Elke says Blaiz came from her heart. When asked what advice he would give to potential foster families, Blaiz says to try your best.

Elke echoed Blaiz’s sentiment: Try your best and give yourself grace.

“You need to go in with eyes and heart and mind wide open. There are going to be days you’re gonna cry and you’re gonna shut the bathroom door and ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? What am I doing wrong?” Elke said. “But you need to remind yourself, these are children trying to navigate a system in a life they didn’t have any part of.”

During her time at COAD, Elke has already experienced a full-circle moment. A potential foster parent has a similar situation to Elke—she couldn’t have children, which sparked her interest in foster care.

“I started talking to her, and she’s like, she just started crying on the phone. She’s like, ‘I want to do this. After talking to you, I know I need to do this.’ And she’s now getting licensed,” Elke said. “And so I just feel really good, like my story could help someone else.”

To learn more about the foster and adoption resources COAD offers, please visit our website: coadinc.org/coad4kids/4-foster-families. To reach out to Elke, who services the region covered by our New Philadelphia office, email foster5@coadinc.org.