May 28, 2014 - Early in their marriage, Curt and Christy Demoff learned they could never have biological children.
The Demoff family. From left: Dante, Christy, Curt, and Steven. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
With that knowledge, Curt says they faced two choices.
"You either get bitter, or you get better."
They chose the latter.
The 44-year-old Brandon Township residents, who recently celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary, made their family through foster care and adoption and that was the best decision of their lives.
"Not missing the opportunity to foster and adopt— it's the most successful thing we've done," said Curt. "Seeing our two boys grow and become the people they are today is success."
Now the Demoffs want to help others find that success and connect potential parents with more than 13,000 children in Michigan in the foster care system.
The Demoffs, founders of Bridgewood Church, where Curt is lead pastor and Christy leads the women's ministry, are hosting an orphan/foster care informational luncheon at 12:30 p.m., tomorrow, Sunday, June 1, at the church, 6765 Rattalee Lake Road, Clarkston. The luncheon showcases Hope Ranch, an 80-acre facility in Metamora donated to the church and which the Demoffs plan to use to help children "without families, a permanent home, or anyone to hug them." They encourage all with an interest in assisting children to attend the luncheon, whether or not they are able to foster or adopt, as they have over 25 different avenues to help these children in need.
It was 1995 when the Demoffs met a woman at a Macomb County church who had two children she was fostering. Those children were two of nearly 700 children in the county who were in the foster care system, and it opened their hearts to another way to form a family.
"We relate to people who want kids and are not able to have them, but we decided to make the best of it," said Curt. "There are so many kids who need homes and we could provide a home and take one in."
Curt and Christy applied to the state's Department of Human Services and went through the process to foster that includes a background check, interviews, home study, and training meant to prepare them for children that have issues associated with coming from situations in which they may have been neglected, abandoned, or abused.
Katie H., an Ortonville resident and state foster care services specialist serving Oakland County, said no child in foster care comes in without some challenges. She has a current caseload of 16 families and works to help fix issues that originally brought children into the foster care system. Those issues vary greatly, and can include substance abuse, domestic violence and neglect.
"Imagine growing up in a house where it is totally dysfunctional," Katie said. "A lot of people whose children come into foster care, they were raised in a home where they didn't have the best role model for parenting, they didn't know better."
As a foster care specialist, Katie works to give parents who have had their children taken away the services they need to correct the situation, including substance abuse rehabilitation, parenting classes, and domestic violence counseling. The goal is to reunite the original family, and in her job, Katie also does monthly home visits and attends court on behalf of children and parents.
She estimates that in 30 percent of her cases, children are placed with a relative caregiver while the family situation is addressed, but for the majority of cases, 70 percent, she turns to licensed foster care homes, for which there is a great need.
The Demoffs were ready to fulfill that need, even when learning of the challenges they would face as foster parents.
"We know some people who went through the process and were afraid of what they heard and saw," said Curt. "It didn't set us back, it set us up to tackle the challenge."
In August 1996, they received their license to foster, with a social worker coming to their house to tell them they were approved. In her next breath, she told them they had a little boy that needed a foster care home and with that, Curt and Christy's lives were transformed. Overnight, they prepared themselves for parenthood— running out to Babies R Us and busying a crib, clothes, and diapers.
The next day, Dante, 16-months-old, arrived. The baby had seven bald spots from stress, rotted teeth, scars on his face that they suspected were from animals, and was terrified. The Demoffs fell in love instantly.
"You can't love part way, you fall in love completely," said Christy. "They placed him in my arms and I'll never forget that moment. It was incredible."
The social worker had warned the Demoffs that Dante was withdrawn and disengaged, but they saw no signs of that. They did notice that the toddler would hide food in his pockets, but as they played with him and showed him his new home, he began adapting to his new family's routine and they dragged him around to meet family and friends. The social worker returned two days later to see how Dante was adjusting and was shocked to see the little boy talking and playing.
The Demoffs were thrilled to have a child and just two weeks later, they would grow to a family of four. While at the DHS office where Dante was having a supervised visit with his biological parents, Christy saw a police officer come in with a baby carrier. The social worker told her that the 3-month-old baby, who was sick and malnourished, weighing just 8 pounds, had just come from a hotel where there was a drug raid. The child's mother had been living there with him. The baby appeared to have been left in a car seat in a wet diaper for weeks, with his skin peeling away when it was removed. He had severe asthma and heart issues. Christy was asked if she would be willing to take him in. The answer was yes.
"We went from zero children to two in three weeks," said Christy. "Welcome to parenthood. Because Steven was sick, there was a lot to battle through, but he was a really happy baby."
Still, there was the uncertainty of whether Steven and Dante would be theirs to keep forever. Steven's biological mother relinquished her rights immediately, but there were three years of supervised visits with his biological father before he would do the same. Dante's biological parents were older and truly trying to make it work, said Christy, but were caught up in a cycle of addiction and poverty.
Dropping Dante off for unsupervised visits with his parents was exceedingly difficult for Curt and Christy, as there would be strange people at the home, sleeping on the floor, and Dante's biological mother would call them asking what to do when he was sick.
Two years after becoming foster care parents, the Demoffs received a call they had been dreading. Dante was going to be reunited with his biological parents permanently.
"That was a difficult moment," said Christy. "We held him all night, prayed, and cried."
The next morning, they received a call that his biological mother had been arrested for selling alcohol to minors and Dante's father had disappeared. From jail, Dante's biological mother wrote the Demoffs a letter that Christy has kept all these years. In the letter, Dante's birth mother admits not being fit and tells them to start the termination process of her parental rights. She asks the Demoffs to be Dante's mother and father, and to give him a good future and hope.
Curt and Christy officially adopted Dante and Steven in 1999. Now 19, Dante is a student at Oakland Community College and wants to do an internship at the church, going into children's ministry. He is drawn to children in need, say his parents. Steven, 18, just graduated from Oxford Virtual Academy and has a passion for music and seems to want to take a coaching and mentoring path and "is a very compassionate kid." Both want to be involved with Hope Ranch.
"It's exciting to see them develop their own lives," said Curt. "They're our children, but they will be launched. They're grateful for the love and support they've been shown and want to give back."
"Being their mom is the greatest gift in life," said Christy. "There is no greater joy. The blessing of fostering is that we were able to stop a cycle and could bring a change. There is no price tag you could put on that."
Katie notes that a person who becomes a foster parent can expect to be instrumental in helping a child going through an enormous change in their life. Foster parents show these children that someone cares and has their best interests at heart.
"We as a society need to be willing to step up and help these children," she said. "If we don't help them, what will happen to them? No one has taken the time to show them what life is supposed to look like. Parents come alongside and support you, they don't knock you down... Will it be all roses? No. These children have been through struggles. But if not us, who will help these little people and get them on the right road? They don't deserve this, they didn't ask for it. People that are blessed with great families and values should pay it forward. If everyone helped one family, the foster care system would look different. If you don't want to be a foster home, be a mentor for youths who are older. Kids a little bit older, have a harder time. They need someone to show them what a healthy family looks like so they can have a healthy family one day."
For more information on Hope Ranch, or the foster care luncheon at Bridgewood Church, call 248-625-1344 or visit bridgewoodchurch.com.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville