Many people opened their homes to friends and family this Thanksgiving with the knowledge that eventually their guests would leave, and their house would again belong only to them.
But families volunteering their houses to be foster homes open their lives to children who have nowhere else to go.
Army Cols. Sam and Debbie Franco initially became foster parents while stationed overseas. Despite their busy workload - Sam is chief of staff at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, and Debbie is regional logistics chief for nine Southeastern military hospitals - they decided to take care of foster children.
"There was a great need for foster families in Europe while we were stationed there," said Mrs. Franco, who moved to Evans two years ago with her husband. "Even though we're really busy, we felt like it was something that needed to be done, even once we came home. Being in the military, you learn how to juggle lots of requirements, and we decided that we could juggle one more."
In addition to having two children of their own - Bianca, 18, and Anthony, 14 - the Francos have taken in an estimated 20 children, ranging in age from 1 to 15. Their current foster daughter, Nicole, is 13 and has been living with them since August.
Nicole is one of about 14,000 children in foster care in Georgia, according to Christina Ruetz, community resources specialist for the Columbia County Department of Family and Children Services.
The state Department of Human Resources named November as Adoption Month and held several events in an effort to adopt out the more than 250 children in Georgia. According to the Columbia County Department of Family and Children Services, there are three children up for adoption in the county.
Currently, there are only nine foster families in Columbia County to take care of 45 children in foster care.
"Some of the foster parents here in our area have been foster parents to the same children for many years," Mrs. Franco said. "The longest period of time we've had any one of them would be four or five months. Then again, we've had a foster child for only 24 hours. It just depends on the circumstances."
Without going into specifics, Mrs. Franco said that Nicole's father is in legal trouble, and the girl had no where else to turn. It is an all too common problem that Mr. Franco said he couldn't turn his back on.
"Nicole is a victim of circumstance," Mr. Franco said. "She got stuck in the middle of a situation that was not her doing."
Mrs. Franco describes Nicole as a bright, energetic girl. Nicole attends Evans Middle School with the Franco's son and recently took up gymnastics.
"They tell you to look at foster parenting as a profession," she said. "You just hope that during that period of time that they are in your care that you've provided a safe place for them. You hope they're going into the same type of environment. You hope for the best for them."
Anyone interested in finding out more about foster care, even if only for a couple of days at a time, or adoption, can call the Columbia County Department of Family and Children Services at 541-1640.
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