Teenager in foster care urges families to open up their homes, hearts to other teens

Agencies provide support to families who take on responsibilities of fostering

Teenager in foster care urges families to open up their homes, hearts to other teens
Teenager in foster care urges families to open up their homes, hearts to other teens

BANDERA, Texas – A teenager who is gearing up for adulthood and hopes to one day become a mentor to kids in the foster care system is urging families to consider becoming foster parents to other teens.

Gabriel Helton was just 15 years old when he and seven other adopted siblings were removed from their adoptive home.

“We were just, like, in our home and just some of us more than others, just being malnourished with food improper sleeping places,” Helton said. “Eventually, (Child Protective Services) showed up at our door and just came and got us.”

Two years ago, after spending some time at a children’s home, Helton was placed with Jennifer Green and Gordon Cook in Bandera.

“This is a pretty good place,” the now 18-year old Helton said with a smile.

Helton admits he’s staying busy outside doing teenage things, like holding a job, going to school, playing sports and training for a future career in the U.S. Army.

The teen says he was one of the oldest kids at the home he was placed in and often felt like a grown-up looking after other kids younger than him. In the two years that he’s been with his current foster family, he’s been able to do things teenagers do, and he’s grateful for that.

“You just learn to appreciate the things that you have,” Helton said.

Cook and Green own an outdoor adventure camping site in Bandera County. They explored the possibility of opening up their campsite for foster kids when they felt a calling to do more and open up their home. “As we did more research, we found out nobody wanted teenagers,” Green said.

With two grown children, the couple felt teens were the perfect match for them.

“They’re really fun. And they keep you up on all the latest technology, and just they’re interesting,” Green said.

The couple says there are challenges to having teens, but it’s not any different from any other parent’s challenges. The benefits are the love and the growth of their family.

“The biggest thing you’ve just got to remember is they’re kids, and they’re not perfect. They’re not going to be perfect,” Cook said.

The couple says there’s a level of patience that goes along with being a parent.

“There’s a lot of people out there that can do it, but they don’t know they can do it,” Cook added.

Watching the foster care crisis unfold, the family felt a need to urge others to be a part of the solution.

“It’s sad. It really is sad. My sister, at one point, was living in a CPS office in someone’s office space. It’s pretty sad,” Helton said.

Rachel Powel, program director for SJRC Texas, says the statewide foster care crisis means fewer placements for teens, who are hardest to place, followed by sibling groups.

There’s a lot of stigmas that follow teens, Powel said. But agencies provide a lot of support to families who take on the responsibilities.

“Teenagers want the same thing that young adults do. They want to be loved. They want to be hugged. They want you to come to their basketball games. They want all of those things that your younger kiddos want as well,” Powers said.

Families can make a huge impact in guiding children who are on the verge of adulthood.

“What they really need is families -- families that are willing and eager to work with them and help them through this healing process. And, yes, they can most definitely become successful, healed adults that then stop the cycle and raise their own beautiful families,” Powers said.

Helton is just weeks away from entering the Army. He hopes to do his part in the future to mentor kids who are in his shoes. But he hopes someone can help foster kids now.

“I just wish there were more homes for older kids because they’re not all bad. Some of them have their problems, but they’re not all bad,” Helton said.

For information on becoming a foster parent or supporting a foster family in your community, reach out to SJRC at (210) 592-1156.

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