Most parents are perfectly satisfied with a few children or several at most. But not Doris Swesey.
Along with being the biological mother of four, the 86-year-old Naples resident and her husband Harold opened their hearts and doors to literally dozens of foster children.
These days, Swesey is still using her motherly skills by being a friend to everyone at Imperial Healthcare Center, a Naples retirement facility. As the president of the center’s Resident Council, she is once again another light to those who need it. Because transitioning from a family setting to a nursing home is sometimes one of difficulty.
Yet Swesey had practice. While it is not known exactly how many children passed through her home, the Ohio native said she cared for more than 100 foster children in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, before the children were eventually adopted. This was years before the state Department of Children and Families kept records. Before there were computers. Doris and her husband were the first love young infants ever knew as a Florida approved licensed foster home to children when they lived in East Naples.
“I was adopted myself, and I spent time in a foster home,” said Swesey from the butterfly garden at Imperial Healthcare. “So at a very young age, I decided to be a foster mother.”
Swesey would head over to NCH Downtown Naples Hospital after Catholic Charities referred her to the newest baby up for foster care. Pretty soon, Swesey would head home with an infant for sleepless nights of cradling, feeding and diapering.
Although Swesey raised four children of her own with her first husband, she knew the time came after her children were grown to reach out to those in need. She did so by fostering children.
“Going through Catholic Services, it wasn’t very long before they called us. They had a newborn at the hospital, and at the time, NCH was the only hospital we had in Naples,” she said. “He was a little boy, and we picked him up when he was 24 hours old. It was a dream come true to hold my first foster child.”
There were many challenges the Swesey family faced in fostering children, but Swesey recalled how each child was another blessing.
“Depending on if they were crack babies, or alcohol syndrome babies, they had to be 2 years old when they were adopted. These babies were a real challenge, because they cried 24/7...poor things,” she said. “My husband, affectionately named ‘Daddy Swesey,’ and I walked the floor night after night. Even my teenage son John was as good with the babies as we were, and he would help often. We took them at all ages, and we would have six children at a time sometimes.”
The old adage, “patience is a virtue,” also played a part during teenage years for the Swesey family.
“The biggest secret with working with teenagers is patience. There were days that I would think, why am I doing this,” said Swesey with a smile. “But the rewards were endless.”
“With these children, it was sometimes heart wrenching, because they couldn’t believe we had three meals a day. There was an older sister of six children, who would take food out of the fridge, and I would find it in her dresser drawer. She was only 13 years old herself. She would go into the trash behind McDonald’s and hunt for food to feed to her family,” Swesey recalled of conditions she found another foster child facing each day.
So cooking healthy meals and snacks was part of the joy of raising children, said Swesey. But she wanted to nourish her foster children’s faith, too.
“Because I was in a foster home, there are many personal things the child misses. If they see the same people every Sunday and at Sunday School class, when they are having problems, these are the people they look up to and confide in, and I don’t want to take that away from them,” she said. “Foster care is a lot of tiresome work, and the thrill of picking up a new baby means sleepless nights. There’s a lot of responsibilities, because sometimes they are not in the best of health. But the rewards can’t be measured. The effort is so rewarding. And be prepared to have a lot of patience.”
In District 8, which includes, Collier, Lee, Glades, Charlotte and Hendry counties, there are more than 500 children waiting for loving foster families. Families can provide a safe haven for children until they can be reunited with their families, or until they find full-time adoptive families, according the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida.
Interested in learning more about fostering a child? Call 1-800-89-FAMILY or visit Children’s Network of Southwest Florida online at www.childnetswfl.org.