For Noemí Amezcua, being a foster mom has never been a sacrifice, or some kind of thankless job.
On the contrary, she sees great satisfaction in taking care of children who need it and has discovered that this is her very particular way to fulfill her desire to serve God.
“People tell me: ‘Dios te lo pague’” (‘May God repay you’), she recounted. “My response is always: “I’ve been repaid.”
Today, Amezcua is looking youthful at the age of 55. She emigrated from Sonora, México, when she was in her early 20s. By the time she got married to her husband and had three children of her own, she knew that being at home with her own kids was not all that she aspired to be.
“I wanted to be in the house with my children, but I didn’t want to do only that,” she explained in an interview with Angelus News, sitting in the living room of her roomy house in La Puente. “I was very restless. I still am. Now I understand the beauty of being able to transform a child with the tools we are given. It allows you to transcend your own life.”
More than 100 foster children have found their way to her home over the years. Not all of them stay long — that depends on the circumstances. But some stick around forever in one way or another.
Three of those foster children were ultimately adopted by the family. Each one had some type of health challenge. One of the adopted, Jessica, died two years ago at 19 of cystic fibrosis. Amezcua, who comes across as sensitive and practical but not sentimental, breaks a tear when talking about her.
“But it’s not because she was sick or died. In reality, the experience with her was beautiful,” she said, breaking into a smile. “I know people expect me to be sad about it but I gave her to God and I always explained to her that we all have to die, we all go to God. And she was at peace about it. In fact, she did her best to live her life the happiest she could.”
A large portrait of Jessica presides over the bright playroom next to the dining area. There are toys strewn here and there. Amezcua’s two grandchildren of her biological daughter, JC Tatiana, 27 years old, were running around the house.
JC helps her mother with her current mission of recruiting new foster parents and helping them navigate the system, which can be overwhelming at first. She eventually wants to adopt a child with her husband, a doctor who is studying to be an anesthesiologist.
They live in Mexico but she was in LA this month, working with her mom on a recruiting drive for foster parents among faith communities.
Being in a large family comes naturally for her, like it did to Amezcua, one of 14 children.
“It was normality, since I was born, to have many kids in the house,” JC remembered. “Yes, at some point there was some confusion in my mind. When I was about 5 and I saw other parents come to pick up some of the kids, sometimes taking them away forever, I asked my mom if someone could possibly come for me, if she was my real mother.”
With her usual straightforwardness, Noemí explained the facts of their life to her kids, trying to give sense to their peculiar role in a family living under the same roof as the foster children, many of whom would become like brothers and sisters.
“She told me: you are my little girl and you have no biological sisters, but God decided to give you many,” she recalled her mother saying. “This home is meant to exist to take care of those children.”
From then on, JC said she understood and expected to be an older sibling for many kids who “needed a family moment when they could not with their own.”
In Los Angeles County, the need for foster parents is great. More than 28,000 children are currently in the system, and 38 percent of all children in foster care in the state of California are in the Los Angeles area.
There’s a constant need for more families willing and able to provide this service to a variety of children and adolescents who are temporarily or more permanently separated from their next of kin.
Amezcua and JC work hand-in-hand trying to get others to join, by visiting religious services in Los Angeles, and offering information and guidance to potential foster parents.
“There are a lot of myths around being a foster parent,” said Amezcua. “But like I told several of my friends who started doing this after I did, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
She doesn’t idealize the work and very honestly recounted one time when, very early in her life as a foster mom, she took home a newborn with a monitor that would beep when he stopped breathing.
“I pretended to be strong, but when I got home I just dropped in my bed and started crying,” remembered Amezcua. “The first night I could not sleep at all. I didn’t know what to do or if I could handle it.”
The pressure is real. Inside that room lay a helpless 5-pound tiny baby with a health problem. Amezcua was young and she very clearly felt the pressure of having the Department of Children and Family Services, social workers, doctors, and nurses all looking at her to take care of this little human.
“And outside the room, my own kids and family … it was too much. So I opened the Bible and found Psalm 23 … the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. It made me strong, I read it every day, and I was able to return that baby to his family in good shape.”
Every child is a challenge, said Amezcua. She remembered several of the most difficult ones and being able to offer an environment that would help them improve their health, or simply feel safe, was her best reward, she said.
One 5-year old came to her extremely overweight. “She was 150 pounds; one year later, she was 70 pounds and was able to be a child again.”
Another girl had her entire lower body burned by her dad. Amezcua would pray for her and ask God to heal her. “She would ask, who are you talking to? Diosito? A week later she called her mom and told her that there was a God that would heal in the house she was staying in.”
Amezcua stopped being a foster mom for 13 years after she adopted, and started again recently when she could not figure out what other type of activity would give her the same satisfaction.
She waited two years after Jessica’s death, realizing she needed to take her time. But she’s back at it again, with three foster children in her care right now.
“You really get addicted to this feeling of being able to see the transformation of a child with your care,” said Amezcua, who attends both St. Lorenzo Ruiz Church in Walnut and Epiphany Church in South El Monte. “And the thing that has worked for me is knowing that the ideal situation is to return the kids to their families if possible, and also, never to judge those families.
“I make sure the kids know their parents love them, but sometimes they are ill and can’t take care of them,” she said. “There’s no point in allowing children to feel unloved.”