Debra Snell always knew she wanted to become a foster mother. She saw the love that her son’s grandmother gave her teenage foster boys and Debra realized that this was her calling in life too, to open her home to neglected children.
Living in the town of Amityville, Debra frequently visited the post office on Dixon Avenue and she would pass a building called Hope For Youth. “I always wondered what it was,” she says. Soon after, a friend shared with Debra that she was taking a foster parent class at Hope For Youth. Debra joined her first HFY foster parent class in 2004. Through the course she received training on how to care for children who had been neglected or abused and the HFY staff helped her understand what her rights and responsibilities would be as a foster mother.
In 2005, Debra opened her home to her first foster child, Mercedes, a ten-year-old girl. “It was hard,” Debra expresses when talking about raising Mercedes who had recently lost her mother and felt alone. Adding to the difficulty of the situation, Mercedes was separated from her brother who was placed in a long term group home for teenage boys.
“It made me have a bigger heart,” Debra says as she explains the feelings she had for her first foster child. Mercedes was reaching out for love, a love that Debra was willing to give when the opportunity came. It was difficult and a big responsibility to guide a child who had lost her mother, but with support from HFY, Debra was given the education and knowledge to manage crises and help Mercedes through this trying time. Later, Mercedes was adopted by another foster family, but the experience prepared Debra for the future foster children that would come into her home. Debra learned the importance of supporting children with love regardless of circumstances.
“I always wanted a big family,” Debra expresses as she shares how her dream came true. Six months after Mercedes was relocated, Debra received a call from an HFY worker. Newborn twins, Casey and Cason, born on November 1, 2007 at Manhasset LIJ Hospital, were in need of a foster family.
The boys were born two months premature but Debra thought, “I can do this.” Casey was only three pounds and his brother Cason was four pounds. The boys’ lungs were not fully developed and they required intensive care. Debra’s first reaction when she saw the boys was compelling love and she couldn’t picture anyone else becoming their foster mother. On November 17, 2007, two weeks after the twins were born, Debra took the boys home and began caring for them like they were her own. In the beginning the boys suffered with asthma and sleep apnea, but with the guidance of the nurse at HFY and doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital, the boys overcame many of their medical obstacles. Now at the age of three, Casey and Cason are healthy toddlers.
In 2009, Debra was informed that Casey and Cason were up for adoption. She did not hesitate in jumping at the opportunity. After the yearlong process was complete Debra became the proud adoptive mother to Casey and Cason. Today, the family remains connected with Casey’s and Cason’s birthmother and grandmother. They visit a few times each year and have maintained a devoted relationship.
As a single mother, Debra shares that there are struggles, but she takes it one day at a time. “Your heart has to be in it one hundred percent. If your heart is not in it, then it’s not for you,” is the advice Debra gives to others considering becoming foster parents. “It is important to realize that every child deserves a caring home because they are innocent.”
Casey and Cason have grown up knowing what it means to live in a loving home. They are nurtured and protected. Cason likes to play basketball while Casey enjoys watching football with his mommy on Sundays. They love to eat pizza and wrestle. Casey is outgoing and interacts with shoppers at the supermarket, while Cason is caring and passionate and loves to give hugs.
The joy of hearing the twins call Debra ‘Mommy’ and watching them run through the house has brought joy into Debra’s heart. Becoming a foster mother and then an adoptive mother, gave her the chance to give a helping hand and a gentle touch to children who needed her support, love and guidance. Debra hopes that in the future Casey and Cason will strive for their dreams. Her goal is to instill family values and support them through their education.
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