Opening home, heart to foster kids
By Lee Cataluna
Nilda Ballesteros has had more kids in her house than she can count. "I don't know, hundred maybe? Ho, plenty." But she's loved each as if they were her own.
Since 1997, she and her husband, Robert, have been the "go to" foster parents for Hale Kipa's therapeutic foster care program.
Nilda and Robert, married 33 years, have three grown children and a house in Waipahu that they've expanded over the years to nine bedrooms. Nilda wanted a big house to make sure her children always had a place to run to. As a child in Kalihi, she witnessed a neighbor suffer years of abuse because she had no place else to go.
"I didn't want my kids to end up like that," she said.
When her daughters were away in college and Robert was working, Nilda got lonely in the big house. She saw a cute little boy hanging on to a friend of hers and found out he was a foster child.
"And I said, 'Oh! Can I have one, too?"
She contacted Hale Kipa and went through screening and training to become a licensed foster parent.
"And I got me a kid after that!" she says.
Since then, it's been a steady stream. The placement in her home is supposed to be six to nine months, but she's had kids stay as long as five years.
Hale Kipa provides for their board, around $1,800 a month. Nilda and Robert provide the stability in their lives, the attention and the kindness.
"One girl kept every little thing I ever gave her," Nilda says. "She made a treasure chest. When she graduated from intermediate school, she kept the balloons I bought her and the leis, no matter how brown the leis got. She kept the receipts. Everything."
Nilda spends evenings helping with homework, sometimes teaching high school students to read. She has done "makeovers" for the girls, cut the boys' hair so they look nice for school photos, gone shopping for prom dresses, and gone on long walks with the kids around the neighborhood.
There have been times teenagers have come to her angry and in a rage. When that happens, she lets them get it all out.
Some of the kids who are now grown still stay in touch.
"One girl, when she got married, she had to call me up to ask for my blessing," Nilda said. "And then when she gave birth, she called me from the hospital to ask if I could come and hold her hand."
And did she go?
"Yes. Of course."
HOW TO HELP
Hale Kipa is always searching for good foster parents. For more information, visit www.halekipa.org or call 589-1829.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172.