By Cindy Adams
It may sound simplistic, but Helen and Tommy Wilson repeat the exact same formula with every teen they foster - they meet them where they are. Regardless the background, personality or behavior, each young person is accepted and loved "as is."
It started with their very first foster placement with enCircle. During their eight years with this teenage girl, they helped her navigate middle school, get her driver’s license, finish high school, secure a job, move into her own apartment, and begin nursing school.
That is a lot of milestones, and it wasn’t seamless. According to Helen, this young lady didn’t really want to be there at first. She arrived with a bit of an attitude and got into some trouble, but they worked through all of it, together.
"It came down to trust," Helen recalled. "Having a safe place to be and always knowing where my husband and I were helped build our relationship and allowed her the security and confidence to move forward."
Through this experience, the Wilsons recognized what the simple gift of acceptance meant for teenagers trying to establish their independence. They chose to focus on this age group and have now fostered six girls.
"We never try to change them," Helen explained. "They have a background and sometimes it’s not great. We live our lives, do the right thing, and let them see it. That gives them options and they slowly start to realize there is more to life than what they've seen."
One teenage girl just left the Wilson’s home in May 2022. She did not enter foster care until age 16 and had a lot happening in her life when she did.
"It was one thing after another in terms of getting into trouble," Helen said. "She tended to steal, and her habit was getting out of hand. On occasion, the police were involved, but I always showed up, brought her home and made sure she knew she was safe. I reminded her that there was no reason to do this because she already had everything she needed and wanted at our house – TV, music, clothes, food, safety, foundation. In time, she started asking for the things she wanted to use or borrow, and she settled down."
The enCircle foster care team was pivotal in helping structure these conversations. Today, this same young lady is now working and recently moved into her own apartment. It wasn’t long before she invited Helen to visit her there.
"Both Helen and Tommy welcome everyone into their home with open arms and great big smiles," said Rebekah Brown, Youth and Family Treatment Specialist for enCircle. "They provide the girls with the support they need, but they also push them to learn and grow so they can become strong, independent young women. They give them just the right amount of freedom and independence to test new skills and even make mistakes, but they are right there for them."
Part of the Wilson magic is their willingness to lean toward what the teenagers do today. They try not to speak "should" or "you have to" and they try not to be too hard on them.
"We just try to show them they’ll have a better life if they do something different," Helen explained. "Teenagers are resilient."
Helen’s greatest joy is watching teens take steps toward independence and helping them to get there. Showing them how to shop, how to cook, how to apply for a job— all significant moments in their shared time together.
Along the way, they encourage them to have fun, bring their friends over, play their inside music, be teenagers.
"It can be challenging, but it is so rewarding when they step out on their own," Helen said. "Until then, they keep the house lively and we enjoy their fire!"