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Merritt Island Foster Mom Opens Home to Teens

Foster Parent Spotlight: Shelley McKenzie

Merritt Island Foster Mom Opens Home to Teens

The idea of five teenagers in one house would seem daunting to even the bravest of parents. But for Shelley McKenzie, 55, it’s a joy. Since becoming a foster parent in 2011, the Merritt Island mom has cared for nine children, most of them teenagers.

“When my husband Doug died in 2005, I got used to taking care of our two teenage sons myself. It was just the three of us,” she explains, “But as they got older, they didn’t need me as much. This big old house on two acres felt lonely. More importantly, I realized I had more love to give.”

But Shelley knew it wasn’t a decision she should make on her own. She sat down with her sons, Tyler (20) and Travis (16), to discuss becoming a foster family.

“They loved the idea,” she recalls. “Our house has always been full of their friends, stopping by to hang out, swim, ride four wheelers and have dinner with us. It just felt natural to help kids in need by opening our home to a few more.”

So Shelley joined the Devereux Foster Parent Program and took in a 15-year-old girl who was on her third foster placement and weary of the uncertainty in her life. It wasn’t long before she felt like part of the family. At the encouragement of her caseworker, Shelley took legal guardianship of her.

“She was a good girl who had been moved around a lot. I couldn’t help but think she needed stability during this important time in her life,” she explains. “A teenage girl needs to know someone cares for her.”

Today, she has a forever family. And at 18, she’s looking forward to graduation and hopes to attend Georgia Military College. She sets a good example for her three foster sisters, two 17-year-olds and one who is 15. Despite the stereotypes about teen girls, Shelley maintains they get along well.

“They’re too busy with schoolwork and their after school activities to fight,” she jokes.

In fact, Shelley says one of the most challenging aspects of being a foster parent is keeping up with her kids’ busy schedules. With two of the teens taking dual enrollment classes, one working after school and countless study groups, sports events and volunteer activities – transportation can be complicated. But fortunately, Shelley gets a helping hand from her mother.

“It’s funny, because my mom had some worries about me being a foster parent in the beginning,” she says. “But she has fallen in love with these kids and is now our biggest supporter. Besides giving the kids rides, she invites us over for dinner and we spend Christmas together. She loves them like I do.”

Shelley understands the hesitation some may feel about becoming a foster parent. In fact, she thought about it for years before she finally made the “leap of faith.” But now, when she thinks of the progress Raven has made or the way her foster daughters comforted her when her father died – she’s so glad she gave it a try.

“Just try it. You can always change your mind, but you’ll never know how wonderful foster parenting can be if you don’t try,” she says. “These kids are like any of us – they just want to be wanted. Go with your heart … you’ll be so glad you did.”

For more information or to become a foster parent, call 1-855-LUV-KIDS (1-855-588-5437) or visit devereuxfl.org.