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Happy Mother's Day

Photo of Bernita Gay smiling. She is wearing her hair up and has on a red jacket

There are few bonds more special than the bond between a mother and her child. However, life sometimes separates children from their mothers, and cruel circumstances can render a mother ineligible to care for her child. In these cases, a special person steps in and fulfills the significant role of mom. Bernita Gay, a Program Analyst for the Facilities Program Support Division for NCR, has dedicated her life to being that special person in the life of these children.

When her daughter was about 8 years old, Gay felt her child would benefit from a companion. As a result, she consulted with her daughter, and they decided as a family to foster a young girl close to her daughter's age. They learned that the girl selected was younger and also had a brother. This information encouraged Gay and her daughter to accept both children into her home. They were 4 and 5 years old at the time. Later, they learned the children also had a younger sibling in foster care in a different home.

After Gay got married, she had another child of her own. Shortly after, the foster care agency reached out to Gay because the foster mother of the third child was retiring, and he needed a new home. Gay generously took in the little brother of her two foster children, reuniting the siblings. She kept them together for ten years. She raised them as though they were her own, showing no distinction from her biological children. Gay believes that treating all children the same is essential not only because it is compassionate but also because it is crucial to establishing trust.

Once the children were teenagers, Gay allowed them to decide where they wanted to reside. Some choose to re-establish a relationship with their biological parents, which she firmly supports. Others may choose a different path.

In the last five years of Gay's 20-year stint as a foster parent, she has participated in respite placements only. Respite placements are for immediate needs in cases of emergency. So Gay would care for them while the agency sought a more permanent arrangement. Gay has provided a safe and loving home for over 15 children.

Gay considers the most critical characteristics of a foster parent to be compassion, spirit, and patience. The children placed in foster care have experienced trauma to varying degrees. Understanding is necessary for you to consider the child's experiences when addressing the behavior. You have to be willing to take on the behavior that comes with that trauma which is why patience is essential. The spirit with which you approach these challenges will determine the level of trust you will achieve. Foster children need more than a place to lay their heads. They need love, comfort, nurturing, and structure. Gay explained that it was important that every child knew that her home was a safe place for them, not only from physical harm but a safe place to open up and share their feelings. Respect is a verbal contract she enters into with the children upon entry to her home. She tells them, "I respect you, and you must respect me." She also promises to honor their privacy, which goes a long way.

Many people cannot imagine the emotions of having children coming in and out of our lives for years. Gay explained that it is crucial for you to remember that the arrangement is temporary, particularly in respite care, but she encourages anyone considering fostering children to do so.

"There will be ups and downs, fun and frustration, happiness and sadness. Such is motherhood, However, keep the peace and smile " she said.

Gay has maintained a long-term relationship with the original foster children. They still refer to her as "Aunt Nita." Gay's youngest child will graduate this Friday May 6, 2022 from North Carolina Central University.