I invited a friend and colleague from ZACH Theatre to lunch because I wanted to hear more of her story. Renelle Bedell, ZACH’s Associate Managing Director, is bright, conscientious and hard working. She has also endured more challenges than any young woman should have to. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare and fast growing tumor on her back. During treatment I saw her grow pale, exhausted and yet forge on with a will as strong as I’ve ever seen. It seemed endless, the chemotherapy, surgery, tests and travel, but she endured and was ultimately pronounced cancer free. Then, as she and her husband Adam could at last contemplate starting a family, she was told that pregnancy would greatly increase the risk of her cancer returning.
They decided to become foster parents. It wasn’t a hard decision, as Renelle had a role model for an expanded view of family. When she was growing up, a young teen in her community became pregnant and Renelle’s parents encouraged the teen to carry the pregnancy to term, promising they would adopt the baby, which they did. Renelle has no label for her brother, other than brother.
Renelle and Adam first fostered a young, beautiful boy and hoped to adopt him, only to have his parents regain custody a few months later. After a brief period, they have now fostered another young toddler, and are working to adopt him soon. What struck me as Renelle told her story was not just the challenges she has faced, but how she and Adam have faced them. They have made major decisions about their lives from a place that is both informed and honest, compassionate and strategic, caring and cautious. This young boy is about to inherit role models that will serve him well, whatever his future holds.
I want to pass on what Renelle told me about foster care because it may inform decisions for others. While both pregnancy and adoption are expensive, foster care is encouraged by the system and offers many benefits once foster parents become licensed. The licensing agency remains connected throughout the process, and birth parents are also supported for a period of time if they attempt to regain parental rights. Once parental rights are formally revoked, foster children are eligible for permanent adoption. Addiction runs in many birth families and there is often more than one sibling seeking a safe home, so the need is great.
Foster parents receive a monthly stipend to support the children in their care and an allowance for clothes and shoes four times a year. The children receive free health care and insurance through Medicaid. All foster families are also eligible for the Women Infants and Children Program (WIC) and receive free formula and baby food up until age one, which is a big help as formula is so costly. After that there is a continued allotment for basic food items each month such as milk, eggs and cereal. Foster children raised in Texas also receive free tuition to any state college or university. In addition, there are engaged nonprofits like Austin Angels that host birthday programs and collect Christmas gifts for foster children. Many social media platforms create community for these families.
Renelle closed our conversation by balancing head and heart. “People place so much importance on their child being genetically related to them and spend thousands of dollars on things like fertility treatment,” she said. “But there are so many children who need a loving home and so much support for the families willing to care for them. Why spend all that money trying to make a difficult pregnancy happen when you can just offer a home and family to a child who already needs one?”