Fostering vulnerable children is life's work for the Vandeventers

January 2, 2011 

A while back, I wrote a column about an independent film called "Nothing Special." It's about a woman who thinks she's quite ordinary and dreams of doing something special with her life. But in reality, she has sacrificed her personal dreams and ambitions, acquiring a damaged heart in the process, to care for her bipolar mother.

In other words, the movie is about someone who is so special, she doesn’t even know it.

Thanks to several avid newspaper readers, I’ve become aware of similarly special people who live among us. Over three Sundays, I’ll tell you the stories of these truly heroic lives.

The first story is about Jane and Neal Vandeventer of Olympia.

Over the last 30 years, they have hosted more than 150 foster children. Now in their mid-50s, the Vandeventers have made fostering children their life’s work.

On their first date as a couple of 20-somethings, Neal and Jane discovered a mutual desire to foster children and eventually adopt. Neal says it was one of the attractions they had for each other.

And they weren’t kidding around. When the Vandeventers’ first biological child was just six months old, they took in their first foster child. And it’s been four or five every year since then — for the entirety of their married life.

For the first 15 years, they took in foster children of all ages, mostly from around Western Washington through Catholic Community Services. They have also fostered many international children through a DSHS program, called “Healing the Children.”

For the last 15 years, the Vandeventers have taken only newborn babies. They always have two babies in their home at a time and the newborns usually stay for about six months. As any parent knows, those first six months are challenging. So it would be hard enough caring for two newborns at a time, but the Vandeventers go further. They take medically fragile babies and those that are drug addicted.

Can you imagine trying to console a baby of a drug-addicted mother that is going through withdrawal? The newborn is likely developmentally delayed and not well nourished because of a lack of prenatal care.

I can’t imagine that.

Nor can I truly understand the patience and love and self-sacrifice this must require.

So why have they devoted their lives to foster children?

“We’ve always considered it our calling,” Jane Vandeventer says. “It’s what God equipped us to do.”

Neal adds that at first they just loved being around kids. But it didn’t take long for the couple to realize they were totally committed to raising other people’s children.

Jane’s background as a nurse helps with the medical issues, but it’s really Neal and Jane’s love of children, particularly babies, that drives them.

They’ve adopted six of their foster children, all with diverse ethnicity, and they have three biological children of their own, who have given them five grandchildren.

The Vandeventers don’t think of themselves as foster parents. “We’re a ‘foster family’ because all the kids are involved,” Jane says.

The Vandeventers will eventually stop fostering children themselves — “When we’re physically unable to wake up every 2 to 3 hours every night,” says Neal. They will move into advocacy roles, lobbying the Legislature and helping to recruit and train new foster parents.

Do they ever regret devoting their whole lives to foster parenting?

Not for a second.

“I feel like we get more out of it than we put into it,” Neal says. “I almost feel selfish sometimes.”

But it’s self sacrifice that makes Neal and Jane Vandeventer the genuinely special people they are.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357 0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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