Becoming a foster parent not only takes time and inspiration, but a lifetime of dedication.
Peabody resident Karen Gauthier is a foster mother who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help underprivileged children.
She has legal guardianship of four severely developmentally disabled children who live in her childhood home.
Her sister, Kathy Erkkila, believes she deserves recognition for her commitment to the cause for more than 15 years.
Known as the 'princess' and the 'baby' of the household, Maevyn Joy, 10, sustained an injury at three-months-old (before she was placed in foster care) that caused an injury to her brain. Unfortunately, this traumatic injury has left her cortically blind (seeing mostly shadows), fed through a g-tube and a spastic quadriplegic, who is unable to hold her head or upper body up without support of her wheelchair.
Maevyn has grown so much in size (to 67 pounds), however, that she can no longer fit into the family car and would require transportation via a handicap-equipped van.
Friends and family are hosting a fundraiser in fact, this Saturday, July 21, from 7-11 p.m. at the , to raise money for a specialized wheelchair van.
The cost for the evening is $20, which includes door prizes every 20 minutes with a grand door prize of a money tree filled with $100 worth of lottery tickets, or for a winner under 18, topped with $100 cash. The will also feature light snacks and raffles including: a 50-50, diamond necklace, gift card and gift baskets, half off a night in a party bus from Adventure Limo, a pony party and Coach bag -- Winners need not be present to win.
A psychic reader will donate half of what she makes to the cause and Maevyn's special education teacher at North Shore Consortium, Bethany Vahn-Chipps, will take on DJ duties.
Donations can be sent to: A Ride for Maevyn, C/O Eastern Bank, 102 Lynn St., Peabody, MA 01960. For tickets to Saturday's event, contact email@example.com or 857-363-1346 or firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-587-6449.
"I can't believe the amount of donations that have come in. Others, like the and Independent Living, were telling us they couldn't donate the full amount, but that they'd definitely help out," Gauthier said. "We'll have two tickets to the game, two tickets to see country artist Leanne Rimes, gift baskets and gift cards. The Elks was nice enough to donate the place to us for nothing. It can fit 140 guests; We're hoping for a big success."
A used van would cost between $20,000-$40,000, and a new one costs $45,000. The state allows and provides transportation to school and to scheduled doctors' appointments only, notes Erkkila. But that service is decidedly unhelpful if Maevyn becomes sick or there is a similar unscheduled appointment. Erkkila said available companies need at least two or three days notice for transportation.
"There have been plenty of times that Karen has walked Maevyn to her orthopedic appointment from her house in South Peabody off of Lynn street to Wall Orthopedics in the industrial park (more than two miles)," Erkkila said. "I have never heard her complain, just say 'It isn't too bad, at least the way home is downhill.' I have offered to pick her up in my truck and have Maevyn sit somehow in the backseat, but because Maevyn cannot hold her head up, she would risk the chance of not being able to breathe."
Maevyn has, however, overcome some of those obstacles by standing at least an hour a day, lighting up the room while smiling, attending speech and occupational therapy weekly, and even going swimming for exercise.
Erkkila believes Gauthier has gone above and beyond the call of duty in addition to caring for Maevyn. Her sister is also the foster parent for three other children: Andrae, 18, Matthew, 16, and Cameron, 17.
"She does anything for anyone," Erkkila told Peabody Patch. "A friend came over with no clothes for her baby, and she gave her a bag of clothes. She finds a way to get it done. If she can't, she'll call people who can. People with kids call her with their problems all the time."
Gauthier also gave money to a single mother whose child wanted to travel to Florida for a cheerleading competition but couldn't afford it with only four days' notice.
And she helped another foster child, Cameron, become a living miracle. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome with a blood alcohol concentration of .375. For the sake of comparison, that's nearly five times the legal limit for drivers behind the wheel of a car.
Doctors said Cameron wouldn't be able to talk, walk or show emotion, but he defied the odds, definitely showing emotion and having a vocabulary of 50 words.
"I wouldn't give up on these kids," Gauthier said. "They prove every day that they can overcome the doctors' prognosis. My mother and aunt also worked with brain-injured kids, so I've been around them all my life."
Gauthier still keeps in contact with other foster children who have previously been adopted. After she took the state training in 1995, five days later she was in charge of six children under the age of three with symptoms ranging from severe temper tantrums to an individual coming off of cocaine. Many of their symptoms resulted from being neglected before the Department of Social Services (DSS) took custody of them.
Her oldest, Andrae Knight, 18, is also a success story. Born very prematurely, at 24 weeks into his mother's pregnancy, he has grown up and thrived. He now plans to go to North Shore Community College to teach math at the high school level. A member of the National Honor Society, he graduated from Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury and hopes to teach 11th grade there. He received straight As in advanced algebra.
Even though he is legally old enough to move out, he doesn't want to.
"I just graduated high school and I'm putting my resources back in place," Knight said. "I plan to go to college. I always called this place home. I feel a connection here that's stronger than with my biological family."
Gauthier's other teen foster child, Matthew, functions well for a 16-year-old.
Dawn Bartlett, the sisters' cousin by marriage, works in the home as a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) two afternoons a week. Other PCAs and visiting nurses have worked with the children since birth, especially during sleeping hours.
"What Karen does is great," Bartlett said. "I always liked caring for children. Like her, I don't have children of my own, but I've always been involved."
Dixie, a pit bull-boxer mix, and Gauthier's boyfriend Dennis Diefenbach also live in the home. "They kids love them," Gauthier added. Erkilla is always over visiting her sister and the children as well.