- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

How well do you know Rep. Tom DeLay? Based on the frequency with which he’s appeared in the news lately, you probably know his name. But the recent coverage fails to give readers the full picture. So, in the interest of fairness, permit me to take a moment to tell you about the Tom DeLay I know — the real Tom DeLay.

The Tom DeLay I know is a devoted husband, father and grandfather; he’s a conscientious legislator who has served his country for more than 20 years; he believes in leading by example and the importance of giving to others in need — especially this nation’s most precious resource: our children.

Tom’s passion for giving a voice to the needs of children who society has cast aside is not for show. It stems from personal experience. When his wife, Christine, retired from teaching, she was invited to join the board of directors of Fort Bend Child Advocates. As an officer of the board myself at that time, I was amazed at the level to which they became involved.

Rather than simply lend her name to the organization, Christine jumped in with both feet and earned her certification to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to act as a voice for children who are seldom heard in court. Each of the cases assigned to Christine was compelling, but the one that proved to be a turning point for the DeLay family involved a 17-year-old girl who needed a home. Finding a foster home that would take an older teen was a challenge that Christine was determined to overcome. So when she could not find a willing family, Christine and Tom decided to become foster parents themselves. They participated in all of the training, home inspections and licensing requirements necessary under the law so they could open their home to this young lady in need. Since then, as certified therapeutic foster parents, the DeLays have been assigned the most difficult and hard-to-place children.

From his home in Ft. Bend to the halls of our nation’s capital, Mr. DeLay’s commitment to children is unwavering. In his eyes, the well- being of all young people is an issue that transcends the traditional traps of partisan politics, and he has repeatedly reached across the aisle to collaborate with his Democratic colleagues when cooperation would make a difference for kids in need. He co-authored an article with Sen. Hillary Clinton promoting the importance of adoption. He was quick to collaborate with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton on legislation to create a new court system for the District’s abused and neglected children after the tragic murder of a Washington-area toddler pointed to serious shortcoming in the current structure.

His efforts earned him the repeated praise of Mary McGrory, the late liberal columnist from The Washington Post, who wrote, “his official title is House Majority Whip and his nickname is ‘The Hammer,’ and for good reason … now Tom DeLay’s ferocious skills are focused on an unlikely and worthy cause, the plight of children caught up in the District Of Columbia’s chaotic foster care system.” (Mary McGrory, Op-Ed, “The Right Tool For The Job,” The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2001.)

He cares so much that he and his wife founded The DeLay Foundation for Kids in 1986 to provide services and support for abused and neglected children. In addition to the countless projects and initiatives their foundation has supported, which include raising $1.5 million to ensure the future of the CASA program and establish the Tom and Christine DeLay Child Advocacy Center, they have embarked on an ambitious initiative to construct a residential community for foster children in Fort Bend. When completed, the community will have enough individual foster homes in the neighborhood to nurture nearly 200 foster children. But more than simply being a roof over their heads and a place to sleep, the Oaks at Rio Bend will be a community — a hometown for young people who have grown up without the reassurance of a stable home.

After much research, Rio Bend was designed to solve the major problems that were identified with the current foster-care system: multiple placements, parents who viewed foster care as a business, and lack of a support system when children reach the age of 18. Phase one, consisting of nine homes, a chapel and playgrounds is ready for families to move in this summer. I happen to be the administrative director for Rio Bend and I have personally observed Tom and Christine working tirelessly to make this dream project a reality.

That’s the Tom I know: a diligent advocate who gives of himself with full vigor and enthusiasm when he wants to make things happen. The youth of our country are better served having Tom DeLay on their side.

Margaret Gow administrative director of Rio Bend, a residential community for foster children in Fort Bend, Texas.

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