- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - Willie Jamison knows how to make a point.

You knock on her front door and wait. Suddenly, she’s at the door and you’re startled.

“How did that make you feel?” she asks.

A little uncertain?

You walk inside her Fremont home. You’ve never been there before so everything is new - the sights, smells and sounds.

Now, she says, you know a little bit of how a foster child feels.

Throughout the years, lots of foster children have come through the door to Willie and Bob Jamison’s house - about 180 of them, the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1NpJOnW ) reported. Among the couple’s myriad memories are times both funny and sad, but they are resolute in their determination to give kids a chance.

And it’s something they’ve done for about 40 years.

Willie grew up on a farm and was one of seven children.

“I always wanted to be a missionary, when I was in school. I think that’s where the passion for kids came from,” she said.

School wasn’t easy for Willie, who said she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But she grew up a curious kid, always wondering what was over the next hill.

One day, she was a teenager walking home when a young man stopped her to ask for directions.

“When he went downtown, he said he’d met this really nice girl,” Jamison remembers.

Townspeople told him who that girl was and so he called and asked her for a date. They dated during her senior year of high school.

Willie told Bill that she wanted to have 12 children. He said, “OK.”

They married in 1972. Their daughter, Dawn, was born in 1974 and son, Daniel, in 1975. Willie had an in-home daycare in O’Neill, when a woman started leaving her child there for a few days at a time, saying she needed a break. The Jamisons had the little girl as a foster child for about six years, on and off, until her biological mother, who had medical issues, said she couldn’t care for the child any longer. The Jamisons then adopted the girl, who picked her own first name - Denise.

The Jamisons became foster parents in about 1976-77.

Willie’s eyes fill with tears when she talks about the decision to become a foster parent. She was just 25 when her father, Bill, died. Her mother, Margaret, died in 2010.

“I wanted to give back the love that my parents gave to me,” she said.

The Jamisons kept adding to their family.

Their son, Doug, was born in 1978 and son, Dustin, in 1983.

The Jamisons took a break from foster care while in O’Neill and Willie had different jobs. She worked with people with mental challenges and also at a hospital.

After Bob got a job in West Point, the family relocated. Willie worked with people with mental challenges, there too, and as a nurse’s aide. They also started providing foster care.

“At age 40, I decided I needed to do something different with my life,” Willie said.

So she went to Northeast Community College for three years for business and marketing. When she couldn’t get a job with an associate’s degree, she went to Wayne State College and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology, while still providing foster care.

The Jamisons adopted another girl, who also chose her own first name, DeLaney.

When the business where Bob had worked for 14 years closed, he got a job at Magnus Metals in Fremont.

The family moved to Fremont in about 2001 and continued the foster care. Throughout the years, they’ve cared for children with autism, Munchausen syndrome, some who’ve been victims of incest or some from gangs.

“They’re just kids that need love and a mom,” she said. “Foster care is something that we should do, because there are kids out there that just want a home.”

She remembers asking one 10-year-old boy what he wanted for Christmas.

“I want a mom and a dad and a home,” he said.

The best part of being a foster parent is making a difference in a child’s life - today, tomorrow and always, she said. The hardest is when they leave, but Willie said she knows when that happens, she’s given them tools they need.

“You give them one day, one month, one year of what they never had - going to church, learning to share, manners, love - so they will be independent to take care of themselves, no matter where they go,” she said.

Willie said foster parent training has come through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The Jamisons also belong to the Building Blocks agency at O’Neill, which she said has provided tremendous support.

“They’re there for us no matter what time of the day or night,” she said.

Willie said she’s attended lots of seminars. She’s not one to get stressed out.

“When you have God in your heart, he helps you with everything,” she said. “I’m very much a positive person. Every negative comment deserves a positive response.”

She knows how to handle various situations.

“When a child comes to you in a rage or anger or stress, the way you handle your facial features or body language determines what the end result will be. Stay calm. . Count to 10 under your breath,” she said.

Today, the Jamisons have little foster children in their home, along with their 16-year-old daughter. Willie says she’s over 60 and “loving every minute of it.”

Bob is retired and people ask when the Jamisons will quit being foster parents.

“When do I quit being a mom?” she said. “People say, ‘Why don’t you get a real job and make some money?’”

Willie has a response.

“I have a job,” she said. “I’m a foster mom and I’m a mom and that’s my job.”

The Jamisons are still in contact with foster children, who’ve grown up. A 17-year-old girl they took into their home years ago, still telephones them and still calls them “Mom and Dad.”

And she’s 51 years old now.

They learned that one of their foster sons had considered suicide, but decided against that after being with the Jamison family. The boy admired their son, Dustin, who went into the military.

Later, the foster boy grew up, joined the National Guard and served a tour in Iraq. They still have contact with him.

The Jamisons are still looking for a former foster child, who probably would be in his late 30s now. That child was 3 when he came to the Jamisons’ home. Before that, he had been beaten with a bathroom plunger by his mom’s boyfriend.

“When we got him, he couldn’t sit on our laps for a long time - his bottom was so bruised,” Willie said.

Bob remembers that they had to put a pillow on a chair so the child could sit and eat.

“We’re still searching to find him,” Willie said. “He made an impression on the whole family. He was a loveable little boy. Our kids really bonded with him.”

Looking back, Willie doesn’t think that having 180 foster children is a lot.

“We know people who’ve had 200 to 300,” she said.

The Jamisons are grandparents now. Their oldest granddaughter is 23 and their youngest grandchild is 5 months old.

“People ask, ‘Why do you do foster care when you have your own kids?’

“I say that we want to give to other kids the same chance that our kids had,” Willie said.

Bob agreed.

“Everybody deserves a chance,” he said.

Light streams through the windows of the Jamisons’ home. A scent like pumpkin provides a sweet fragrance to the living and dining room. Photographs filled with family members line a shelf.

Lots of foster children may have been uncertain and wary when they first came through the doors of the house, but for a time this was a place where they could find a haven.


Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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