- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - As a real estate agent, Alex Prins said he spends his time helping people find just the right home.

For Alex, home was a word he didn’t know or understand - at least until he was adopted at 4 by Lois and Rick Prins.

Alex was in the foster care system in Illinois from the time he was an infant.

“As a real estate agent I find it ironic that I find people homes all the time,” said Alex, now 30. “I see what it means to be home to some people.

“It means something completely different to me.”

Rick and Lois began fostering children when they moved from New Jersey to the Chicago area around 1980. The couple, who fostered children long-term, cared for at least 15 children there during a 10-year period.

Unable to have children of their own, they met a family at church that fostered and joined the same program, Evangelical Child and Family Service, and began caring for children who were abused, neglected or abandoned.

Alex and his brother, John, now 32, were two of the Prins’ foster children who later were adopted.

Their sister, Demetria, was adopted by another family, and they have another brother still in the foster care system, Alex said.

ECFS staff asked the Prins if they would consider adopting two sisters they were fostering. The girls, who were 5 and 6 years old, had been in foster care for several years before coming to the Prins home. They had bounced around from home to home and needed a place to land.

“It was hard, but then we accepted that when you love children so much and God has given you that love, He gave it to you for a reason,” she said.

There are a lot of requirements to qualify as adoptive parents, so the couple set to work to learn all they could to prepare themselves for parenthood.

“You go through a lot to adopt a child,” Lois said.

While fostering Hope and Danielle, the Prins were waiting for a child to adopt. Four months after their arrival, the couple got the call to adopt 9-day-old son, Chris.

Hope and Danielle were adopted a short time later.

Then it was Alex and John’s turn.

The family moved to Hattiesburg in 1990, when Rick was offered a job at Sunbeam. But at the time, John and Alex were still in foster care, so the family had some decisions to make.

“We decided we would not go unless John and Alex could be adopted,” Lois said. “We were not going to leave the Chicago area without them. Our minds were made up.”

The Prins were allowed to adopt the brothers, so the family moved to Hattiesburg. The family spent a lot of time together, riding bicycles, going to the zoo, sitting down to family dinners in the dining room.

“God has a way of opening doors and answering prayers,” Lois said. “I believe every one of the kids has been put there for a reason.”

It was a special time for the parents, too.

“We did so much as a family,” Lois said. “If I could go back in time, that’s where I’d want to be.”

Alex said even though he now lives in Dallas, his thoughts are never far from his family in Hattiesburg.

“My parents still live in the same house on Buccaneer Drive,” he said. “I have random images in my head of love, growing up on the lake, the trees, the way the pine trees smell - they remind me of love.

“No matter where I go, it always reminds me of home.”

To honor the parents who gave him so much, Alex decided to make a short feature film to demonstrate his appreciation and the love he feels for them.

“I didn’t know how to tell a story so I went home and let ‘home’ speak to me,” he said. “My parents had to teach me what ‘home’ meant.”

The movie features many scenes from Hattiesburg, and in the end he has a touching “conversation” with his mother, thanking her for all she’s done for him.

“Not everybody gets the ‘Annie’ story,” Alex said. “Not everybody gets adopted. That doesn’t always happen.”

Alex said he wanted to do it for his family, but he also wanted to do it for the children in the foster care system, and the families out there who could make room for one more child.

“I wanted to do this for all the children, to create awareness for Mother’s Day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what color they are.

“My parents didn’t see color. They didn’t see race. Now I’m trying to make my footprint and do that, too.”

The video, “Making a Heart a Home,” was Alex’s way of expressing his love for his family, and especially for Lois.

“My mother is very important to me,” he said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to my mother for everything she and my dad did.

“My parents are really amazing. They have hearts of gold.”

As Alex explored the meaning of “home” in his 7-minute video, he began to understand other things connected to it as well.

“As I got older I guess I realized there was a bigger meaning to it,” he said. “And I realized I wanted to help other children, too.”

Alex said he would love to adopt a child some day.

“I want to find a bigger meaning in life,” he said.

Rick and Lois have been married for nearly 42 years. Rick still works for Sunbeam, and Lois stays busy delivering meals to the elderly and shut-ins and tutoring students.

“I don’t want to slow down,” Lois said. “I still want to serve. I feel God is using me.”

Their children are grown, but the nest isn’t quite empty, Lois said.

The couple has been raising their granddaughter, 18-year-old Leah Prins, since the death of her mother and their daughter, Danielle Prins, about 15 years ago.

Chris Prins, 34, is married. He lives in Oxford with his wife, Emily. The couple is expecting their first child in September.

Hope Prins, 40, lives in Tennessee, while John, a photographer, lives in Colorado.

Lois said even though they are adults now, she still loves her children.

“That love is never going to go away,” she said. “I just remember such good times.”

Lois has advice for anyone considering foster care or adoption.

“Pray about it because it’s not an easy job,” she said. “You will have some hard times. Know that it is something you are supposed to do - you really have to know. You have to have it in your heart.

“It’s hard, but you have rewards like none other. It’s worth it.”

For the last few decades, the Prins have had a love for children in their hearts, through good times and bad, Lois said.

Rick and I don’t have any regrets at all.”

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