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VOL. 133 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 17, 2018

Big Heart

In 27 years, Yolanda Dillard has been a foster parent to 70 boys

By Don Wade

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When Yolanda Dillard decided she wanted to be a foster parent 27 years ago, she figured she would be better suited to have girls in her home. “I thought I’d be able to nurture girls better than boys,” said Dillard, who was 34 when she became a foster parent and is now 61. “I was the only girl in my family.”

So her first placement through Youth Villages was a girl. Turned out, she was more challenging than Dillard expected. Still, she stayed with the idea that she could do a better job with girls than boys. But Youth Villages had many boys that needed placement and kept calling Dillard and asking her to reconsider.

Finally, she relented and agreed to at least meet a boy named Terrence and then decide. He was 5 years old.

Yolanda Dillard first became a foster parent for Youth Villages when she was 34. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“He was a busy little boy,” Dillard said, “but a sweet little boy.”

They started with a trial weekend. On Sunday, when Terrence was supposed to leave, “He looked up at me, and he had something of a speech impediment, and he says, `are you going to make me go back?’ I was lost for words.”

Long story short, she adopted Terrence. And in the years since, she has taken in around 70 foster children – all boys and of all nationalities. She has a 14-year-old and 16-year-old living with her now.

“Miss Dillard is what I like to describe as an old-school parent,” said La’Keisha Gomes, a foster care manager with Youth Villages. “She’s tough, but she’s soft.”

She is also a great example for Foster Care Awareness Month, which May is. Foster parents remain in demand.

“The need is especially great for teenage sibling groups,” Gomes said.

Youth Villages’ counselors work with foster parents, starting with in-depth training. There is also 24-hour support and monthly financial reimbursements.

Eligibility requirements for foster parents include: being at least 25 years of age, completing the full training, clearing a background check, providing proof of insurance and financial stability, having reliable transportation, having adequate space for a child in the home and having renter’s or homeowner’s insurance.

When Dillard gets a new placement, she treads slowly. The child may be coming to her after being abused or neglected. Or because there was some tragedy or hardship in his family and he had nowhere else to go. The common denominator in every situation is that change has been forced upon the child, and that doesn’t encourage trust.

“A lot of kids in the system have a fear of rejection,” Dillard said.

If they are coming to her after being in trouble themselves, she knows they might assume that she is going to judge them; she tries to clear that up in the first few minutes.

“I remind them this is a fresh start,” she said. “And you just met me and I just met you.”

She also has to have the kids blend in well together and Dillard isn’t shy about bringing her own family and friends around, creating a casual extended family atmosphere: “I try to let it be as natural as possible.”

Some of the boys have been tougher to handle than others, such as one who incurred multiple school suspensions while he was living with her. The easy thing would have been to call Youth Villages and say she couldn’t deal with this one, she was done. Instead, Dillard asked for help and kept the boy for more than a year.

“She didn’t just throw in the towel,” Gomes said. “She’s very loving and nurturing, but she’s firm and stern.”

Often, she starts out as Miss Dillard to the boys and then she becomes Mom. Some call her Mom from the start and one dubbed her “Mom Deuce.”

She encourages those old enough to work to get a part-time job and all the boys are required to pick up after themselves. Technology rights, such as having a cell phone or getting on the internet, are earned and monitored. She’s taught several boys to cook and one even took detailed notes.

Years after they leave, she still hears from some of them. A boy she fostered 18 years ago went into the military and then got married – to a girl named Yolanda. He was pretty proud of that.

Often, boys she fostered will come around on the holidays. They know Mom will be cooking.

“They love my lasagna, they love my ribs.”

Her love for all her boys is ever-bountiful.

“I see being a foster parent as a reward to me in my life,” she said.

Yolanda Dillard is hopeful others will come to feel the same way. She has recruited friends to become foster parents, four or five them in the last few years.

And she has a couple of questions she would like potential foster parents to consider: “How much extra food do you have when you cook? How much space do you have in your home?

“We’re just average,” she said of the people already acting as foster parents. “There’s no reason you can’t open your doors.”

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