Local Woman, Couple Have Fostered Over 100 Children

This is the second in a two-part series about foster families in Southwest Florida.

There’s an ancient Hebrew saying whose roots are in the Talmud: “If you save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world.”

Some scholars believe saving lives refers not only to physically saving them, but providing shelter, food, financial needs, opportunity, etc.

While the translation into English varies, its message is clear, and three local people have perhaps saved more than 100 lives by becoming foster parents and changing the fate of their charges forever.

Angela Alexander, of Venice, is a single foster parent who birthed three children while married, adopted several, and over the years took in dozens of foster children.

Lisa and Jorge Alvarez, of Punta Gorda, have “fostered 115 kids in Miami and four more in Punta Gorda,” said Lisa Alvarez.

What binds these two families together is their love of children and wanting to make a difference in the world by giving them a chance to live, succeed, and become good contributors to society.

Angela Alexander, Venice

A behavioral specialist at Venice High School who had a former career in social services, Alexander said she always knew she was going to have a big family.

“I told my mother I wanted a batch of boys,” she laughed.

When she became a parent and later, began to take in foster children, Alexander said she remembers thinking, “How did my Momma do it.”

Raised in Manatee County, Alexander credits her mother, Dolores Davis, for being her positive role model whose parenting skills she followed.

Her voice broke as she described her mother’s efforts in “providing structure, comfort, good food, and most of all, love” to her children.

“We weren’t rich, but we were rich in love. We were a close-knit family,” Alexander said.

Her mother always knew “where her kids were,” and she set rules for her children. “We had curfews, we didn’t run the streets.” She said her mother implemented “tough love,” and her children faced consequences if they did something wrong.

Apparently, her mother’s parenting worked; all of her children became successful.

“My brother became a principal, my sisters R.N.s. We were all educated,” she said.

Alexander went on to apply her mother’s parenting skills to all the children in her household, over several decades.

After raising what one would call her “first” family — her bio children and adopted sons, as the years went by and her children were grown and moved out, Alexander didn’t want to be an empty-nester. For her next chapter she adopted again, and fostered more children. She is now 53 and can’t envision retirement.

Having worked for 31 years, Alexander said she can’t stop working and fostering because of the needs of so many children.

Currently her adopted son Jacob and three foster sons — ages 13 to 17 — live with her. When asked how she can handle teenagers at home and teens at work, she said, “I have the energy of a 20-year-old; my children keep me going.”

Alexander is up early — her day starts at 6 a.m. and she is home by 6:30.

“We eat dinner together, and I watch my kids’ activities after school and on weekends.”

One plays football, and two are on track and field teams. Some weekends Alexander takes her family on outings to places such as Busch Gardens or the beach.

She also utilizes her mother’s tough love approach.

“I give them consequences,” she said.

If a child flunks a subject, electronics are taken away, and electronics are not allowed at the dinner table.

“I give them structure. I teach them to forgive (many foster children are victims of abuse or sad their biological parents gave them up), and I want them to feel safe and have a place to come home to.”

She said she treats her “babies like they are mine; I tell them, this is your home.”

After her fostered teens begin to feel comfort, safety, and security, “then they open up to love,” Alexander said, noting they have suffered trauma from being separated from their family, school and neighborhood.

Each of her teen boys has chores, and although they eat home-cooked meals, “Friday is pizza night,” Alexander said.

She chose to foster teenage boys, since they are the most vulnerable to fall through society’s cracks and perhaps get into mischief. Mom Angela’s goal is to keep them on the straight and narrow, feel loved, and achieve in life.

One of her foster sons is about to graduate from high school, and getting an education is the goal she sets for all of her children — biological, adopted or fostered.

With all the boys in her life, her one daughter had a girl, giving Alexander her first granddaughter. She said she was thrilled.

Lisa and Jorge Alvarez, Punta Gorda

The Alvarezes are licensed medical foster parents, meaning they are trained to deal with children needing medical attention and those with special needs. They have two adopted children, 20-year-old Natasha who is about to have her first child, a boy, on June 1, and Desi who has cerebral palsy and other health issues.

Desi was adopted after the couple fostered him while living in Miami. He was born at 24 weeks and weighed 1.4 ounces at birth. He also had hydrocephalus. She remembered his doctor saying, “These kids don’t make it into their teens,” but Desi is now 14, she said.

Her odyssey as a foster parent began after the couple adopted their daughter. “We were blessed with a big home in Miami,” she said. Then, an agency approached her and asked if she would foster two babies. “I went to bed and asked God should I take these two babies; I don’t have two cribs and two car seats,” she said.

The next morning, “There were two brand new, brown boxes containing cribs” that were at her front door. Also, the agency gave her money “to go to Toys R Us to buy two car seats.” From that point on, a steady stream of babies came through the Alvarez home.

After foster-parenting 115 children, mostly babies, the Alvarezes moved from Miami to Punta Gorda three years ago when her husband retired. However, retirement wasn’t on the landscape for them, and they went on to foster four more. Lisa Alvarez, who is 61, said she thought she would retire, but after finding there was an urgent need for foster parents in our area, she decided to continue to be a foster parent.

In Miami, 100 people showed up at the foster parenting group Alvarez attended; “at the church on Midway (Boulevard in Port Charlotte) there were only six people,” she said.

She urged the public to consider foster parenting which, she said, is quite rewarding.