“We really relate to the children we take in. We’ve had loss in our life. They see that you can survive and you can be successful in life and still do amazing things.”
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Surviving Loss and Finding Inspiration
Ann and Matthew Bearse have faced the unimaginable and continue to be an absolute inspiration to Massachusetts MENTOR and their community. For their tremendous dedication, they were honored with a Ripple of Hope nomination this year —an award given by The MENTOR Network to recognize those who create a ripple of change.
Ann was in foster care as a child and was later adopted. She knew she wanted to be a mom and to provide a loving home for her kids. She and Matthew had two children together. Their daughter Katelynn was born with a congenital heart defect and tragically passed away at age 9 while waiting for a transplant.
As they grieved, Ann thought more about her experiences as a child and wanted to open her home to children who were also in foster care or waiting to be adopted. The Bearses decided to become foster parents and open their hearts and home to children still in need. Over five years they provided safety and security to many children. They also grew their family by adopting two girls.
The Shocking Need in Our Community
While the Bearses decided to take a break from fostering to settle their new family, Ann did not slow down. She had set up bins with children’s clothes of all different sizes and began offering them to others so that local foster families welcoming a new child could have ready access to what they may need for the child. Wanting to do more, Ann and two friends sat down to research the greater need in their community.
“We were shocked that the need was so high,” Ann said. Soon Katelynn’s Closet was born. “It was founded in memory of my daughter Katelynn. Because she loved fashion, we provide a week’s worth of clothing to needy kids. Now we’ve been doing it for about 10 years.”
The Bearses decided to begin fostering again three years ago and came to Massachusetts MENTOR to provide care at a different level. Through the Family Vistas® model, Massachusetts MENTOR provides Treatment Foster Care to children who may have emotional and/or behavioral issues.
The MENTOR Difference
“We just absolutely loved it,” Ann recalled. “MENTOR gets it. We met everyone in Hyannis and we just absolutely loved it. They hold you to higher standards and they also support you and that’s a beautiful combination.”
Ann emphasized the benefit of having a staff member visit once a week, even when it’s hard to schedule, so that they can help Mentor foster parents get support and listen. “MENTOR staff are a good go-between with DCF and get to know the family and the family dynamic. They know how to support the foster families on a level beyond. They can walk in my door and be like, ‘We’ll talk while I fold this basket of laundry.’”
The Massachusetts MENTOR team has the same level of respect for her. “This is a mother that will advocate and go the extra miles it takes to be an incredible support to the children she meets,” said Alexandra Sackett, Program Services Clinical Coordinator and the Bearses nominator.
“My favorite part of MENTOR is having the cheerleaders around me helping me to do something I’m very passionate about,” said Ann. “And they do these great activities we all get to go to, like the Christmas party or a movie night, and you have the opportunity to meet other foster families.”
Relating to Loss and Growth
Over their eight total years as a foster parent, the Bearses have fostered more than 40 children.
“A lot of people have trouble with that—how could you let these kids go? But I think because we’ve had a child die you can have healthy losses, too, and I think that’s important to show our kids, too,” said Ann. “We really relate to the children we take in, we’ve had loss in our life. They see that you can survive and you can be successful in life and still do amazing things.”
That was certainly the case for a baby boy they fostered through Massachusetts MENTOR who was born with medical needs. He was with the Bearses from the time he was 10 days old until he was 22 months and was then adopted by a forever family who happened to live in the same town. Ann was able to attend both his baptism and adoption.
“Sometimes we feel really selfish because, yes, we’re doing a great thing for these kids but we’re getting an amazing thing back. They’ve really helped us to grow emotionally so I’m always an advocate for someone doing foster care.”