East Texas family onboard the ‘foster love train’

Robin and Barry Wright of Lufkin filled their soon-to-be-empty nest quickly when they became foster parents. (Buckner Photo)

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LUFKIN—Elementary school teacher Robin Wright faced challenges in 13 years managing a classroom of pint-sized pupils. But she rarely witnessed intense trauma and desperate need in the lives of students.

Wright Robin 300Compassion for struggling students she encountered in her classroom prompted Robin Wright to call Buckner Children and Family Services to explore foster parenting. (Buckner Photo)So, when she moved to a different school, the number of children in her class—typically more than half—with Child Protective Services involvement in their lives overwhelmed her. Many of her first graders struggled as much at home as in the classroom.

“Their eyes would say things like, ‘Am I going to be fed today when I go home, or do you need to put food in my backpack?’” she said.

When school broke for Thanksgiving, so did Robin’s heart. The biological mother of one of her pupils received special permission to keep him over the holiday. Terror rolled across the student’s face as her teacher told him who would pick him up.

“‘I’m not supposed to go with her,’ he wailed. They had to pry him off me in the office to go with his mom,” Robin recalled. “I thought: ‘That’s it. It’s time.’”

So, she called Buckner Children and Family Services.

Full house

She and her husband, Barry, are no strangers to a house full of children. Married almost 18 years, the couple raised five boys—two now teenagers and three young adults from her first marriage. But an empty nest was on the horizon.

“My goal was to be finished having babies by the time I was 30 so that I was still young when they left,” she said. “Those plans have changed.”

Wright family 300The Wright family in Lufkin grew through foster parenting. (Buckner Photo)After completing foster parent training, the Wrights received their first call from Buckner Children and Family Services about a sibling group of three children—Anna, 7, Riley, then 5, and Sarah, then 3—who needed a safe home. (The names of children in foster care are changed to protect their privacy.)

The siblings were removed from their home after CPS received reports of them being left alone for long periods of time. Anna was caring for her brother and sister. All three children tested positive for methamphetamines.

The girls arrived one evening last May.

“The first day … really went fairly smoothly, but we were very concerned about their brother not being with them,” Robin said.

Riley could not be placed in the Wright home because he needed a separate space of his own, and the Wrights did not have another enclosed bedroom.

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So, Barry recruited a family construction crew, and the men built a modular room that weekend—in 36 hours.

“That was something we didn’t ask them to do. That’s a lot to ask,” said Buckner Foster Care and Adoption home developer Danielle Nicholson. “They insisted, ‘This is what’s best for the kids, and that’s what we want to do.’”

Riley arrived three days later.

“At the time, our goal was just get him there,” Robin said. “So we did. And he’s still here.”

A world of new experiences

The children jumped right into summer fun—Camp Buckner, swimming pools, fireworks—and new, thrilling experiences.

“We’re watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July, and they’re all just in awe,” Robin remembered. “But that’s how everything is or has been with them. It’s a new world.”

Riley celebrated his sixth birthday since arriving at the Wrights.

“When I was trying to get him ready that day, he was literally bouncing. I said: ‘Riley, I can’t fix your hair, dude. You’re going to have to calm down and let me get your hair fixed,’” Robin recounted. “He said: ‘I know. I just never had a birthday party. I’m so excited.’”

New experiences extended beyond fun firsts. The Wrights are active in their local church, and they see the impact that is making on the children.

“It’s been very refreshing to see the innocence of kids who have never been exposed to anything spiritual,” Robin said. “We’ll be eating in a rush, and they’re hollering: ‘Don’t forget to pray for me! Come pray for us!’ Those are some of the sweetest moments when you realize this is sinking in.”

Facing challenges

While the children have progressed significantly through new experiences, counseling and stability, the last 10 months have not been without their challenges.

Riley and Sarah’s older sister, Anna, moved to live with another Buckner foster family, an emotional decision that wrecked the Wrights but has ultimately proved beneficial for everyone. Anna is thriving in her new home. She calls multiple times a week and sees her siblings at Buckner events, visits and other play dates.

Visits with Riley and Sarah’s biological mother also have become challenging in recent days. After a particularly trying encounter, Riley had an emotional night. “I’m just really worried about my mom,” he confessed to Robin in her classroom the next morning, apprehensive about the school day ahead.

Buckner case manager Jessica Hernandez recalled a follow-up conversation with Robin about that day: “She held onto him tightly and said: ‘Please let me worry for you. You just have fun and be a kid. Let me love you, and let me take that away from you.’ What a perfect example of showing Christ through this ministry. Because that’s what Christ does. He takes away our burdens. And that’s what Robin and Barry do for these kids. Only God can heal them, ultimately. But (the Wrights) are helping in that healing process.”

As the dust begins to settle, Sarah and Riley are blossoming. Sarah is sweet and sassy, her foster parents noted.

“She’s got me wrapped around her finger. Robin gets mad at me. She says I’m creating a monster,” Barry said of Sarah. “I call her the diva chick, but she’s got such a good heart.”

“That child is more in touch with her feelings probably than some adults,” Robin added. “Sarah was praying daily: ‘I pray for old momma and daddy, but I pray they don’t take me back. I pray I get to stay with my new mommy and daddy.’ To have been through everything she’s been through, she really demands nothing. Everybody falls in love with Sarah.”

Riley is athletic and full of energy.

“He climbs everything. He could literally climb a half-inch door frame. He’s just constantly on the move,” Robin said.

Since coming to the Wrights, Riley has opened up emotionally, is doing well in his new school, where his foster mother now teaches second grade. He is setting goals and completing tasks.

“We just want to help them find what they’re good at and help them flourish and grow,” Robin said.

Adding a newborn to the family dynamic

This January, as rhythm returned after an emotional fall and hectic holiday season, Robin and Barry received another call from Buckner. This time about a newborn baby, Joshua, just 5 days old, weighing 4 lbs., 13 oz.

“It looks like you’re going to break him just to pick him up,” his foster father said.

Having a newborn in the house has been an adjustment. Joshua, who tested positive for four drugs, does not sleep well at night and needs 24-hour attention. His foster parents take shifts holding and rocking him to sleep and are also trading time off work to care for him.

The first few weeks, Barry Wright stayed home with Joshua, so he and Sarah, who usually stays with Robin’s sister during the day, have had some quality father-daughter bonding time.

“We don’t get out of our pajamas,” he said, reminiscing about their long, lazy days together. “But I got in trouble with Robin the first day I let her do that. So, now we get out of our pajamas just before Mama comes home.”

“It’s about to be a rude awakening, because I’m about to start staying home with her,” Robin said.

“She’ll have a lot more fun,” Sarah’s foster father said.

“And she’ll be dressed,” her foster mother added.

Riley and Sarah love having a baby in the house.

“Riley went to school and told everyone about the baby. He has trouble learning names, but he was so proud that he knew baby Joshua’s name,” Robin said. “He told (his class) how awesome he is and how cute he is and how sweet he is.”

‘On the foster love train’

And baby Joshua is melting hearts across the family. Robin’s mom, who was a bit hesitant about the foster care journey, recently asked her daughter about plans for Joshua’s future.

“She said, ‘If that baby comes up for adoption, you’re adopting him,’” Robin said. “I told Barry, ‘She’s on the foster love train!’ I was so excited.”

Ultimately, the Wrights do not know where life will take Riley, Sarah, Joshua or their family. That’s part of the foster care journey.

But they plan to continue remodeling their home so they can care for more children.

“As long as we can, we’ll have a house full of kids,” Barry said. “That’s why we got this big house.”

As for rambunctious Riley, sweet Sarah and baby Joshua, the Wrights pray they are able to adopt them.

But even if the children are not able to stay, they will be part of the Wright family forever, just like Anna, whose photo still graces the walls of their East Texas home.

“If the kids do not stay, I hope they know and leave with the fact that they’re valued, and that they have a Savior who loves them,” Robin said with tears in her eyes. “And that no matter their circumstances, they can rise above.”

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