Like a gaggle of ducklings, the fair-haired children kept close together
When the eldest, a 13-year-old girl, moved to the left, so did her younger sisters and little brother. When she moved to the right, they all followed along.
Nancy Riesmeyer kept her eye on the children — ages 2 to 13 — as they uniformly walked among runners, dancers and other children.
Just three months ago, the children were homeless when Riesmeyer got the call asking if she could help.
The foster mom with Neighbor to Family, a foster care agency in Duval County, didn’t hesitate.
Of course, they could come into her home.
Riesmeyer knows she has no control over what a judge may do one day should the case of the six children make its way through the court system. But there is one thing Riesmeyer is certain of: keeping siblings together while they are in foster care is important and imperative.
About 75 percent of all children in foster care have brothers and sisters. Finding foster homes for one child is challenging enough, but finding a home that can take all six is another story.
Of the estimated 375,000 children in foster care who have at least one other sibling, only 25 percent of them will be placed together.
Enter Riesmeyer and Neighbor to Family.
“Keeping siblings together is important because they only have each other,” said Riesmeyer. “Brothers and sisters are the only ones that truly know what each of them are going through. In situations like this, it is too scary to be without your brothers and sisters.”
When Riesmeyer’s oldest child left the house, she said her home and world felt empty. So she reached out to Neighbor to Family, which deals with sibling groups of four or more children, and said she was there to do whatever she could.
She is one of nine foster families currently working for the Neighbor to Family.
“You never know what the judge is going to do, but at least with me, I know I am doing my part,” Riesmeyer said. “… When I don’t have kids, I’m lost. This is my purpose. They are why I am here.”
And here is where more than 100 people gathered in Bartram Park off Old St. Augustine Road on Saturday for a 5K superhero-themed run.
The event served as a benefit for the Neighbor to Family group.
The six once-homeless children now under Riesmeyer’s care were dressed as superheroes, as were most of the children, runners and even a few dogs.
“This is amazing,” said 18-year-old Chrystal Gardner, as the runners started to make it through the finish line.
Gardner was adopted in March. Her new family now consists of three other siblings who have also been adopted into the Gardner family.
“I haven’t been this happy since I was 8,” she said.
To Gardner, people like Riesmeyer and her adopted mom, Felicia Gardner, are the real-life superheroes of the world.
“We couldn’t do this without them,” said Aida Serraj, the executive director of Duval’s Neighbor to Family program. The local program is currently working with 58 children. “I’m really proud of the organization that we have. Splitting up the children is absolutely not allowed unless a child is in danger. My staff and I work miracles. We’ve set up beds in the middle of the night. … We are kind of infamous for making things happen, making miracles happen in the middle of the night. I don’t always know how we do it, but it works, and I am really proud.”
Eileen Kelley: (904) 359-4104