By Tia Lynn Ivey
George Henry Lewes once wrote, “The only cure for grief is action,” and that is exactly how John and Kelly DeGarmo chose to overcome a personal tragedy. After losing their firstborn baby due to a brain deformity in the mid-1990s, the DeGarmos not only grieved, but dedicated their lives to caring for children in need. The couple went on to have three biological children of their own, adopted three more, but still felt compelled to care for dozens of foster children as well—over 50 in the last 13 years.
With a full house of kids—on average, nine children in the home—The DeGarmos now want to expand their vision by opening a foster care home for boys in Monticello that will accept male foster children from all over the state of Georgia.
“Our mission is to provide a safe, warm, comforting environment so children can become who they were meant to be; where they can heal and recover; and begin a new life with stability, joy, and happiness. It is Never Too Late to have a happy childhood,” said Dr. John DeGarmo, who has written seven books on the topic of foster care.
“This home represents a dream for us,” said Dr. Kelly DeGarmo, who specializes in nutrition, helping foster children overcome poor diets. “There are many children in this community who are actually homeless. They call themselves ‘couch surfers,’ not knowing where they are going to lay their heads each night. I want them to have a home.”
The Never Too Late Foster Home For Boys is anticipated to open sometime in late 2017. The DeGarmo’s established the non-profit organization to raise the funds to purchase and renovate a Monticello house in order to accommodate a foster home that will house up to 16 boys, ages 9-18.
The DeGarmos specifically chose to designate their foster home for boys, because of the greater difficulty in finding permanent homes for older foster boys.
“Once these boys reach the age of 9, no one wants them,” said Dr. John DeGarmo. “They are hard to place and just and bounce around from home to home, developing attachment issues and issues of trust.” DeGarmo has witnessed foster boys places in as many as 30 to 40 different homes during their time in the foster care system. And after these boys leave the foster care system at 18, their hardships only worsen.
“The statistics are grim. When they age out o the system, 55 percent drop out of school, 65 percent end up homeless, and 75 percent end up in jail,” said DeGarmo.
The DeGarmo’s hope to use their combined expertise to equip foster children with the skills necessary to lead healthy, stable, and productive lives.
“Once we open, these boys will have access to every kind of therapy and counseling you can imagine—art therapy, music therapy, animal therapy, play therapy and more,” said John DeGarmo. “There will be a 100 percent high school graduation rate. They will learn important living skills, social skills, and be put on a career-path. But more importantly, they will receive what they need the most: for someone to love them unconditionally. For some of these boys, this will be the first time they have had an adult love them in a healthy way.”
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are nearly 500,000 foster children in America, with over 15,000 in Georgia. According to John DeGarmo, there are not enough individual foster care families to give each of these children a home. The DeGarmos hope their home for boys will help address this dire need, as well as inspire others to get involved in caring for foster children throughout the state and throughout the country. Local businesses have already taken notice of the DeGarmos’ work, with the Madison and Milledgeville branches of Lowe’s teaming up through the “Lowe’s Hero Project” to donate both labor and materials to renovate the future foster home at zero cost to the DeGarmos.