When Billie Lara made a promise to her daughter’s friend in 1993, she didn’t know it would lead to 21 years of her and her husband providing love and care for more than 90 children in the foster system. But looking back, the 62-year-old says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Billie and her husband first became foster parents to provide a home for their daughter’s friend, who was living in an abusive home at the time. But a visit from a social worker convinced them that they could help even more children.
“The social worker said that she had a couple of girls who needed homes and thought that I would be perfect for them,” Billie says. “She asked me, ‘Would you consider it?’ My husband and I talked about it and we took both of them in the next day.”
Recently, Billie and several of her former foster kids, not adults, gathered for a family reunion at her home in Rancho Cordova. Billie says seeing her children go on to lead happy and productive lives fills her with joy. But in the beginning, she was unsure.
“I had fears about whether I could make an impression,” Billie says. “I worried that I wouldn’t be able to give them what they needed or that they would even listen to me.”
Billie says it’s important for new foster parents to be realistic and focused on the long-term commitment before taking on the responsibility. As the chairperson of the Sacramento County Foster Parent Association, Billie tells people who are thinking about becoming foster parents that the children might take some time to warm up to them at first.
“I think the downfall for a lot of new foster parents is that they think the child will be instantly grateful for taking them in or that the child is going to trust them as soon as they walk in the door,” Billie says. “For them, you’re part of a system that they may resent. It’s not going to be a bed of roses. Most of them will appreciate you, but it takes time.”
For Billie, the investment of time and love has been well worth it. Many of Billie’s children have gone on to college. They keep in touch with her and let her know what they’re doing. They still come to her for direction. One of those children is 24-year-old Roberta Knorr, who has been with Billie since she was 7-years-old.
“If I had stayed with my real parents, I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” Roberta says. “[Billie] made sure that I learned responsibility and that I focused on my education.”
Billie and her husband continue to foster children to this day, including six kids they currently have living in their home. She hopes more people will discover the joy of becoming foster parents.
“There’s a lot to the positive side of being a foster parent,” Billie says. “They have given me more gifts than I have given them. I know why I am here on this earth, and it’s for my kids. I love my kids.”
For more information on foster parenting, contact the Health and Human Services Department.