For more than a decade, a local foster mom has made a difference in the lives of the kids she's cared for by simply doing her best to love them.
Barb Bell will be turning 60 next month. The twin girls she fosters will be turning three around the same time.
"I said, 'We aren't taking any more kids,'" the foster mom remembers. "I said no, I cannot do it."
But Bell's heart melted when she heard what the two young girls, hardly six months old at the time, had already gone through living in a shelter.
"They just have to tell me that ... I give in," Bell says in mock exasperation.
Her heart is one of the reasons Bell has had such an impact in the lives of the kids she and her husband have cared for over the years.
"It was a decision we were kind of thrust into," recalls Bell, who has also raised six biological children of her own.
Bell's mother had been a foster parent for as far back as Bell can remember.
"They were like our brothers, and they still are," Bell says, thinking back to the foster kids she grew up with.
After her mother suffered a brain aneurysm in 2009, however, it was unclear whether she would be able to continue to care for the children in her home.
"They were going to take the kids away and (they had) been there since birth ... he's been with her for about 14 years. So we just quickly came into the home and ... the kids were crying because they were going to be taken away.
"That's the start of my story."
Bell's mother survived but she was not able to take over the care of the children again.
"You make a decision when you do that because you can't really look after kids like that and work," says Bell, who gave up her job as an area supervisor for food systems management shortly after bringing the children into their home.
Over the past decade, Bell and her husband, Rob, have provided a home for more than 10 children. Nearly all of them stay in touch.
"I guess ... it was meant to be," Bell says. "Totally changed our lives overnight."
She is currently fostering a teenage boy along with the twin toddlers.
Bell says the work she does with kids has brought healing into her own life.
"(Faith) got me through this." -Barb Bell
"I really believe it was a calling for me and it really made me work on myself ... These kids are hurt and mad and God can only imagine how they're feeling so if there is anything that isn't right about you, they'll find it," Bell chuckles.
"They'll try to drive you crazy."
"She didn't trust anyone"
Bell has experienced her share of behavioural problems from kids who have been placed in her care.
"A lot of these kids want to get kicked out of the home before they think you're going to kick them out," Barb explains.
Breeze Foy was one of those kids.
"She was a tough one," Bell remembers with a chuckle. "She came in and we weren't allowed to even look at her.
"I remember the day that she came in and my husband asked if he could help her with her bags and she said 'No' not very nice, and 'Don't touch my stuff.'"
Foy recalls coming home to the Bell's for the first time, also.
"I was very nasty," Foy says. "I was very hurt and I was quite broken and angry. But the moment I met Barb, she was instantly caring. You could just tell."
But Foy hadn't experienced much in the way of love in her life, making her hesitant to accept kindness from anyone.
"No matter what I said to her, no matter what I did, no matter what mistakes I made, she was always there to tell me it was going to be okay and that I was good enough." -Breeze Foy
After her mom died of colon cancer when she was six, Foy lived with her stepfather and stepsiblings for a time before she was moved to her first foster home.
Foy says she lived in a handful of different homes throughout her youth where she says she experienced physical, mental, and emotional abuse. At one point, Foy tried to take her own life.
"From all the moving and all the foster homes I've been in, it will cause trauma. Not just for me, but for all the kids in care," Foy says. "I've been through lots of trauma in my life ... Sadly, some foster parents aren't equipped to deal with the emotional outbreaks.
"I started to feel very suicidal," Foy says. "I tried to jump off of a bridge."
Someone saw Foy, however, and help arrived and brought Foy to the hospital. Shortly after that, Foy went to live with Bell and her husband.
"She didn't trust anyone," Bell remembers. "She had reason ... She'd hide in her bedroom and it took a while for her to come around."
Foy says getting used to having a caring parent around was a gradual adjustment.
"I thought it was fake," she says. "You know when you come out of a super cold winter and you go into a bath and it just burns your skin? That's what love felt like for me."
Bell's constant patience and proving over time she would be there for Foy eventually wore the then-18-year-old down. When Foy finally moved into her own apartment, it was Bell she called when she needed help figuring out the thermostat on her wall.
"I call her my mom now, because she's been more of a mom to me than anyone has," Foy says.
"I'll tell you, out of all my kids, she has totally turned around," Bell says. "I'm so proud of her.
"It's hard. Healing is the hardest thing," Bell says, acknowledging the kids who come into her care struggle with things like abandonment and attachment issues.
For Foy, seeing Bell never give up on her was the most radical way she realized she was truly loved.
"No matter what I said to her, no matter what I did, no matter what mistakes I made, she was always there to tell me it was going to be okay and that I was good enough," Foy says.
"She was just the most positive person."
Foy is now studying child and youth care at Red River College with the hopes that she will be able to help kids like her who have spent their lives in the child care system.
"(I want to) be that person I needed," Foy says.
"I've had a lot of trauma and I know what it feels like to be alone and afraid. I just don't want anyone to feel that way, like I did."
Fostering in faith
Bell and her husband have gotten a lot of their strength (and patience) through their faith.
"(Faith) got me through this," Bell says with a laugh.
The couple attends Springs Church and encourages their kids to come with them, but has never forced them to.
"A lot of times the kids didn't want to go and that was important for us," Bell says.
"They want be happy, they want to trust, they want to believe in things so they watch us."
While most kids start out not wanting any part of the church experience, Bell says her experience has been that most eventually begin to attend services with her and her husband after seeing how much it impacts the couple's lives.
Some drift away from faith through their lives and some come back to it, Bell says.
"I'm glad they get that background where they might have not had that before ... at least they know it's there. They just have to make the right decisions (about) which way they want to go."
Bell always hopes each of her kids will eventually come back to faith at some point in their lives.
No bad kids
Though Bell has certainly encountered her share of difficulties with the kids she's welcomed into her home, she says she's learned a lot about life through parenting.
"You learn to be very patient and compassionate," she says.
"You look at their behaviour and see what their behaviour is telling you ... It's just listening to your kids and being there for them."
Some kids stay with her longer than others. Foy only lived with Bell for about a year before she was old enough to take part in an independent living program and move out on her own.
"They might leave your home when you're done and they might be mad and angry at you ... but even the ones who leave from you and are mad, you might hear from them ... 'I'm sorry for the way I behaved,'" Bell laughs.
It's in those exchanges—offering thanks or apology—that Bell feels most grateful.
"Even though (their) stay was short, I know there was something there," she explains.
Gratitude is the word that seems to sum up Bell's feelings towards fostering. And while there are days where quitting enters her mind, she relies on the community around her and remembers why she so drastically altered her life more than 10 years ago.
"It's still really hard ... probably the hardest job I've ever had. But (there is) so much gratitude, especially when you can see kids who can heal and move on and do better than where they were," she says.