RIVERVIEW – Amanda Gary doesn't think she does anything special. But those who know her disagree.
The 37-year-old mother of two school-age kids takes in abandoned, neglected or abused babies – until a more permanent home can be found.
“She's willing to go the extra mile for the foster children who are placed with her,” said Marty Diebold, the guardian ad litem of the child Gary currently cares for. “She treats them like her own, making sure their needs are met. You can tell she does this because she truly loves them.”
Gary's mother, Connie Lesko, said she wasn't really surprised by her daughter's decision to foster children.
“She always had a passion for kids, especially those who didn't have homes of their own,” Lesko said. “She told me at an early age she would be a foster mom, and that's what she did.”
Gary worked in the foster care system between 1999 and 2008 and officially became a foster mom on April 1, 2007. She received her license that day and was notified that a 19-month-old girl was being released from the hospital and needed a place to live.
The child – now known as Lexy – was badly bruised, malnourished and had multiple skull fractures and missing hair, when she came to live with Gary. A month later, Gary became pregnant with a son, Rayne.
Lexy's birth mother was charged with aggravated child abuse and served two years in prison. She surrendered her parental rights and is serving five years probation.
“Amanda immediately fell in love with Lexy and knew she wanted to adopt her,” Lesko said.
But it wasn't easy.
The child's biological father, who lived in another state, wanted custody but couldn't provide a stable home for Lexy. His parents considered helping and actually passed a home study. But Lexy's guardian ad litem, a court-appointed representative of the child, recommended that Gary visit them, and when they saw how well their granddaughter was doing they decided she was where she needed to be.
Gary officially became Lexy's mom when her adoption went through on Nov. 23, 2008.
Now busy with two little ones of her own, Gary began taking short-term placements, where she cleaned up the babies; stocked them with clothing and necessities; and gave them the love and attention they deserved.
These included a 6-month-old boy with a fractured skull who stayed six months, and then was reunited with his father who was not responsible for his son's injuries.
A premature baby whose mom was a drug addict. She stayed with Gary for five months, and then went on to live with her legal grandparents.
And a 2-day-old girl whose mom was unable to properly care for her.
Some might wonder how Gary – who has the personal challenge of dealing with lupus – can care for a child for months on end and then let it go.
“It's heartbreaking, and I cry every time,” she said. “But giving them a loving start is far more important, and I find solace in that.”
Gary understands that not everyone can to be a foster parent but there are other ways to help.
To learn more about fostering a child, becoming a guardian ad litem or making a donation to the Hillsborough County Family Partnership Alliance, contact her at (813) 376-1339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“All you need is a love for children and desire to protect them,” she said.