Youth Villages stories
Embracing the change
For newly certified foster parents Travis and Michael Van Zant, fostering was on their minds for a long time.
“We knew that as a same-sex couple, we could not have kids the traditional way,” Travis said.
After ruling out private adoptions and surrogacy due to cost, the couple began exploring fostering.
“We began to think about what we have been through and what we could offer to these kids and decided to give it a go,” Travis said.
Travis, a Cumberland Electric employee, and Michael, a woodworker, have been married for more than seven years. The couple looked at different fostering agencies and decided to go through Youth Villages for the therapeutic services the organization provides to the children and the families.
Youth Villages’ Therapeutic Foster Care program provides training and certification along with 24-7, on-call support and counseling services to the children and foster families in their services. The program’s goal is to ensure foster families are supported and never feel alone in the process, especially when caring for children who have experienced trauma.
“We saw the way Youth Villages was helping these children who have been through more trauma than most, who typically get tossed aside by society, and we knew we wanted to help them too,” Travis said. “We know there will be rough times, but Youth Villages has an amazing support system that guides you through it.”
Travis and Michael were certified in August of 2020 and so far have fostered seven children. There have been ups and downs, but the couple is making it work. Michael even transitioned to a “stay-at-home” dad to take care of the kids.
The process has opened their eyes to the amount of trauma some children have experienced and the need for ongoing support to help these children heal.
“These children have been through so much, but they give so much more especially once you break through that ‘shell’ that they have up,” Travis said. “The amount of love and patience these kids have shown is astonishing.”
Currently, there are more than 8,000 children in foster care in Tennessee and more than half are in need of a foster home. Foster parents provide these children with a stable home along with care and support at a time when they need it the most, until they can safely be reunified with their biological families or adopted.
At Youth Villages, our primary goal is to help children find permanency, either returning home with biological parents, finding a loving and nurturing foster-to-adopt home, or – in the case of older youth – transitioning successfully into the community through the support of our LifeSet program.
Travis and Michael are helping Youth Villages achieve this goal by helping children in foster care be successful. Currently, the couple are fostering two sets of siblings, and the family loves doing anything outdoors together.
“Our favorite moment with our kids is when they open up and trust you enough to tell you they love you,” Travis said. “It just shows we have gained enough of their trust to allow them to open up and become more of themselves.”
Adoption is Michael and Travis’ goal to add to their family. If there is an opportunity to adopt any of the children in their care, they plan to do so. They know fostering has been the right decision for them and encourages others interested in the process to move forward.
“Take the chance to step outside of your comfort zone and ‘embrace the change,’” Travis said. “You may think you are not ready to foster or ready to have children in your home. I promise that will change once they come into your home and you see the difference you are making by just loving them. Just remember they just need someone to love them and show them the way.”
Youth Villages is currently offering online training classes and will guide you through the certification process. For more information about fostering, visit ww.youthvillages.org/foster or call 1-888-MY-YV-KID.
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