Early on in their family planning, Donna and Jason Kempf never thought they’d be able to do what they’re doing today.
The couple became foster parents in 2007, when they were licensed to adopt their son Marat in Colorado. Donna found the inspiration to foster from her brother, who ran a shelter in Ohio, and a college roommate, who took an interest in ASL (American Sign Language).
After they had two children biologically, Donna was eager to begin utilizing her skillset as an interpreter to foster children with hearing loss.
The family looked outside of the U.S. after a placement fell through, including Russia, where they adopted Marat, 16, who has moderate hearing loss. They then switched gears again after learning of a girl in Indiana with hearing loss and in need of a family—Jezaya, now 17.
Thinking their family was complete, the Kempfs moved to Indiana, only to learn about the on-going foster care crisis. The couple submitted paperwork with Firefly for licensing.
“We got a call from Indiana DCS asking if we’d take a medical kiddo,” Donna says.
They learned about Eva, a 5-month-old with Cerebral Palsy, and though she wasn’t in their plan, they said yes and Eva was placed within a month, then adopted within the year.
At 3 months old, Eva was left next to a space heater for an uncertain amount of time, causing her to have a stroke. The family took on new challenges in learning how to care for severe epilepsy and sort through dozens of medications to treat her disabilities stemming from the incident.
“We were barely swimming and keeping our heads above water for months with her,” Donna says. With a supportive care team and the determination to provide Eva with the care she needs, they learned alongside seven medical specialists.
As the Kempfs’ older kids shift into young adulthood, they’ve again opened their home to M, who is two-years-old. M has no formal diagnosis but has a wide range of symptoms kept in check by the family and 19 medical specialists.
“We run around a lot with Miss M,” Donna says.
The Kempfs are now accustomed to co-existing with healthcare workers in their home, navigating doctors and treatment plans, and finding accessible parks. Marat skips sleeping in on Sundays to hold M so mom can get ready for church.
“Our faith community is really strong, and our family in itself has kept an open dialogue,” Donna explains. Difficult conversations have been necessary along the way, with buy-in needed from the entire family.
When it comes to fostering kids with disabilities, Jason oftentimes thinks people look at the deep end of the pool.
“We didn’t jump in, we were dipping our toe in the shallows,” says Jason. “Now here we are with a wheelchair van. We had no idea this was in us, so don’t be afraid to get in the shallows, and dip your toe in.”
Interested in fostering? Visit foster.fireflyin.org for more information.