Alvin Alexander has been with Gateway’s Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) for two years, but has been fostering children for over seven years! He was named Gateway’s 2012 Foster Parent of the Year and was also one of just 10 foster parents awarded a scholarship to attend The Foster Family-based Treatment Association’s (FFTA) conference in Atlanta this past July! In consideration for this scholarship, foster parents had to exhibit, among other things, excellence in their role as treatment foster parents, dedication to the children and families they serve, show a commitment to being life-long learners and setting an example for others. In all that he does for Gateway and his children, Mr. Alexander is truly an inspiration in every way!
Born and raised in Birmingham, Mr. Alexander was fortunate to have good upbringing. Though his parents eventually divorced, Mr. Alexander had a good family support system, was raised mostly by his grandmother and eventually attended Lawson State Community College. He wanted to be a teacher, but put his plans on hold to help raise his seven nieces and nephews. It was during his time raising his sisters’ children that Mr. Alexander first dealt with social workers. He was eventually approached to become a foster parent himself and felt led to do so because of his experience with his sister’s children. After attending DHR classes he began fostering children. Later, after dealing with a nephew who had ADHD and one who was defiant, someone suggested that he become a therapeutic foster parent so that’s exactly what he did. It seems that Mr. Alexander was, and still is, always ready to do what is most needed from him as a foster parent.
When asked how many foster children he’s had over the years, Mr. Alvin will chuckle and say that it’s too many to count but that he has loved them all. He said that most of his kids stay with him for an average of 2-3 years but most, if not all, stay in touch. He says his kids never seem to forget his number and many still come by for visits. When you talk to Mr. Alexander, he is full of great stories about his good experiences with the children he serves, including one about “J” [name not included for confidentiality purposes], a 10 year old boy who always wanted to wear a mask and gloves and who kept a dead lizard in his room on a lamp. Now, Mr. Alexander does not like lizards but he tried to help “J” find another lizard when the other was lost. Memories like these show just much he loves his children and how dedicated he is to making them know it! Mr. Alexander talks says it’s important to help children stay in their comfort zone and, just talking to him, you can tell he has a real gift of doing just that!
If you ask Mr. Alexander to tell you about any bad experiences or his least favorite experiences with the children, he’ll just laugh and tell you that there are no bad experiences. He will tell you that while some children have problems and are troubled and will analyze you, if you are good to the kids and get them to a point where they know you love them, they will always come around. His favorite part of being a foster parent is giving love to children who may have never experienced it before and to teach and encourage all of his children.
Mr. Alexander’s advice to folks considering being a foster parent is to realize that “fostering is a people’s business” and “the key to being a good foster parent is to give children love and be the best advocate you can for them.” He says that if you look or act frustrated or tired or like you can’t do it, the children will pick up on that so you need to love them like you would your own child and always think of them as human—“Foster care doesn’t go one way. You have to put love in and love those kids.” Mr. Alexander says that the key is to “give in life in order to receive” and that his grandmother always told him, “you know where you’ve been but you don’t know where you’re going”, which means you need to treat the kids the way you would want to be treated, with understanding. Mr. Alexander also says that the key to being a good advocate is to always be present with the children—go to their games and school activities, be involved and take them everywhere with you from the grocery store to holiday and other activities outside the home. With time and patience and love, you can always make a difference. Firm, but kind and always genuine and loving, Gateway is so lucky to have him as a part of its TFC team!