Anita Eggerson never dreamed she would be able to own a four-bedroom home with 2,600 square feet, on a half-acre of land. But she knew in her heart, her new home was a blessing directly from the Lord.
“There is no way a single woman should be able to do what I did,” explained Anita. “Standing on my deck, I asked God, ‘I know you gave this to me for a reason. I’m thanking you, but what am I supposed to do with all this. It’s big!’”
The very next day at church, Anita was doing what she always does, engaging the kids in the youth program. By the laughter and interaction, it was evident Anita has a natural ability to connect with teens.
She caught the attention of fellow church member Amy Anderson, Arrow’s program director over foster care in Amarillo. Amy complimented Anita on being “really good” with kids and suggested she check out Arrow’s foster care program. She invited Anita to one of their meetings just to hear what they had to say.
“I went, and of course I enjoyed it,” said Anita. “I loved what I saw and just how much energy they had, and how much passion they had for the kids. And I was like, ‘I want to be part of that!’”
Since becoming an Arrow foster parent, Anita has brought into her big home six teenagers and two preschoolers. But as Anita shares, “I feel my knack is with teenagers. I can reach them.”
Matthew was one of her greatest challenges, which became one of her greatest blessings.
Matthew came into foster care with his sister in 2010. The following year, the two were separated and Matthew’s sister was adopted. After losing contact with his sister, Matthew was devastated and begin to have social difficulties. He didn’t have many friends, his school worked suffered, and he frequently skipped classes.
The number of foster homes and shelters Matthew had been placed in over the years are too numerous to count. In 2016, Matthew became one of those kids who had to sleep in a CPS office because there was no place for him to go. An emergency statewide placement request went out to find a place for Matthew, and Arrow’s residential program in Amarillo had an opening for Matthew. But his downward spiral continued.
Matthew smiled and join Anita’s 25 and 27 year-old sons at the grill. They let him brush barbecue sauce on the meat that was just about ready to come off the grill. Matthew poised and asked to have his picture taken.
“Now I can tell everybody I cooked the meal,” said Matthew.
“No you didn’t,” teased Anita.
“Yep, that’s what I’ll tell everybody,” Matthew joked.
The weekend couldn’t have gone better. Anita noticed Matthew didn’t have many clothes, and some that he had were too small for him. So she took him shopping. Matthew had never been clothes shopping before, so Anita had to prod him to go pick out something he liked. They came home with three pairs of shorts and some nice t-shirts, including a Batman shirt that Matthew really liked.
Anita’s unique perspective on foster care comes from the fact that as young children, she and her three sisters were placed into foster care. The trauma of the situation and the possibility of being separated created overwhelming fear in the sisters. But a family took the entire sibling group into their home, and it became a positive experience for Anita.
“I was a foster kid myself,” explains Anita. “And once I share that with the kids that come into my home, we connect. I tell them ‘I don’t know exactly how you feel, because it was a different era. But I can tell you, I can relate.’ Then I tell them, ‘Look at me. I’m okay. I’m a little crazy, but I’m okay.’ They laugh and we have a connection to build on.”
That 4th of July weekend Anita and Matthew connected. Matthew opened up and shared his journey with Anita.
“When he told me what he’d been through, it was so heartfelt,” said Anita. “I just looked at him and said, ‘And yet you’re still standing, and you’re still smiling, so that tells me a lot about you.’ He just smiled and said, ‘Yeh.’ And from that day on, I knew we had something to build on.”
Everyone in the house thought Matthew would be a good fit, and Matthew agreed. So the next day, Matthew moved from the Arrow shelter to Anita’s “big” house. But the smooth start wouldn’t last long.
“I lived at the school,” said Anita. “Between Matthew throwing computers, charges, cell phones…being on the phone when he wasn’t supposed to…getting mad and belligerent when they took away his phone…busting up the classrooms…I had to pretty much stay up at the school all the time.”
Anita would go to the school to calm Mathew down, “I need you to think before you do something…because they’ve got police up here that will haul you off. Remember I already talked to you about the choices you make. Sometimes they have good consequences, sometimes they’re bad. You’re making choices right now that are going to follow you. So which ones are you going to make?”
Anita recognized that Matthew just needed time to process things when he became upset. So she arranged for Matthew to have immediate access to the school counselor when Matthew thought he was about to “explode”. And if the counselor couldn’t resolve the situation, Matthew could call Anita.
“I didn’t care if it was something little,” said Anita. “Maybe a girl he liked didn’t like him back, or his friends were giving him a hard time. They were small issues, but to him they were mountains. His behavior started slowly improving…because he knew he could call me.”
By the Christmas break, things became dramatically better.
“With Matthew home, we spent more one-on-one time,” said Anita. “Everywhere I went, Matthew went. And every time we were in the car was an opportunity to talk. He didn’t realize it, but I knew I need to take advantage of every opportunity to talk with him…because he was listening.”
When Mathew went back to school after the holidays, his weekly outburst turned into monthly outburst. Slowly Anita’s nurturing, directing and hands-on help with homework accomplished what no other foster home or shelter had been able to do.
“Now he’s a totally different kid,” said Anita. “He gets up on his own every morning at 6:00. He gets breakfast…his bed is made…his room is cleaned. At 7:00 his alarm goes off and he walks out the door to catch the school bus. Then when he comes home, he says hi to everybody…gets a snack…then he gets his homework done. Without being told anything! I’m still in shock! (Anita laughs)”
During the summer, Matthew wanted to get involved with the robotics program at the local community college, so Anita signed him up for four classes. Her church gave Matthew a scholarship for two classes and Anita took care of the other two.
“He absolutely loved it,” said Anita. “He was involved in robotics programming and participated in a competition. Now he’s in honor science classes, and he’s taking dual credit classes because he wants to be a college sophomore by the time he starts college.”
One of the other summer classes Matthew took was a fencing class. Currently, Matthew is a member of the USSA Fencing Association and has competed in three tournaments through Amarillo College. He came in first place in one tournament and place third in another. Anita said she just told him to find what he liked to do, and as she said, “apparently fencing was it.”
Matthew had one goal he hasn’t reached…yet. He is currently writing his first novel. He originally wanted to have it published by the time he was 16 years-old, which is how hold Matthew is now. But he’s adjusted his timeline and now plans on publishing it before he graduates from high school.
Even with all the positive things that were happening in Matthew’s life, he was still experiencing a high level of anxiety. Since he was 9 years old, he had been moved from home to home, then to a shelter, then to another home, over and over and over again. When Matthew’s caseworker would show up at his school for a meeting, he would be overwhelmed with dread that maybe Anita had given them notice to take him out of her home and move him to another home or shelter.
“I hated, hated, absolutely hated to see that on his face,” said Anita. “He needed to belong somewhere. He needed a home. He needed stability. And I felt that once he got that stability, he’d be okay.”
So Anita gave Matthew the stability he so desperately needed. This past summer, they both stood before a judge and proclaimed they were mother and son. Since the adoption consummation, Matthew now has a very different reaction to seeing Arrow staff showing up.
“Now he sees them coming…it doesn’t bother him,” Anita said. “He’s happy. He greets them, ‘Hey, how ya’ll doing?’ That anxiety is not there…because he’s home! He’s not going anywhere.”
The foundation of Anita’s success in fostering teens can be found in one word, “Together.” She talks with the youth in her home to discover their hopes and dreams. Then together they create a plan and a path to make it happen. But then after that, she’s available for advice, but she lets them work the process themselves. And if her “babies” as she calls them ask her to help with something like getting a job, Anita walks them through the process the first time, even to the point of being with them during a job interview if they ask her.
“When they come into my house, they are not foster kids, they are my kids,” said Anita. “It’s a joy. It’s fun to watch them grow and try to figure out who they are.”