Diane Bell and her husband began fostering children in 1989 through the Waynesboro Department of Social Services. “It was honestly sort of dumped in our laps,” she laughed.
She described taking in a friend of her son’s, who was abused by a family member and went on, “I was working a full-time job, but fell in love with fostering. It wasn’t long before they were sending us all of the teenagers, in need, in our area.”
“We were told very little before being introduced to the kids, but I loved it,” Diane explained.
Along with her own, biological sons, Diane at one time had 7 teenage boys in her home.
In order to enforce rules and teach the boys responsibility, the Bells would hold “court” on Saturdays. They found that children and adolescents in foster care are often all too familiar with the court system and what it means to stand in front of a judge. In Diane’s family court, the teens had a chance to defend themselves, explain their actions, and accept any decision made. “We were very fair and made a point to encourage them to express themselves. Many of them were never really listened to or heard.”
Diane came to People Places when she saw an ad in the paper detailing the services provided by the agency. “They allowed me to foster the way I wanted, creatively and with compassion,” she said.
Her family took classes with People Places to learn different parenting skills, and it was in class where she watched a video on a foster child with special needs for the first time. “I prayed about it and saw it as my mission field. We decided, yes, we want to work with this young man.”
Shortly after, the 11-year-old boy was placed in her home. He stayed with the family until he was 16, and in those 5 years, Diane was tested but rewarded as his foster mother. The boy had emotional, physical, and mental special needs coupled with hydrophilia, fragile X syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, turrets, and double cleft feet.
Diane said he was “extremely abused, neglected, and bullied, but he was so funny and spectacular.” During his stay with the Bell’s, Diane even gave him a teddy bear to help separate his past experiences and transition all bad feelings into interacting with the bear so that he could gain control and agency over his own actions and emotions.
He was eventually able to move to an independent-living, group home where he remained in contact with Diane until he passed away two years ago.
“I truly enjoy helping the kids become independent,” she said.
Diane had over 30 placements as a foster parent before adopting her daughter through People Places and joining the staff. She reflected on the adoption process and the trauma her daughter had previously experienced; “She was so damaged, but we loved her. She had many awful memories of her birth family, and it can be a lot of pressure to move from foster care to being adopted and part of a new family,” she shared.
Diane has been a foster parent, an adoptive parent, and now employee of People Places for thirteen years. What makes the organization special to her? “I believed this is what it was supposed to be like. We were treated with such dignity and respect, while always putting the kids first,” she commented.
“These kids give to us, too, so much as parents,” she added smiling.
She went on to say, “People Places really put what they advertised to practice and there was no judgment. The people are not just here to fill a job. They are meant to be here. We are a family with a shared vision.”
When she isn’t at work (or additionally working as a Family Mentor), Diane loves to bake from scratch, play with her grandchildren, and explore her deep Cherokee heritage. One of her favorite movies is The Help, and she has plans to retire at the end of next year then travel to Nags Head and St. Augustine with her husband.
Looking back on her long journey as a foster parent, Diane said, “It’s the toughest job you will ever love. There is such a range of emotion with it, as it is with parenting your own kids. We need parents so badly… they need parents so badly.”