Lithia Springs desperately seeks foster parents

Fueled by anger over his troubled childhood, Jeff threw chairs, kicked over trash cans and refused to listen to teachers when he arrived at Ashland's Lithia Springs alternative school 11 months ago.

But on Monday, the 15-year-old, now a member of the school's newly formed leadership team, quietly worked on his resume in the computer lab.

He credits his transformation to foster mom Liz Pyke, who gave him a chance to experience a caring family.

"I've come a long way," Jeff said. "I used to have bad anger and wouldn't listen to anybody. Now I'm determined to finish school and I'm done with drugs and the old friends I had. This has changed my life."

Jeff, whose name has been changed to protect his identity because he is a minor in a treatment program, is one of the center's success stories — but only because he was lucky enough to be placed in a caring foster home, said Kirstin Cronin, Lithia Springs case manager and foster parent recruiter.

There are more than 8,000 kids in the state's foster care system — many with backgrounds similar to Jeff's — but not enough foster homes for them. According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, there are 200 children waiting for foster homes, and many of them currently live in state shelters.

Lithia Springs is trying to change that statistic a few foster homes at a time, Cronin said. The Southern Oregon nonprofit is desperately seeking foster homes for three teens who would like to enroll in the Ashland treatment program but can't because there aren't enough foster parents.

"We have far more children in the system than we can place, and that's a tragedy," Cronin said.

Seven teens are currently enrolled in the eight- to 12-month program, managed by Community Works and partially funded by DHS. They attend the alternative school on Mistletoe Road along with 10 boys and 10 girls who have committed low-level crimes and live in group homes in Ashland under the care of the Oregon Youth Authority.

Three Southern Oregon families each take care of two or three of the Lithia Springs foster kids. Cronin is seeking additional community members willing to care for one or two foster kids regularly and also those willing to watch the kids one weekend a month while the foster parents go on vacation.

"Sometimes people are wary of fostering teenagers, but we have to remember that these kids are our future," Cronin said. "We can't just give up on them."

Pyke, who has been a foster parent for 27 years, 10 of those with Lithia Springs, said she's never had any dangerous or threatening encounters with her foster kids. Besides Jeff, she currently has two other foster boys living in her Medford home.

"This is probably one of the best jobs you could ever do," she said. "These kids, this is pretty much their last chance to have a caring environment to grow up in, before they enter the adult world."

Most of the kids in the Lithia Springs foster program have been neglected, and some have been abused or victims of parental drug abuse, Cronin said. After they finish the treatment program, the teens are either returned to their families or placed in long-term foster care, she said.

Jenell Sattar, who is Pyke's daughter-in-law, decided to become a foster mom in 2008, after seeing how rewarding the program was for Pyke.

"At first I was worried that it might feel invasive at holidays, but then I saw that it doesn't feel that way at all," Sattar said. "The kids become an extension of my family."

On Monday she was awaiting the arrival of a new foster girl, who will share a room with a 13-year-old foster girl already living at the house.

Sattar also has two biological daughters, the youngest of which is 5.

"The foster girls are great with my daughters," she said. "I think it's been a good learning experience for my daughters, to know that there are some kids out there in the world who don't have loving families."

In order to become a foster parent, people must be at least 25, pass background checks, have their home inspected and attend several training sessions, Cronin said.

The teens attend school and behavioral therapy between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., but at all other times, foster parents must provide supervision and care for them.

In return, foster parents are given about $1,300 a month, which includes a wage and a stipend to cover expenses for one child. Parents receive additional funds for caring for multiple foster kids.

What's unique about the Lithia Springs program is that case managers, therapists and teachers are available to help foster parents if problems arise, Cronin said. Someone from the program is available to foster parents around the clock, in case of emergencies, she said.

Cronin hopes to have more success stories like Jeff's, but first she needs to find more foster parents, she said.

Jeff, who got a job as a janitor at Lithia Springs school, said he wanted to update his resume so that he can find a summer job when he returns to his home in Portland in July, after graduating from the program. Eleven months ago, he said, he never thought that would be possible.

"Truthfully, when I first came here, I thought I was going to get locked up because of the way I was acting," he said. "Now, I think I can be pretty successful when I get out. I want to finish school and get a job."

After he graduates high school, Jeff wants to become "either an NFL football player or a hairstylist," he said.

For more information on becoming a foster parent, contact Cronin at 541-482-8906, ext. 128, or

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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