Father’s Day becomes special time for this group|[06/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2007

Something was missing from their lives, and they knew exactly what to do about it.

&#8220I knew I couldn’t have children, so we prayed about it because we thought fostering is what we wanted to do,” Rhonda Hall said. &#8220We talked about it for two years.”

Then, in October 1998, she and her husband, James Arthur Hall, began keeping foster children while the Mississippi Department of Human Services found adoptive parents for them.

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James Hall, 45, said celebrating Father’s Day is what he wanted all along.

&#8220It was in my mind before I even got married.”

It didn’t take long for their family to grow. As the state continued to place children of different ages and needs into their temporary custody, the Halls decided to adopt two small boys who had been with them for five years.

&#8220We adopted Lance and Darren in August 2004,” said Rhonda Hall, 43. &#8220When they became available for adoption, they were already a part of our hearts and our home. When we were given the opportunity to adopt them, we did.”

Darren, 18, is entering his senior year at Vicksburg High School. Lance, 10, attends Bowmar Elementary School.

James Hall, a retired U.S. Corps of Engineers employee, said the foster kids and his own family meet each other’s needs.

&#8220For me, it means a family that needed a family just to make a larger family,” he said. &#8220We don’t introduce them as foster children. We say, ‘This is our son. This is our daughter.’”

One of their daughters has returned seven years after being placed in the Halls’ care.

&#8220We had her when she was 10, and she’s 17 now,” James Hall said. &#8220She went off to college and needed a summer placement. She’s still in DHS custody, but she came to live in our house while she goes to school and gets her degree.”

The teen is not the only one of the Halls’ 25 kids to keep in touch with their foster family.

&#8220They still call on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day,” said Rhonda Hall, an employee of the Warren County driver’s license examining station. &#8220And some of them still visit us for birthday parties and things like that.”

When the foster children arrive, the Halls start with a single rule.

&#8220They have to go to church,” Rhonda Hall said.

Otherwise, the kids are encouraged to enjoy their new lives and consider themselves at home.

&#8220We have gone on vacations with all six of them at one time to places like Orange Beach, Ala., Washington, Baltimore, the Bahamas, and Disney World,” she said.

DHS provides board payments to foster parents as well as the children’s health insurance.

&#8220But sometimes you don’t get a board payment until five months after they’re gone,” James Hall said. &#8220And, believe me, the board payment doesn’t cover much. We don’t do it for the money. These children are our family.”

The youngest foster child to enter the Halls’ care was 9 months old, and the oldest was 18 years old. The children have stayed with the Halls from one week to five years.

&#8220You kind of know if they’re going to be with you a while,” Rhonda Hall said. &#8220When my 9-month-old left, that nearly killed me. But when they are reunited with family, we feel good about that.”

In 2005, more than 236,000 children were placed in foster homes where no relatives lived, according to the U.S. Department of Human Services. About 156,000 were reunited with parents or caregivers, and 51,000 were adopted.