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Making a difference in the lives of children

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The word “family” has a different meaning at the Seay home in Hartfield. Above, the extended family includes international exchange students Hamza Ali (left) of Yemen and Wikandhana Rajasa (right) of Indonesia; the Seays’ adopted children, Middlesex High graduate Tyler (front left) and third-grader David (front right); and back from left, Greg and Pam Seay and Pam’s mother, Barbara Aultman, who is hosting Rajasa. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

For 17 years Greg and Pam Seay of Hartfield have shared their home and boundless love with more than 30 foster children. That’s not exactly what they had planned when they married in 1994. They wanted a traditional family.

But God had a different and very important mission for them, Pam explained. “God has His own perfect plans for our lives,” she said. “When it seems our dreams are falling apart, they are actually coming together.”

Their love, dedication and sacrifice have lifted up the children they helped raise. Guided by the hand of God, the Seays have truly made a difference in Middlesex County and the world.

They set out on a life journey together to be a typical suburban Richmond family with a mini-van, a couple of children and a dog. Instead, they ended up living in rural Middlesex, driving a 15-passenger van, and raising 30 foster children. And, yes, they also have a dog. 

After they were unable to conceive, they sought fertility intervention. As they waited for a little miracle to happen, they decided to foster children. Pam’s aunt and uncle had been foster parents to many children and adopted children. “I had always grown up with a diverse family,” Pam said. “You never knew how many chairs were needed at the Sunday dinner table.” It didn’t matter, no one was treated as a visitor. “If you lived with our family in any way, you were a member of our family. There was always a place for you, and there was more than enough love to go around.”

Only the beginning
The Seays got their first foster children, two siblings, a month after they completed their training. “The little girl, who was mentally challenged, and her brother had been rescued from an abandoned home where they were found to be eating ‘anything’ from a can,” said Pam.

The two children stayed with the Seays for 6 months, and were successfully returned home to their mother and grandmother.

Since 1995 the Seays have fostered and hosted over 30 special needs children. Pam’s mother, Barbara Aultman, who lives in the same neighborhood, also fell in love with her many “grandchildren” who have come in and out of the Seay family. Aultman decided to foster and host children herself after retiring from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. 

The Seays are currently hosting foreign exchange student Hamza Ali from Yemen and Aultman is hosting Wikandhana Rajasa from Indonesia. Both boys are seniors at Middlesex High School this year. “Other than living in separate houses, we are a big family and do everything together,” said Pam.

Greg Seay said he is often asked why he wants to take on “other people’s problems.”

“I don’t see children as problems,” he replies. “All children need a family.”

The Seays specialize in fostering special needs children and traumatized children.

Pam said that when people hear “foster care” they think of hopeless situations and difficult kids. “Not all outcomes are perfect, but there are those that make it all worthwhile, refusing to allow us to give up.”

The Seays find that children are amazing. “These kids are with you to be healed,” said Pam. “At the same time, they teach and heal you. And that’s what you have to realize when you are working with their biological families, as well.”

Nearly everyone has things in their lives that they need help with, said Pam. “When you don’t have help or a support system it all seems hopeless. But when you love the children you share together, you find yourself loving each other. You all become a family.”

Success story
The Seays don’t hear about all of the foster kids after they leave their home. However, there are success stories. “We had a mentally impaired sibling pair that were adopted by a loving family who were never able to conceive a child of their own,” said Pam. “We cared for a severely abused, psychologically-impaired son who was adopted by his therapist. It’s amazing how God works!”

Sometimes siblings get separated in foster care. This is unfortunate but sometimes necessary, depending on the needs and history of the children, explained Pam. “We had a sibling pair separated in foster care who, after much work, were able to be reunited and successfully adopted by a family that had special training in working with children with attachment disorders,” she said.

Other stories simply “break your heart,” said Pam. “We had a little boy who had been placed in foster care when he was 4 years old and adopted by his foster mother whom he adored and who adored him.” The boy’s mother died suddenly and he was left alone at the age of 8. “When he came to us he was broken and so alone.”

But, there is an amazing ending to the story. A biological aunt was located who never knew the boy existed, and she said “she’d do anything to be his new mom,” said Pam. “Not only did he get a new mother who would help him through his grief and loss but he was able, after many years, to be reunited with his biological family. God can turn a mess into a message!”

The Seays said they will never forget the little girls whom they have fostered. One was reunited with her biological family, and another was blessed with an amazing adoptive family. “Both girls are doing amazingly well in their sports of choice and are thriving,” she said.

Fostering is a mixed experience of joy and sorrow. “You fall in love and you have to let go,” said Pam. “But one thing you never forget is your children’s little faces. You never forget their voices or the life you had with them, and you definitely don’t stop thinking about them and praying over them. 

“All in all, the good stuff outweighs the sorrow and it’s worth every tear,” said Pam. “The best thing you can do is trust God.”

Standing up for the child
Trusting God is the only hope the Seays had as they fought all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court to adopt their son Tyler, who came to the Seays as an 18-month-old toddler with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS can damage a brain and is caused by a mother’s prenatal consumption of alcohol. For three years, the mother kept appealing the Department of Social Services decision to terminate her rights to her child. She lost in the state’s highest court and had delayed the Seays adopting Tyler until he was 5 years old.

Tyler’s prognosis was very dim. “We were told he’d be mentally retarded, have a hearing and vision impairment, need physical, occupational and speech therapy, possibly all his life,” said Pam. “But, God was bigger than any of those things and we weren’t buying it.”

The birth mother tried, but failed, to rehabilitate herself and establish a stable life. “We loved her,” said Pam. The Seays worked hard with the mother to try to give her a chance to make it, but she was too ill from her own issues of childhood abuse and her alcoholism to be able to keep her son. “As we were preparing for the big court, she asked us if we would adopt him. She loved him and wanted him to have a happy life.

“We had already claimed him as ours and he was ours in every way except DNA,” said Pam. “Nothing was going to hold us back. We were going to make him ours.”

The court hearings were exhausting, Pam said. “Foster care and adoption can be a roller coaster, but when God has set the plan in place he also directs the paths straight.”

Tyler is nothing less than “a miracle” and the baby who was given a bleak future was an honor graduate of Middlesex High School, now works for excavation contractor William Wills, and attends Rappahannock Community College.

Permanent
A few years ago there was a provision that children who had been in foster care for an extended amount of time could be placed in permanent foster care status, basically giving the foster parents rights.

The Seays have another adopted son, James, who arrived as a 10-year-old. They had met him at the home of a temporary foster home they were visiting. “We fell in love with him from the start,” said Pam. “We went home and called the worker and told her that if he ever needed a family, we wanted him. A year later we were blessed with him.” He stayed with them in permanent foster care until he left home at the age of 19. “He was a blessing to our family. He graduated from Middlesex High School. He was one of the first Middlesex wrestlers to go to a State Tournament. He went on to marry, serve well in the Marines in Iraq, and he and our daughter-in-law (April) have blessed us with two grandchildren (Destiny and Phoenix).”

Children who were in foster care and/or were abused and neglected often tend to struggle in their own parenting experience, but this is not the case with James, Pam explained. “James is a wonderful father who protects, cares for and loves his children and his beautiful wife, April. James is living proof that with family to love and accept and embrace you, the cycle can be broken and a new, healthy generation can emerge.”

The Seays completed their family in 2005 with the adoption of David, who is now 8 years old and a third-grader at Middlesex Elementary School.

Since the Seays were a family of boys, they had requested a girl and were willing to wait as long as it took to get a daughter. However, two weeks after their home study approval was completed, they got the call that changed their lives, yet again. “As soon as I heard about David we just knew that he was who God had created and planned for us,” Pam explained.

David was 4 months old when he arrived at the Seay home. He had been born with mild cerebral palsy. “He was absolutely perfect! It was love at first sight for us all. David brings lots of laughter and energy to our family,” said Pam.

The Seays ceased doing foster care a few years ago after a sibling group of three were adopted by a forever family. “We had hoped to adopt them too, but God had a miraculous plan for another family and they were blessed with these precious children,” said Pam. “They will forever be our children because once you are ours you are always ours. It doesn’t matter where or who they end up with . . . family is family forever. 

“We’re not saying we won’t ever do foster care again, but for now we are going to enjoy our international kids,” said Greg.

The Seays host children from around the world through the CIEE International Exchange Program. “We aren’t that different. We may speak different languages and look different, but we share the same heart,” said the Seays.

God leads them
The Seays don’t consider themselves special. “We are just a simple family, hearing the voice of God and moving in the direction He leads us,” said Pam. “God is full of surprises and has a terrific sense of humor. But he does things perfectly.”

posted 11.26.2013

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