Lanette Cooper will tell you that sometimes being a foster parent can feel like a thankless job.
And she says this from experience. For 41 years, Cooper and her husband Jerry have been pouring their lives into children from all walks of life in one of the most self-sacrificial ways imaginable, and Lanette Cooper says it has taught her to master the art of intrinsic motivation.
“It’s hard work,” she said. “It’s long hours. You have to become everything to these kids. Their counselor, their doctor. Everything. Many times you don’t get appreciation. If you’re thinking about doing it for the money, forget it. Pay is horrible and you don’t really get many rewards.”
But on May 15, the Coopers received some well-deserved recognition when they were recognized as foster parents of the year in the state of Georgia’s region five which includes Newton County.
The award was given out by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services through the governor’s office, and it was something Cooper says she will greatly cherish.
“It really felt good to have this honor,” Cooper said. “It felt good because so many times, most of the stuff you hear about foster parents is so negative. So it felt good to get an award and be recognized for something positive.”
Lanette Cooper and her husband have been together for 44 years. She’s a native of Jackson, while her husband was born and raised in Covington. And it’s in Covington where they’ve opened up their home to more than just a few of the area’s children.
“We’ve had over 150 kids during the time we’ve been doing this,” Cooper said.
But it isn’t just the foster kids who tend to come and go depending on the dictates of placement. The Coopers have adopted 10 of those children, in addition to the one child they had biologically, and have many other unofficial kids who still call the Cooper household, home.
“I have some who, every time I turn around, they’re here at the house for holidays and on Sundays and, just whenever,” Cooper said. “They always remain a part of the family.”
And that, she’ll tell you, is really the reward that trumps all others. It’s the time that goes by — even years after some of the kids leave her home — that truly helps her understand the impact they’ve made.
“Sometimes the kids move on, and you have to move on, because as soon as one group of kids leaves, our phone is ringing for another set,” she said. “They move on. You move on, but you never forget. I can see where I always have a place in my heart for them. And then 15 years later, when they come back and tell you thank you, or you can see how they’ve become productive adults, you just thank God.”
Despite the gratification, Cooper is quick to advise that foster parenting isn’t for the faint of heart — not if you’re doing it right, anyway. Foster parenting can make for a rather transient environment, and Cooper says that perhaps the hardest part about it is when, after you’ve poured time into a child, he or she has to go back into tough surroundings.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” she said. “It’s keeping a child for three or four years, and getting that child stable, only to return into the same negative environment. It’s hard when you want them to go to bigger and better, and you see them getting stable and learning and working through the baggage and behavior, and all of that. And then one day you get a call that the court says they’re returning the kids to their parents, even though nothing there has really changed. That’s the hard part.”
But the rewards certainly out weigh the difficulties. And the challenges of keeping a full house of kids is always outweighed by the Coopers’ love for family.
“My husband comes from a family of 10, and I come from a family of 10,” Cooper said. “And we have a close family. After we got married, I had one child and the doctors said I couldn’t have anymore. So we just said, ‘let’s foster and see.’”
And they haven’t stopped since. Perhaps more impressive than the sheer number of children they’ve opened their doors to is the fact that the Coopers heart for kids knows no bounds, as far as a child’s ethnicity, background or behavioral challenges.
“We’ve had black kids, white children, hispanic, bi-racial,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter with us. They’re a child. And it’s not just about what I’m giving them. They give me just as much as I’m giving to them. I can’t imagine doing anything else, really.”
That’s why Lanette and Jerry Cooper, 60 and 63 years old respectively, can only see one thing that will cause them to slow down in their caring for children — divine intervention.
“We just adopted a six year old girl in September,” she said. “The Lord will let us know when to stop. But until He says so, we’ll keep on.”
Not only that, Cooper said she hopes this award and recognition will allow her to be more of a spokesperson for the positives of foster parenting, which she believes will encourage more quality adults who love kids to take on foster care.
“You’ve got to want to do it,” she said. “You’ve gotta have a heart for kids and you have to be willing to open up your heart and home. You’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to be willing to be trained. It’s pretty intense. But nothing is more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped a child return to a positive place in life and then see them go forward to a positive place.
“I can tell you that for these last 40 something years that we’ve been doing this, I’ve been more blessed and our household has been more blessed than at any other time in our lives. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”