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Grandma inspires family to open home to fostering

This is the first of three profiles of foster families in Banks, Cornelius and Forest Grove. In each of these stories, the foster child's name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.
by: Nancy Townsley, Banks foster mom Kim Nusser (left) and her children Jayce, 16 and Alexis, 13 read to their foster daughter and sister at the Forest Grove Library.

She likes eye glitter, kittens and the color red. A whiz at math, she already knows her 'pluses' and 'takeaways' as she gets ready to enter second grade in September.

Jenny is a vivacious brunette who looks forward to going camping before the sun sets on summer. 'I really want to do that,' she said.

Still, there is some sadness in the eyes of the seven-year-old whose life has held some significant struggles so far.

Jenny used to live in Tigard with her mother and three older brothers. Because her mom is addicted to methamphetamine, social workers from the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services' child welfare division removed the children from their home in 2004.

The siblings were placed in separate foster homes for the time being, and Jenny came to live with the Nusser family in Banks.

'I really miss my brothers,' Jenny said wistfully, her wide smile disappearing for a few fleeting seconds.

Soon, however, she was back on track, chatting about the makeup kit she got for her birthday and the way her teacher at Banks Elementary School uses 'blocks and marbles and seashells' to teach her students addition and subtraction.

Her foster mom, Kim Nusser, looked on with obvious pride.

'It's been really fulfilling seeing her grow and make positive choices,' said Nusser, 39, who works as an instructional assistant for special needs children at the elementary school in Banks.

When Kim and her husband, Doug, took Jenny in 15 months ago, they became foster parents for the first time. For Kim, it was the result of an emotional evolution.

'I've always wanted to foster, but I've been scared to do it,' said Kim. 'My grandma Lila inspired me to be a foster parent. She always had a real giving heart - she was always helping children in need.'

In 2004, Kim and Doug took the first step toward fostering, signing up for training through the county's foster family certification program.

They involved their biological children, son Jayce, 16, and daughter Alexis, 13, all along the process.

'It's going so well. All the children have really connected,' said Kim. Alexis styles Jenny's hair and Jayce helps her with her homework.

'I think it's the best lesson of all - it teaches them compassion,' Kim observed.

This fall, Jenny will start school in a stable, loving environment. It's a definite advantage for Kim and Jenny to be in the same building five days a week.

'Academically, she's doing much better with her reading,' Kim noted. 'She loves the 'Henry and Mudge' books.

'When she came to us, she had head lice and her teeth were all rotten,' said Kim. 'I had a goal of getting all her teeth re-done. They're perfect now, and she's healthy.'

It's likely that Jenny will be with the Nussers, who agreed to foster her on a permanent basis, until she's 18, said Kim.

In a perfect world, Jenny's mother would get off drugs and stay clean, earning back her right to parent her daughter. But if a less-than-perfect situation includes loving her foster daughter, Kim isn't going to complain.

'I'm a foster parent because I feel truly happy helping children who need me,' said Kim. 'Just by reaching out and giving Jenny some stability and letting her know she's important, we can do so much for her.'

'She is a beautiful child, and we just love her.'

Next week: The Manso family of Cornelius.