Cornelius couple matches families with boat owners

The first time Linda Huddleston’s foster children were airborne in an inner tube was Monday at Hagg Lake.

“We put our hands up and went really fast. I was afraid I was going to fall off,” said Huddleston’s foster daughter Lolita, age 14. After one memorable flying bounce over the wake, Lolita shouted to her family in the boat. “Wow! Did you see that?”

The bouncing made foster sibling Ayiana’s neck feel “like it was going to crack,” but even that didn’t stop her from begging for another spin: “Can we please go one more time? Please?”

“When you get preteens excited, that’s something,” Huddleston said, motioning to her daughters.

Wake the World brought 26 foster families to Hagg Lake just south of Forest Grove Monday, thanks to a Cornelius couple. The national organization puts foster families in boats for a free day of watersports and food. While the organization started in 2008, this was the first time it made a splash in northwest Oregon.

Mark and Jill Crowell of Cornelius were inspired to bring Wake the World to Hagg Lake after several years of donating their boat to Sweet Home’s event.

By word of mouth, the Crowells found 32 boats, raised $10,000 at a January auction and got community sponsors such as Real Life Christian Church of Cornelius to provide food.

Rachna Sharma, foster parent recruiter and retention specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said events like these help foster parents feel appreciated by the community, improving retention rates. “You know how they say it takes a village to raise a kid? Well, this is the village,” Sharma said.

In Washington County, the current retention rate is two to five years, with 560 kids in foster care and around 250 families caring for them, according to Sharma.

Huddleston said the event is a “dream” for many of the kids, who’ve never had the opportunity to ride in a boat.

Southeast Portland resident Huddleston said she and her husband Philip have raised 200 to 300 children from the Portland and Hillsboro areas in the past 35 years, with nine currently in their home.

An Ojibwa native, Huddleston was inspired to take in foster children after the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, created to keep American Indian children with American Indian families.

Before that, Huddleston said, children transplanted out of their communities would grow up never knowing their culture, often resulting in an identity crisis that would culminate in drugs and alcohol.

Huddleston and her husband initially planned on taking in only one foster child.

“We always say we’re going to stop,” she said. “But when you wake up to their faces, it doesn’t matter what your hair looks like or if your makeup’s done, just as long as you have enough arms to grab them in.”

Crowell, who is also the public works director for the city of Cornelius, has already received positive feedback from volunteers and families. He hopes to repeat the event again next summer.

“The boat owners are having as much, if not more fun, than the families,” Crowell said.

The kids left with backpacks filled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, stickers, wristbands, wakeboarding magazines, temporary tattoos and — Crowell hopes — memories of bouncing up and down, catching some air.

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