Brandy and Roger Blair could hear South Dakota calling.
Living in Anderson, Indiana, the Blairs were happy. They were raising four kids, held good jobs and lived on a small farm. Then Brandy made a trip to Rapid City for a cousin’s wedding in 2018 that changed the course of their lives.
Her cousins happened to be foster parents, and when a family death prolonged her stay, Brandy visited the foster homes frequently. The Blairs have also been involved in youth ministry for nearly 25 years and she felt compelled to become involved.
Roger, a teacher at the time, had never lived outside of Anderson, but when Brandy told him of her interest in moving, he mulled it over and suggested they apply to become foster parents. Initially, the plan was to become foster parents in Rapid City for a new therapeutic home, but Abbott House had an immediate need in Mitchell.
By August 2018, the Blairs uprooted their family to become foster parents for six girls in Mitchell. Two years later, Abbott House employs 11 Indiana natives in South Dakota, including three sets of foster parents and Brandy's sister, who serves as an alternate parent when the Blairs have days off. The transplants bring a unique commitment to foster care coveted by Abbott House officials.
“Our life, we feel, is a mission,” Brandy said. “Not just with the girls that we encounter here, but I try to help anyone in need. We were in Omaha with my daughter’s travel basketball team and they were unnerved being in a big city. There were some panhandlers and I rolled up to the stop sign and I gave them some money. That’s just how I live my life -- I just help those in need.”
The Blairs dabbled in a faith-based foster care program in Indiana, bringing in kids for a short period of time until they can move on. Brandy, a nurse, has also performed hospice care over the years. But living in Mitchell was never envisioned as their home, and it was only supposed to be a one-year stay until they moved to Rapid City.
“When the house opened up (in Rapid City), we were asked if we still wanted to go out there,” Brandy said. “We just felt like God was calling us to stay in Mitchell.”
Recruiting old friends
Autumn and Charlie Dalton also had a calling to come to Mitchell, but the first call came from the Blairs.
The two couples have been best friends for 14 years, meeting through a shared church in Anderson. Autumn had long considered dipping into foster care after years of missionary work and a family science degree, but with three girls of their own, it was not feasible in their house.
But when the Blairs asked them to consider moving to Mitchell to become foster parents in a boys home, Charlie also happened to be considering a new career. He owned a construction business, but an ailing back and long hours became draining.
On June 28, they decided to move to Mitchell to become foster parents in the recently opened home.
“You don’t find many people you need to journey your life with, but 14 years ago, God brought us the Blairs,” Autumn said. “When they left, it was hard to fill that void. Two years later, God said to get back with them. So, that’s what happened.”
The boys and girls homes are for kids 11 to 17 years old, and the couples frequently combine activities between the two. Friday night is typically reserved for pizza and game night, while the Blairs and Daltons have been able to find companionship in an unfamiliar place.
Both couples have integrated their families with foster children and they interact daily as if one family, but it was not a simple task in the beginning.
The Blairs have two adult boys, but their 10- and 15-year-old girls have been able to fit in seamlessly. For the Daltons, however, it was a bit more tricky. Moving three girls into a home with six boys was concerning. Separate living quarters eased those worries, though, and the move became much easier, despite some apprehension from some of their children.
“We knew the protocols and the paperwork side,” Autumn said. “But we didn’t know how they would behave or what would happen when they’re chasing each other around the house. It’s a learning experience, that’s for sure.”
Navigating unique family dynamics
Both families have attempted to create a big, happy family, but one of the biggest obstacles is the frequent turnover in kids.
The Blairs have housed 20 kids in two years, while the Daltons have seen six in three months. The length of stay in one location for Abbott House children is around one year. Each scenario differs depending on the situation and needs of a child.
Although the foster parents attempt to stay in contact with girls who age out of the foster care system, watching kids leave just as they become comfortable in the house is the most difficult part of the program for them.
“It was a little rough, because we felt connected to the one we left,” Charlie said. “We felt connected with him, starting to get to know him and he was just starting to get to know us. It was a little rough the first time to know that he was going, but we know he’s getting the treatment he needs now.”
There is also a necessary understanding that most kids who come to stay would rather be somewhere else, whether it be with their birth parents or a relative. So, when kids move on, parents are sad to see them go, but also happy the kids are moving to a suitable place.
Parents also must balance imparting their beliefs and values upon their own children while simultaneously serving as parents for foster children who already have their own beliefs or have no beliefs, but limited time to learn them when bouncing from home to home.
“A lot of times there’s not much foundation at all,” Roger said. “In a short time, you try to stabilize some kind of foundation for the long haul. A lot of times you don’t get much of that done before you move on and go somewhere else. You just try to lay blocks to stabilize their lives, but it’s really difficult. Sometimes everything just collapses down and doesn’t last.”
Now immersed in their new lives 850 miles from home, both families feel the decision to uproot their lives was correct.
At one point prior to moving, Autumn broached the idea of having more children, but Charlie declined. He had been involved in helping coach youth football for years and longed for a boy. Currently, he has five boys and gets to watch one of them play middle school football, while Autumn was thrilled to be able to purchase a “football mom” T-shirt.
“It’s been exactly what we expected,” Charlie said. “It’s been a little rough, but it’s been a little fun and it’s definitely been rewarding.”
With the new therapeutic homes now operating in Rapid City, Brandy sometimes wonders if that was their eventual calling. But as the idea swirls in her head on occasion, the true desire is to stay in Mitchell unless she hears another calling.
Such thoughts are infrequent for Roger, however. Their kids are thriving in school, they built relationships with foster kids and friends and family in the area, so Roger is happy to be rooted in Mitchell.
“It was a huge step for me to leave (Anderson) and come here,” Roger said. “I pretty much lived there my whole life. I figured I’d miss it a lot and I haven’t. That’s been a blessing for me. … Moving is not my thing.”