With the rapid pace for Air Force families, time can be their most valuable possession.
Two Ellsworth Air Force Base Airmen devote their time not only to their own children, but also to fostering children for the state of South Dakota.
Tech. Sgt. Leah Thomas, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Quality Assurance, Aircrew Flight Equipment, and her husband, Tech. Sgt. Brian Thomas, the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of power production, have housed as foster parents more than 40 children ranging from six months to over 15 years old.
"We have been fostering now for four years, and we have a wealth of knowledge," Leah said. "We have also adopted through foster care. We are licensed … and have been actively recruiting other families to become foster parents as well as mentors to younger children when fostering is not manageable."
During their 18 years in the military, the Thomas family has been involved in mentoring youth both stateside and overseas. They participated in different organizations for supporting children before they became foster parents.
Leah explained that in conjunction with relevant military training, such as Green Dot, the Thomas' perform more than 50 hours of training each year to keep their certifications valid, compared to the five-hour minimum to be a foster parent in 14 States.
"Throughout the years, we've volunteered for Big Brothers and Sisters," Leah explained. "I started working at an orphanage in [South] Korea, and once we got back to the states, I started doing the [28th Operations Group] Angel Tree and once we got [to Ellsworth], we needed to do something more."
Even with a poor boarding experience, the Thomas family pressed on with their goals to help children in need. Once becoming foster parents, they learned the hardest part of fostering is learning how specific traumas affect the way their new children interact with the Thomas's.
"The most difficult part is to knowing that all the children come from different backgrounds," Brian said. "You don't know what they are coming out of or what got them into that situation. Sometimes we get a brief synopsis of what's going on with the child, but you never know. You may know a part, but you don't know how it actually affected the child."
When the children feel welcomed, it no longer becomes just the parents who bring up the foster children. It's the entire family who showcase the proverb: 'It takes a village to raise a child'.
"Each of our kids have a role when we get a new kid," Leah said.
She explained how her oldest shows the new children around the home.
One of their other children has experience with the foster care system and is able to serve as a peer to their new family members and help alleviate some worry.
The Thomases said the stress due from constantly moving has the goals of these children change drastically.
"Everything [a child] has known is now changed [once they change homes]," Leah said. "Our goal is to show they still have choices and options for when they think the door is shut."
While foster children are staying under the Thomas's roof, Brian and Leah care for them as their own.