Tunde and Jozsef Illes jokingly call it their “borrowed family.”
For the past 18 years, the Innisfail couple have fostered 19 children, three of whom became permanent additions to their family.
Tunde and husband, Jozsef, came to Canada from Hungary in 1988 and tried to start a family. But after several miscarriages Tunde realized she had to find another way to bring children in their lives.
“I had so much love to give to the children,” she said. Then, she heard about foster care.
“It was advised there were 6,000 children in foster care waiting for a home.”
It felt natural to offer their home to youngsters in need of their love, she said.
Tunde said her first foster child was a 12-year-old, who was not quite sure what to make of his new foster parent.
“I was a little overzealous. I showered him with love.
“(The boy said) ‘What happened? Who is this woman and what does she want?’ ” she said chuckling at the memory.
Being a foster parent is often not easy.
“Lots of tears,” she said.
But she could always rely on a good support system from the foster child placement firm and could draw on the experiences of other foster parents, who were always willing to help.
“You could call anytime and cry your eyes out with them.”
She and Jozsef, who work with Heritage Family Services, came to realize they must take every challenge as it comes.
“You have today,” she says. “That’s all you have, and you kind of make peace with it.”
Being a foster parent means always being there for someone else.
“You have to take the ‘I’ out of it,” she explains. “It’s not about you. It’s about the child who needs a home.
“They all have one thing in common. They all need love.”
Some children have come from abusive situations or are prone to running away, and foster children do not always get along with each other.
“We had to try and make it work,” said Jozsef, who works as a taxi driver because it gives him the flexibility to be at home when needed. Tunde works at Innisfail’s Earning Learning Centre.
He has no regrets about their choice to welcome so many children into their lives.
“That’s what we were looking for, the experience of having a family.”