By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie eighth-grader Kala Hecksel describes her new parents as “amazing,” and the Minnesota Social Service Association agrees.
Jeff and Kelly Hecksel of Lester Prairie were selected as the 2013 Minnesota Foster Parents of the Year, and were honored at a special delegate assembly in March.
Since 1999, they’ve provided foster care to 35 children, ranging in age from seven days to 15 years.
“Four of them we adopted,” Kelly said.
The Hecksels vividly remember meeting their first foster child, Nathan, who later became their adopted son.
“When he came here, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t eat normal food, and he just screamed,” Kelly said.
Today, 15-year-old Nathan is a changed person, smiling and introducing himself as “the golfer of the family” before heading outside to test his golf clubs with his younger brother, Trenten.
“It’s so wonderful to see the child that’s really there,” Kelly says. “They come here stone cold and scared, and we work on getting those walls down that they built up. It’s not easy at all, but it’s rewarding seeing them learn and seeing them learn how to love.”
Room to love
The Hecksels’ idea to become foster parents developed when Kelly was applying for a daycare provider license. A social worker suggested they also get licensed for foster care, so they gave it a try.
“We’re licensed for three [foster] children at a time,” Kelly said.
Depending on the child’s family situation, some leave after only a few days, while others may stay for months.
“We treat them all the same, like they’re our own kids,” Jeff said. “We make them all part of the family, instantly.”
In all their years of foster care, the Hecksels’ hardest time was when they were on the verge of adopting two children, but ended up having to let them go back to their families.
“We had them for one-and-a-half years, since they were babies,” Jeff recalled. “These kids really grew with us, and took on our characteristics.”
“That was the first time I broke down and cried,” Kelly said, adding that, fortunately, they still have contact with the children.
Transitioning to a foster care home can sometimes be tough for kids, but the Hecksels work to make the process as smooth as possible.
“They think it’s their fault they’re here, so we try to keep them positive and be reassuring,” Jeff said.
“When they first come, we do a lot of one-on-one talking and explaining,” Kelly added. “I think we do more teaching than disciplining.”
Kelly remembers one especially difficult situation years ago, when she made a trip to Wal-Mart with two young foster boys who had never been out in public before. She was pregnant with her son, Trenten, at the time, and her adopted sons, Nathan and Chris, were also along.
Suddenly, one of the foster boys started taking everything off the shelves, and a woman came up to Kelly and said, “And you’re having another one? Haven’t you heard of birth control?”
Forgiveness all around
At the Hecksel household, Jeff said there’s “never a dull moment.”
“We’re all misfits, and we all have our flaws, but it takes a bunch of misfits to be a family,” he said.
The Hecksels have two children by birth (Ashley and Trenten), and four children adopted from foster care (Elizabeth, Nathan, Christopher, and Kala).
“They’re all spoiled rotten,” Kelly laughed.
Elizabeth, 17, will be graduating from Lester Prairie High School this spring. She loves to dance, and is planning to become a daycare provider, just like Kelly.
Nathan, 15, Christopher, 14, and Kala are all athletes.
Kala, who is an eighth-grader at Lester Prairie School, stayed at various foster homes before coming to live with the Hecksels. She was adopted into the family October 2012, and couldn’t be happier with her new parents.
“They’re always there for you, and they always watch over you, and always love you,” she said.
Kala also appreciates her siblings.
“We don’t fight like you might think,” she said. “We have our bickering moments, but 10 minutes later, we’re hugging each other.”
Even when they disagree, the Hecksel family is quick to forgive and forget.
“I want all my kids to know they can tell me anything,” Kelly said. “I may not like what they did, but it’s not going to change how I feel about them.”
Foster parenting info
The Hecksels encourage anyone who is interested in doing foster care to give it a try.
“They’re always looking for foster families,” Jeff said. “It’s great to be able to give kids that knowledge of what it’s like to be part of something.”
For more information about foster care in McLeod County, contact Brenda Sandquist, social worker/licensing specialist, at McLeod Social Services Center, (320) 864-3144 (Glencoe), (320) 484-4330 (Hutchinson), 1-800-247-1756 (toll-free), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.