For several charitable organizations, the holiday season — like the rest of the year — is a time to help those dealing with some of life's toughest problems and providing solutions to those problems. In the week leading up to Christmas, the News Tribune is showcasing people whose lives have been impacted by United Way of Central Missouri partner agencies and supporters in the annual "A Christmas Wish" series.
In Lisa and Curtis Dyer's home, there are 28 mismatched stockings hanging from the second-floor balcony overlooking the living room.
There's two for Curtis and Lisa, 14 for their children and eight for their grandchildren.
"Plus a couple of extras," Lisa said, looking up at the collection.
It's a visible representation of the number of lives the Dyers have brought into their home over their 11 years as foster and adoptive parents.
The Dyers started their journey in 2007, when they realized their five biological children — "the original five" — were growing up.
"They were growing up, they were hitting junior high school, and we decided we wanted to open our home up to more children," Curtis said.
"We had a lot of space in the house, and we were like, 'We either need a smaller house or more kids,'" Lisa added, with a laugh. "We love kids, and our kids were all getting older, and we knew there was a real need."
That desire to fill bedrooms and provide a home for children in need led the Dyers to start the certification process in 2007. In 2008, they became licensed foster parents.
Since then, the Dyers estimate 25 foster children have made their way through their home. Some stuck around.
What the Dyers call their "base family" is made up of 14 children. The original five biological children, six adopted through foster care, one current foster child, and two of their very first foster children who weren't eligible for adoption but are considered their children all the same.
"I always tell foster parents, if you can just make a difference for one kid, if you can change the trajectory of one child's life, that's the main thing," Lisa said. "That's really important."
The family moved to Jefferson City in 2016. Curtis is a family physician for SSM Health, and Lisa is director of aquatics for the Jefferson City YMCA.
There are currently eight children living in their Jefferson City home, along with the family dog, Suki. Other than one adult child, the children at home range in age from 1-18.
In addition to their 14 children, the Dyers have eight grandchildren. Two of them, ages 1 and 2, were placed with the Dyers by the Division of Family Services.
"That's part of foster parenting. You have to be really good at Plan B and things being unpredictable in your house and things happening that you didn't expect," Lisa said. "You just roll with it. I think we've gotten better at it over the years."
Curtis agreed, adding: "We thought raising five children, we knew everything we needed to know about parenting. Then our subsequent six or seven taught us a lot."
The Dyer family may have come together in a different way than most, but you wouldn't know it from their home. Walls of family photos, the collection of stockings, and bins of toys and books across the house give a glimpse of a busy but full life.
The Dyers appreciate that the family they've built provides a support system for each of their children.
"We know that we're only going to be there part of their life, but their siblings, which are our extended family — these 14 — are going to be together probably practically all their life, and they can support each other," Lisa said. "I find a lot of happiness when I think of how they're going to just have that lifelong relationship, these siblings."
The bond between the siblings and the sense of family are the biggest benefits of fostering for Lisa.
"I think seeing the kids help each other and seeing them bond," Lisa paused to think, and 10-year-old Kaden, at her side, piped up.
"Seeing the child's success?"
"Yes, Kaden, thank you. Watching them excel and watching them thrive."
With so many children, Lisa said, there's a mix of talents and specialties. Sometimes, when a child calls looking for advice or help, she points them to a sibling.
"'Call the crafty kid, call the kid who's good at calculus,'" Lisa said she tells her children. "Everybody's good at something, so there's a nice network of family knowledge there where they can help each other."
Foster parenting also comes with its own unique set of challenges, of which they are well aware.
"It's their nature to think their life would've been better if they were with their biological parents," Curtis said. "That's something that we struggle with — because we're putting our heart and soul into their care, but they still have that need for that connection with their biological family."
"They'll always feel that loss," Lisa added.
One resource for foster families is the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association. When the Dyer family moved to the area, they were pleased to learn about the organization.
"There's a lot of intricacies after you do this for a while, you have different things where you need some support with counselors and legal help," Curtis said.
CMFCAA is a nonprofit agency that provides support and education on fostering and adopting and advocates for children and families in Central Missouri, according to its website. The organization serves 13 counties.
The organization is currently assisting more than 700 foster families, 1,400 foster children and 400 adopted children in the area. Carol Montie, family development supervisor for CMFCAA, said founder DeAnna Alonso started the organization in 2007 as a way to help foster and adoptive families after her own time in the foster care system.
"Her goal has always been to educate families and provide children with permanent homes that are stable, that will not disrupt," Montie said. "So by providing the families with trained education and resources, that helps eliminate disruption."
Montie's program helps foster families get their training.
Foster parents are required to receive training before being licensed and to do continuing education and renew their licenses every two years. Since getting involved with the organization, Lisa has helped teach the organization's STARS class for new foster parents and the Spaulding class for potential adoptive parents.
"You get to meet all the new foster parents and get excited with families as they're about to adopt," Lisa said. "We're ready for this younger batch. We've been doing this a while. We're ready for these younger parents to get some kiddos."
Montie said having Lisa involved as a trainer brings real-life experience to the classes.
"She brings that aspect of what it's really like to be a resource parent," Montie said. "She tells the good, bad and the ugly, and all the happy success stories, too."
The Dyers said the organization has been a big help for not only them but all the other families in the area.
"They're very non-judgmental and helpful, and they really want to help the whole family," Lisa said. "Not just me, the mom — they're there for the whole family unit."
Having a local organization is helpful for foster families, especially large ones like the Dyers who have difficulty getting out as a group.
"We really appreciate Central Missouri Foster Care Adoption Association for all they do to help foster families in this community," Lisa said.
CMFCAA offers programs including 30 Days to Family, a short-term intervention designed to find a child's relatives and identify potential placements, and the Kinship Navigators program, which launched in 2019 and provides resources for kinship placements.
Sometimes kinship placements — when a child is placed with a family member, friend of the family, or someone close to them like a teacher — are sudden or unexpected, which can leave the foster parent without the things they need to care for the child.
"They help new kinship and relative placements to maneuver those angles to get them the things that they need," Montie said.
With a large number of placements and even some kinship placements of their own, CMFCAA has been an important resource for the Dyer family.
The Dyers' Christmas wish may sound simple, but with a large family like theirs, it's almost asking for a miracle.
"Just for our whole family to be together, as many of them as we can round up," Lisa said. "Last year we had two or three Christmases because if you can't get everybody one day you have to be flexible — do another one, make another ham, or whatever."
To learn more about the programs and resources provided by CMFCAA, visit mofosteradopt.com.