For Oly and Rob Warner, the conversation on becoming foster parents started on a mission trip to Mexico where they visited an orphanage.
"Oly kind of fell in love with a little girl there," Rob said. "I saw her and how she interacted with the little girl. We kind of talked about it between having children or we're in a position that we're doing good in life and we can help somebody out."
They thought about who they could help the most and immediately decided they wanted to take in teenagers, who have the most difficult time finding a place to stay. But for a while, Oly and Rob weren't in a place where they could be foster parents. From their wedding, honeymoon, moving and college, they were still paying off debt.
"We were like, 'Well, we can't take care of a kid,'" Oly said. "We can barely take care of ourselves. All our money is going to all this debt."
Determined to get out of debt and be in a position to take care of someone else, they took a financial management class.
"That's when we first started realizing we can get our life together and be responsible — so we did that," Oly said. "It took a year to pay off debt. Once you do that, then you can start saving. That's when we decided we're at a point where we could responsibly take care of somebody else."
In September, they completed the required training to become foster parents, with the goal of taking in one teenager and seeing how it went.
A couple of months later, Oly was on her lunch break at work when she received a call from a family advocate. The advocate told her about Coyote Hill, a ministry that provides homes for children in need. It was operating only one site in Harrisburg at the time, but it had recently purchased a community foster home in Jefferson City and was looking for foster parents.
"Leading up, I was like, 'Where is this going?'" Oly said. "And then she said, 'We thought of you guys.'"
Oly asked when the home was opening, thinking it would be in a year or so — but the family advocate told them foster parents were to move into the house the next month.
"I thought, this is crazy," Oly said. "I was like, 'OK, thank you,' and then I just called Rob like, 'Can you believe this? This is what they are thinking, and they thought of us — that's just silly."
Rob agreed, thinking it was crazy a couple with no children and no experience foster parenting would be chosen.
But after the initial shock faded, Oly and Rob thought about it some more — and they felt it was a sign.
"We say that whatever it is that we're supposed to be doing, it comes to us," Oly said. "I felt like we were being called on."
So Rob and Oly visited Coyote Hill to see the vision.
"We were like, 'Oh, this is cool, and I told Rob, 'We could keep doing what we're doing and just have movie weekends and be chill, or we could get off the couch and do something that matters," Oly said. "And he was like, 'OK, let's do something that matters.'"
In a matter of months, they were picking up and dropping off children at school and doctors' appointments, waking up to emergency calls in the middle of the night, preparing rooms for children to sleep in, emailing and visiting with principals, and taking care of up to six children at a time — all while managing and growing their business, Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Jefferson City and Columbia, where they are both instructors.
They quickly realized they had to get a van for all of the children, and they had to learn by trial and error how much food to buy and make, how to budget for it and how to find time to prepare food every day.
"It's been quite a challenge and change, but I feel like we've adjusted well," Oly said. "It was just kind of shocking at first."
Rob and Oly moved into the home Dec. 13, and the first child arrived in January. The children — mostly teenagers — come and go frequently. Sometimes they're only there for a day or a night, sometimes much longer.
"Children go home, or they find a different placement, or for whatever reason they move on, and then you kind of just fill that space," Oly said.
Oly and Rob said their goal is to be there for the children when they need them and to keep the relationships with them as they grow into adults.
"It's the relationship you build — it's not the home that you build," Oly said.
They describe the experience as challenging, fullfilling, with a roller coaster of emotions.
"It's good, it's sad, it's happy, it's emotional," Rob said. "I don't know how to explain it. If you know why you're doing it, it's good. We're just trying to live life with them and get them to live life with us."
Oly said the hardest part is dealing with the challenges the children go through.
"They have dark days and that gets passed on to you, and you just try to help them through," Oly said.
Oftentimes, that means being the middle person between the child and their teachers or principals.
"We're just trying to make a really good connection," Oly said. "We can't really make them do the right thing, but we're trying to guide them."
The best part, she said, is the positive days. Even with their busy schedules, Oly and Rob make time for the positives that keep them going, like teaching the children a new skill or doing something fun like going to the roller skating rink.
"You might get a few negative days, but then you get the interaction with a kiddo that's super positive, or a change, growth or milestone like learning how to shave or showing them how to parallel park so they can get their license or taking them to a restaurant when they've never had anything but fast food," Oly said.
When she's having a tough time, Oly said, she remembers what the children have gone through.
"That keeps you going," she said. "I feel like my life was easy, but I just think I'm empathetic, and if I can help, I have this 'we're a village' mentality. You can't just wait around for somebody else to do it."
Oly and Rob said if you've considered becoming a foster parent but don't know where to start, they recommend Coyote Hill where the staff members help you every step of the way.
They encourage anybody to become foster parents who is willing and able, even if it's just for one child or for a couple of years.
After only six months, Rob and Oly have already made an impact on the lives of more than 12 children.
"If our whole town did that, the state, the world, we could cure a lot of problems in our society," Rob said.
Rob and Oly have a two-year contract with Coyote Hill — and after that, they'll see what comes along for them next.
"At the end of the two years, something else may come calling that'll be what we're supposed to go to next," Oly said. "It's just whatever comes knocking."
Oly said taking leap of faith and saying yes to Coyote Hill is one of her proudest accomplishments.
"Even if we don't see it yet, we're making a difference," she said.
To donate items to the Coyote Hill home, visit their wishlist at amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1HW7EZKFW0GJF?ref_=wl_share/.