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30 teenage boys and counting

Bill and Ida Gabriel find joy in foster parenting

Ida Gabriel has three kids and seven grandchildren. Over the past four years, she’s also had about 30 teenage boys. They’re not technically hers, but for Ida, there’s nothing technical about opening her heart and home to kids in need.

“I love my boys,” Ida says, leafing through a scrapbook filled with pictures and notes from the foster kids she and her husband, Bill, have provided for over the past few years. One hand-written Mother’s Day card is addressed to Ida, “my extra mommy.” Another reads, “To the greatest foster parents ever in the whole world. I’d rather be with you than anybody else except my family.” Ida swipes tears from her eyes as she reads the notes.

“I’m choked up now,” she says. “I’ve just always loved kids. They’re kind of like the spice of life.”

The Gabriels decided four years ago to contact social services agency The Next Door, Inc., about becoming foster parents with The Klahre House, a foster care-based residential treatment program for youth age 11-17. The couple, who live near Mt. Hood, had space and love to spare. They’d looked into adopting kids they’d seen on a national TV show. When that didn’t work, they decided they could do some good for kids right here in the Hood River Valley.

Since 1999, the couple has taken in more than two dozen boys ranging in age from 13-17. Some have stayed only a few days while others have lived with the Gabriels for months. Many of them have behavioral issues and have been in trouble with the law.

“We face some issues sometimes,” Ida says. “But other times, we have a lot of fun.”

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The Klahre House, administered by The Next Door, is a day treatment program where kids attend an alternative school and receive services, including individual counseling and group therapy. After school, they go to their foster home, where “treatment” continues with constant supervision.

“I look at this as 360 degree care,” says Erin Krueger, Youth and Family Services program manager and foster parent certifier for The Next Door. “We’re looking at them from when they get up in the morning to when they get up the next morning.” Foster parents keep detailed records of their kid’s behaviors and activities during the evenings, and are in regular contact with a Klahre House caseworker.

“The commitment is full circle,” Krueger says. “It’s critical the foster parents are on board.” Foster parents go through a 32-hour training before being certified for the program, then receive 24 hours of training annually to maintain it. They’re paid up to $1,500 per month.

The Klahre House program is one of only a few such specialized programs in the state. A few of the 25 kids in the program are from the Mid-Columbia, with the rest coming from elsewhere in Oregon. According to Krueger, most of the kids in Klahre House have been removed from their homes due to their own behavior.

“They’re not functioning in their own home, but not necessarily because of the parents,” she says. Most of them have been in trouble with the law — usually for committing a property crime.

“A troubled teen who ends up in our program may be 15 or 16 years old, but socially they are 12 or 13 and emotionally they’re 8 or 9,” Krueger says. “They often have issues with anger, drug and alcohol abuse and may come from a background of physical and emotional abuse.”

Kids remain in the Klahre House program anywhere from 12 to 18 months, according to Krueger. They progress through a “level” system depending on their behavior.

“Teachers, peers and foster parents all have input on a teen moving to the next level,” Krueger says. Once they reach the top level, they’re ready to graduate from the program.

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The Gabriels have seen some of their foster kids graduate from the Klahre House program, while others haven’t made it. But Ida and Bill care about each one of the boys who have come to live with them just the same. Many of them still keep in touch with the Gabriels.

“Most of these boys are good kids,” says Bill, who drives snowplows for the state during the winter and works construction in the summer. “Their parents just didn’t spend enough time with them and they got off on the wrong track.” Ida used to own a house cleaning business, but she quit when she and Bill got into foster parenting.

The Gabriels property offers a serene setting for their foster kids.

“We have 37 goats, nine chickens and a couple of dogs,” Bill says. Their foster kids often invite friends over to the house to visit the rural, farm setting.

The Gabriels take turns doing various activities with their foster kids. Bill takes them fishing and hiking, and sometimes golfing. Ida takes them swimming, bowling and to the movies.

Often, they just sit on the patio, or around the dinner table, and talk.

“Some of them like to hold things in, but sooner or later, they open up,” Bill says. “Some of the stories we hear are just horrendous.” The Gabriels have faced numerous challenges over the years. More than once, they’ve had to call the 24-hour on-call case worker from the Klahre House to come to their house.

“Sometimes a situation comes up where we don’t know what to do,” says Bill, adding that the support they get from the Klahre House and The Next Door is “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

The Gabriels say they’ve had a couple of occasions when they’ve been apprehensive about their foster kid — once even locking their door at night.

“But for the most part, they’re teenagers just like any other teenagers,” Bill says. “Our hope is that maybe we’re doing some good for a few of them.”

“If you love them,” Ida adds, “you get love back.”

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