Fresh out of college, Alyson King, now a Pine View guidance counselor, stood in front of her first classroom. This was the beginning of her journey as an educator: a group of 16 Native American students in the Penobscot Reservation in Old Town, Maine. Immersed in Penobscot’s Native American culture inside the classroom, King drew a meaningful connection with each of her students.
King soon came to learn that one of her students was in need of foster care, later finding out that she was not of legal age to foster that child. Nevertheless, this encounter inspired King’s path as a foster parent, temporarily providing over 40 foster children with a loving home.
After teaching at the reservation for a year, King decided to pursue a master’s degree in education (M.ed) in Risk and Prevention at Harvard University. King’s studies prompted her to teach Dropout Prevention to fourth graders in the Florida Keys. Through this job, King learned that one of her students, Jennifer White, along with that student’s two sisters, Sammantha Johnson and Tiffany King, were in need of a foster home. Inherently having an immense amount of compassion to help, King and her husband chose to foster the three kids. This process required King and her husband to take a class and become licensed as foster parents.
Eventually, the Kings legally adopted the youngest sister, Tiffany, as she was only one year old when brought into King’s household.
King had a much more complex relationship with Johnson, the middle child. Joining the foster care program at the early age of eight, Johnson couldn’t comprehend the idea that King was her foster mother. Johnson felt an overarching stress no matter where she lived.
“It was very hard growing up in different homes…” Johnson said. “Everyone is so different the way their rules are, the way their houses are set up, the way they spend quality time together, and just their temperament… I was the sister who fought fostercare, and I fought it hard. I didn’t understand why I was in care. At the same time, it took everything that was normal to me away.”
To add on, Johnson’s situation grew more complicated when switching out of King’s foster home after a year, and it wasn’t until the seventh grade that Johnson returned to King’s home once again. However, amidst high school, Johnson had to switch homes again, leaving King and Johnson out of contact for six years.
“Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t be good enough. [Alyson King] told me she mentioned that she wished she hadn’t been so strict or so hard. While I appreciate it now, it was very hard as a teenager, I felt that I just kept running into walls. I felt like I could never make her proud enough of me. Again, that’s not her fault, and again, I’m thankful she was that way, because I wouldn’t be pushed as far. I tell people that I am not a statistic. And for that, I am grateful… I am living a wonderful life, and so although it was hard as it was to live like that as a teenager, [Alyson King] did make me who I am,” Johnson said.
Years later, however, Johnson and King’s bond still proved stronger than the circumstantial hardships that they faced, gradually rebuilding their relationship into that of unconditional affection and respect.
“I have a 31-year-old daughter; she was my foster daughter from the time she was eight until she was 16. I never would’ve thought that she would come back around… The short story is, now, she is an amazing mom, and she came back from Kansas and bought a house in Venice to be close to my husband and I. I’m so proud of her, and everything I went through — I just look back at those 6 -7 years and I never knew that we had made such a difference,” King said.
Johnson expresses how King’s impact and influence on her life has resonated with her.
“Everything that I am, as far as being a mom, is from Alyson. She was a hundred percent for me, even in my hard times, just like my good times. She held standards for me, and said, ‘This is what’s okay, and this is what’s not okay.’ I owe all of it to her. I owe all of the mother that I am to her,” Johnson said.
Of course, King and her husband’s trace of compassion found within Johnson is similarly observed through her biological children, Julia and Alexia. Alyson described one incident when the family was about to go on vacation to New York City. When another infant foster child had spontaneously needed a temporary home, King didn’t hesitate to care for this infant over a vacation, despite the fact she had two other young children to care for.
Overall, Julia describes how her experience enabled her to be understanding of foster kids from varying situations.
“A lot of people within the foster care system have challenges that we don’t generally think of on a daily basis, whether it’s familial conflict, backgrounds that aren’t necessarily stable, and that creates a lot of emotional dissonance that can be difficult to handle. So, bringing that into a new family and trying to connect with new people can be difficult. But the most you can do for them is to be there for them, love them, and be a sibling [for them],” Julia King said.
In fact, Alyson distinctly remembers her second pair of foster children, who had immigrated to the United States.
“My [foster] kids have had the most incredible life stories. I mean, I had two children, two boys, who had been banana cutters in the Dominican Republic starting at four-years old. They were our second group of kids that we had fostered for six months,” Alyson said. “Every time you work with one of these kids, it absolutely breaks your heart when they leave.”
Eagerly in admiration, Julia shared a story about how one of those foster kids from the Dominican Republic still keeps a photo of her mom in his wallet. The ink of that prized photo is worn off, as he rubs it as a good luck charm. Evidently, both Julia and Alexia look up to their mother’s legacy of compassion, hoping to follow Alyson King’s footsteps in becoming foster parents. Alexia explained that the personal relationships she has has developed within their family situation has impacted her mindset.
“I think personally, the best thing for me has been the connections. You understand a lot of different perspectives, so it helps you build connections with the people coming into your home… It’s really nice to have that bond and to expand your family and to be able to open to people like that,” Alexia said.
Johnson also plans to become a foster parent soon, with her and her husband set to take classes on foster care in January. She is also involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a peer mentoring and networking group meant to uplift individuals in need.
Given Alyson’s current circumstances, she and her family decided to stop fostering children. This didn’t necessarily end their fostering journey, however, as they now foster rescued dogs from the organization Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue. In addition to these programs, King is also involved as a guardian in the Guardian Ad Litem program, providing legal and emotional support to kids in need.
“Everybody always says, ‘I could never foster, because you’d have to let them go,” Alyson said. “But the biggest part of [fostering] is that you have to put their needs over your own. Because, if you foster a child for one night, foster an infant for one night, that was one night that the child was loved, cared for, and fed and had some sense of security… Every time you have potentially given that child a gift that they will remember 20 years later.”