ANGOLA — Since 1981, 46 foster children have come through the home of Mark and Rhonda Heifner.
Of those 46, seven have been adopted by the couple, whom have adopted eight children in total.
“You take them where they’re at, love them and try to give them a better future,” said Mark.
In June, the Heifners were one of the first six families inducted into the Indiana Foster Family Hall of Fame during a luncheon in Indianapolis with former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Other families honored from across the state include:
• Scott and Debbie Gentry
• Steve and Janelle Lustig
• Richard and Karen Cohn
• Douglas and Susan Perry
• Jeffrey and Natalie Meece
The luncheon was presented by All Pro Dad, an organization founded by Dungy and Mark Merrill, and the Indiana Department of Child Services.
“We always wanted to adopt,” Rhonda said.
When they first started fostering children, they took in teenagers.
“We then decided we’d take the babies,” Rhonda said. “At times, we’d have two newborns in the house.”
For 25 years, they welcomed the infants before deciding it was time to switch it up a bit, sticking with school-age children.
“Some we mainstream to adoptive homes, others go back to their parents,” Mark said. “We’ve also adopted some of them.”
Each child that comes into their home gets a disc of photographs from their experiences before they leave for their adoptive home.
Fosters like their own
The Heifners treat their foster children like their own, taking them on trips, to church, buying them nice clothing and doing whatever else is needed for the child.
They stay on top of whatever the children need in school, too, always communicating with the teachers and administration.
A lot of people, they said, can’t handle being foster parents.
“There’s a big need for foster parents,” Mark said.
In the area, said Rhonda, there is a strong support system for foster families.
“It has really improved over the years,” Mark said.
The Heifners do their part in helping foster families, as it’s not a quick process to become a foster.
There are classes, criminal background checks to pass, home studies and then annual continuing education hours that must be completed once a family is licensed by the state as a foster family.
Mark and Rhonda joked that the two have had more fingerprints and criminal checks done than some criminals.
The Heifners also run a daycare from their home, which has its own set of regulations in addition to all they do as fosters.
“We do a foster support group,” Rhonda said. “We have a topic as a learning opportunity and people can get that continuing education credit.”
Families from Steuben, Noble, DeKalb and LaGrange counties come to their home for the monthly group meetings. During those, Rhonda offers child care while Mark teaches on the topic.
Eight of the 15 hours required for continuing education must be done in person. There are also online resources people can use.
“Fosters are all close-knit,” said Rhonda. “We also have some Amish or Mennonite families that join us.”
The group started off small, using Facebook to get the word out. That Facebook group now has 57 members.
“A lot of people come monthly for the fellowship,” Mark said.
They received an email earlier this year saying they’d been chosen as a hall of fame family.
Though Rhonda couldn’t attend the event in Indianapolis, Mark took two of their children with him.
Got to meet coaches
While there, they did a photo shoot with the Colts coaches, listened to a video filmed by Dungy, himself a foster and adoptive parent, took part in events and activities on the Colts practice field and enjoyed a luncheon.
All Pro Dads has been an organization for more than 20 years. It’s one that Mark thought while he was a school principal was a good program to be a part of.
Learn more about All Pro Dad at allprodad.com.