Meet the Foster Families of NAFI NY

NAFI NY foster familiesFoster families are as diverse as the young people whose lives they enrich. What they share in common are the foundational core values of NAFI NY’s therapeutic foster care program. Our foster parents believe all children deserve loving care, a safe, welcoming place to call home, hope for the future, and a foundation to succeed.

As a way of thanking and honoring our foster families, we’re sharing some of their stories with the hope their narratives will inspire others to join the community of NAFI NY foster families.

For more information or to learn about the foster parent application and training process, contact Shawn White, our Home Finding Supervisor, by email at or by phone at 845-743-4486.

Foster Families All Share a Common Goal, Each Child

Fay Pettiford, a foster parent in Rockland County, draws on 25 years of experience with children who need a caring home when she says, “Everybody has their own different identity and different individual needs.”

“The common goal is everybody wants to be loved, everybody wants a family, and everybody wants to be heard, no matter what level they’re on,” Fay says.

Balancing the intersection of shared needs and unique differences is where the best foster families excel, and Fay has provided a home for young people with very diverse qualities, needs, and challenges.

Her first foster care experience involved siblings. She has cared for a child who needed a kidney transplant, and eased the journey of another child who was prone to screaming.

“The needs of the children absolutely are different,” Fay says. “Some have autism needs, some have medical needs, some have psychiatric needs. Of course you have to treat them individually. You have to meet them where they are.”

Fay’s latest child, who just left, had been with her for six years. “He’s on the spectrum but reading books, talking, and moving on to his next adventure in life,” she says.

Being a foster family is a team effort in her home, with her own family involved, including her grandchildren. In addition to providing a warm, loving environment, Fay endeavors to teach the young people who live with her values and life lessons.

“It has meant a lot to me knowing that the children I’ve had in my home keep in touch,” Fay says. “It’s very rewarding for me to know that they’re doing well.”

Fay, who began her foster care journey with kinship care when she was just 18, has been with NAFI New York for approximately 10 years. A social worker from a different agency gave her a NAFI card and said, “You need to call this agency. I heard they’re doing a lot of great things.”

She remains impressed by NAFI’s wraparound services, its team effort, and the fact that someone is always available to foster families with a need or concern.

Fay also appreciates how much care NAFI takes in matching children with foster families. “Depending on the needs of child, you can have one or multiple children,” she says. “It depends also on your space and your home dynamic. At one time I had three children in my home because they had an emergency.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, foster parents can talk to child via Zoom, and discuss things such as likes and dislikes as part of matching process. There are also opportunities for direct visits. “After that the child decides really if they want to move forward with the placement,” Fay explains.

In noting that rewards and challenges come in equal measure for foster families, Fay stresses that potential foster parents should understand and be open to the responsibilities that come with the role.

“It’s important to talk about schooling, medical appointments, and family or sibling visits. They have a right to their family, and their opinions. You have to be open-minded to do all of that,” Fay says. “You have to take the children to appointments, and sometimes you have to travel.”

In the end, the most important part is that everyone involved is advocating for the children. “We can all collaborate together around a common goal, which is a child,” Fay says.

A Foster Family Intent on ‘Breaking the Cycle’

Leonore Nelson, NAFI New York foster parentLenore Nelson doesn’t have biological children, but children have always been an important presence in her life. She comes from a large family, has lots of nieces and nephews, and worked with children in a summer camp at her church, Bezer in the Wilderness Church in New Rochelle, N.Y.

“In my family we had lots of fun and laughter and support,” she says. “With my home being empty now I thought I could make a difference in somebody’s life. I believe every child deserves to be in a home where he or she is happy and feels secure, loved and nurtured.”

Lenore, and her husband, who live in Mount Vernon, have been foster parents with NAFI New York for about 10 years after first connecting with someone who worked for NAFI at the church.

“I also wanted to see if I could be part of breaking the cycle. That would make me happy, ” Lenore says of her inspiration to open her home to young people in need.

The Nelsons have cared for approximately four children, with the last one presenting a unique set of challenges.

A baby girl born prematurely was placed with the Nelsons before she was even 3 months old and stayed for nearly two years.

“That was really a challenging one, but with help from God I was able to care for that child and help that child,” Lenore says. “I learned a lot by taking that child in.”

She plans to continue being a foster parent as long as she has the health and the strength. “It’s a very rewarding experience, I can tell you,” Lenore says.

It’s not always easy, though. One young person the Nelsons cared for could make things difficult but things ultimately turned out well. Lenore keeps the note the girl wrote saying how much of a difference the Nelsons made in her life.

“It’s not an easy thing for a child to feel unwanted or unloved, not to feel secure, or not to have a home,” Lenore says, stressing how important it is for all young people to have someone who cares, someone who says, “You’re good enough, you can make it,” and encourages you daily.

NAFI NY, Lenore says, is great about providing a professional variation on that type of support for its foster families. “It’s a team effort with NAFI, the case workers, even with the county people,” Lenore explains. “If I’m experiencing some difficulty or not sure of something, I can always call someone on the team.”

When Foster Care is Truly Transformational

NAFI New York is proud to help LGBTQ+ youth find loving homes and welcomes LGBTQ+ individuals and couples as foster parents.
NAFI New York is proud to help LGBTQ+ youth find loving homes and welcomes LGBTQ+ individuals and couples as foster parents.

At its best, foster care is transformational for the young people who are given a loving home and the foster families who provide the care. Sometimes a foster family is enriched by a situation whose positive impact is especially transformational.

Jeanette Williams and her husband, Herb, are in the midst of such an experience. They have nurtured a transgender young man as he prepares for the process of surgery, and as he dealt with the many other issues related to growing up and becoming independent.

“He was very fearful of everything,” Jeanette says, recalling how he was so nervous as she drove him to job interviews they had to circle the parking lot and talk and pray before he found the courage to go in. “And then he got the jobs.”

Over the two years the young man lived with the family he saved more than $20,000, Jeanette says, enabling him to get his own apartment with the help of NAFI New York. He’s in college now and doing well, a real “go-getter,” according to Jeanette, who says, “It took a lot of encouragement, a lot of coaching.”

“I helped him through the trans process and that was rewarding,” Jeanette explains. “It’s something I never knew I would be able to do. It was a rewarding experience for the family collectively, and he’ll be coming back so I can help him through the surgery process.”

Jeanette and Herb have a young woman, 19, living with them currently and have been providing foster care in varying forms for more than 30 years.

“It’s so rewarding that you’re helping someone,” Jeanette says. “Knowing someone cares for them makes a big difference.”

The tradition of providing a safe haven and loving home began with Jeanette’s mother, and when she became ill and could no longer be a foster parent, Jeanette stepped in and took over the role.

Initially it wasn’t foster care, but an independent situation in which Jeanette and Herb cared for three siblings in need of a home.

Eventually Jeanette and Herb connected with Pius XII Youth and Family Services in Middletown, N.Y., where they live, and became a foster family through that program. They began working with NAFI NY in 2017.

“Foster care helps their morale and provides sense of belonging,” Jeanette says. “I do it because I’m concerned about their welfare, and to get them ready to go out into the world.”

“The con is that some of the children we work with … sometimes it’s a lot,” she admits.

The key, Jeanette says, is to never stop talking as a foster family, even when the young people don’t seem to be listening. “It’s not always easy. They hear you, though,” Jeanette says. “They may act up a little bit, but they know the right thing.”

As for those three siblings Jeanette and Herb cared for before they became foster parents, it’s a true success story.

They were between 11 months old and 4 when the care began. Jeanette and Herb—both on second marriage and without children of their own—decided to adopt the boy and his two sisters.

“As soon as the adoption went through, we got pregnant,” Jeanette says. “Sometimes when you do good and kind to others … . It worked out perfectly.”

Their biological son is 23 now and the adopted children are in their 30s and thriving.

The young man is a contractor and builder who buys, upgrades, and sells homes. One daughter is a nurse and mother of three, who’s working through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the other daughter works for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

“It’s a learning and teaching experience all the way around,” Jeanette says of being a foster parent. “We are grateful for the support of NAFI, and how they support the children as well as the parents. They have a whole team providing support.”

The “Flight” of the Sparrows as a Foster Family

NAFI New York foster families, parents, home“Before I even became an actual foster parent I was taking care of my daughter’s friend’s children,” says Helen Sparrow.

That was decades ago, before Helen and her husband, Joseph Sparrow, Sr., lived in Middletown, N.Y., and long before they connected with NAFI New York.

Their foster care journey began with kinship care, with the Sparrows acting as foster parents to the children of Helen’s sister and brother-in-law.

By the time those children returned home, the Sparrows knew the instinct to help young people was part of their DNA.

They were living in New York City at the time, and caring for young people as foster parents there before moving to Middletown about eight years ago and eventually connecting with NAFI NY through a neighbor.

Over their three years of working with NAFI NY, the Sparrows have cared for approximately six children.

“It wasn’t easy at all,” Helen Sparrow says candidly, describing the challenges of being a foster family—as well as being a foster child.

Both Helen and Joseph were foster children. In fact, they met in the group home where Helen was living when her mother was battling cancer.

Over the course of an ongoing journey that’s sometimes difficult and often joyful, the Sparrows have accumulated wisdom about being compassionate care providers that translates best as simple, fundamental, life-affirming declarations.

“No matter who or what, a child is a child,” Helen says. In other words, all children deserve respect, love, and a safe, caring place to call home.

“When they come into our home, we embrace them as our child,” she elaborates, explaining that children living with them are not presented to others as foster placements. “I don’t want anyone to put a stigma on them. I’m looking at the overall picture of how you can help this child have a better life.”

“You have to have patience, plenty of love, understanding,” Helen says of the qualities good foster parents possess, while also cautioning, “You can’t just get upset and throw them back in the system. If you feel you can’t treat them as your own, this is not something you should do.”

The Sparrows don’t have any foster children at the moment and are waiting to be matched with their next child.

“I enjoy working with NAFI because they have a very good support system, and NAFI tries to match you with a child,” Helen says, noting that NAFI also will send a profile when the need for an emergency placement arises and foster families can decide if the placement is right for them.

For more information or to learn about the foster parent application and training process, contact Shawn White, our Home Finding Supervisor, by email at or by phone at 845-743-4486.