St. Louis, Missouri
Like a scene from a haunting film, etched in Bess Wilfong's memory is opening the door in 1995 for the first foster siblings she and husband Larry took in. A 9-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister stood wide-eyed on her porch with nothing in the world but each other. "They had no toys, no books, no pets, no home--only the clothes on their backs," Bess recalls. That moment inspired Angels' Arms, which she founded in 2000 to provide loving homes for foster children by keeping siblings together until a forever home is found. If it isn't ever found--generally because the children are too old or there are too many of them--they still stay together. A lively quartet of teenagers has been with the same foster parents for six years, living in one of five Angels' Arms homes that collectively accommodate 36 children.
The youngest is a bubbly 16-year-old. "When new kids come into her home so lost and confused," Bess says, "it's neat to hear her say, 'You're going to like it here.'"
T here would be no Angels' Arms if the Wilfongs had not experienced the sorrow of infertility. First an adoption effort went painfully awry. Then a child they had fostered and planned to adopt was claimed by his biological father. "I decided we weren't meant to be parents and handed it over to God. That's when coffee started smelling bad to me, and I love coffee! I was pregnant," Bess smiles.
Today Bess and Larry have two sons, 7 and 12. And that 9-year-old boy who turned up on her doorstep all those years ago? He's a fine young man who is now a police officer.