Teresa & Bethany
Growing up Bethany didn’t know what it felt like to live in a stable, loving home. At nine years old she was taken into foster care and placed in a home with two of her five siblings. When she entered care, Bethany was scared and felt uncomfortable living in an unfamiliar home. She lived with her first foster family for two years before they could no longer care for all three girls and Bethany was moved to a new home.
Living in Greenville, Vandalia, Peoria, Granite City and finally Belleville, the only consistent part of Bethany’s life was change. In 2012, Bethany moved to Belleville and was placed in the home of Teresa Baxstrom. Bethany was 11 at the time and although she had spent more than two years in foster care she was still uncomfortable moving to another unfamiliar home.
“It took a while for Beth to get adjusted,” Teresa said. “After about a year she started to open up and feel loved and wanted.” As the mother of three daughters, a foster parent, adoptive parent and owner of a day care operated out of her home, Teresa has spent most of her life fulfilling her passion; caring for children. “The hardest part of foster parenting is getting children to adapt. Children just want to feel loved and receive attention,” Teresa added.
Teresa became a foster parent six years ago and has since had more than 11 children in her home. Before becoming licensed, Teresa enjoyed her home being filled with the laugher of children. Once her girls were old enough to move out on their own, she missed their company and decided to begin caring for others’ children by operating a day care. Teresa decided to become a licensed foster parent when she heard about the opportunity through her sister, whom is also a foster parent through Caritas Family Solutions.
“Foster parenting allows me to continue playing a parenting role and to be there for the children to raise them the right way,” Teresa said. “Some children come from a home with no guidance and it is important to teach them tough love and responsibilities.” Throughout the years, Teresa has been a foster parent to children of all ages. She currently has three foster children in her home ages 10, 14 and 20. “The hardest part is letting go of the children when they return home, but we have to do what’s best for them,” she added. However, returning home isn’t always in the best interest for the child.
On August 24, 2016, adoption papers were signed at the Bond County Courthouse and Teresa officially became Bethany’s mom. This time around change has been a positive thing for Bethany who also started her freshman year of high school in August. She enjoys school and spends her free time reading and helping Momma with the other children. Bethany hopes to one day own her own book store and has even considered becoming a foster parent. “Being a foster child was difficult, but Momma made me feel comfortable,” Bethany said smiling up at her new mom. “I would like to tell other children entering foster care to hang on because things will get better.”
Sarah Hartrum was twenty-three years old when she met Dave Decareaux on Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. She wasn’t looking to fall in love and she certainly didn’t plan on running into the man she would soon marry on that cold December night in 2000.
While trying to escape another man’s request to take her out, Sarah ran into Dave standing at the rear of the night club. Hoping to give the impression that they were dating, she struck up a conversation with him. This conversation turned into a walk around downtown and from there, evolved into late night phone calls and eventually dating.
Sarah was a young woman who, up until meeting Dave, had never dated before. She fell in love with Dave quickly and honestly. The two discovered that they shared similar values, passions, and the desire to one day have a large family with many children.
When Dave and Sarah met, she was a student teacher and he was an airman on assignment at Scott Air Force Base. A few weeks into their relationship, Dave told Sarah that his assignment at Scott Air Force Base was coming to an end and he would soon be moving to Portugal’s Azores Islands, his next duty station with the military. Unwilling to part ways, Sarah and Dave decided to take the next step and get married so that Sarah could accompany him to Azores. By January 11, 2001, Dave and Sarah were married and soon traveled to their new home to begin their life together.
By March of that year, Sarah discovered she was pregnant and their dream of starting a family began. For the next nine years, Sarah and Dave moved many times; living in Idaho, England, St. Louis, Italy, and Germany, expanding their family along the way. By August 2010, their fifth child, Elise, was welcomed to the family adding to their children Kate (8), Dominic (7), Grant (5), and Finn (1).
The Decareauxs were a family of adventurers and loved being outdoors hiking, camping, and exploring national landmarks. The weekend of January 11, 2013, for their twelve-year wedding anniversary, Dave planned a trip for the family to visit the Missouri Ozarks. On Friday afternoon, the family of seven packed into their minivan and headed to their cabin in the woods. That evening, Dave arranged for the family to have a nice dinner at the lodge celebrating their anniversary. The Decareauxs didn’t know that this would be their last meal as a family of seven.
On Saturday morning, Dave and the two oldest boys, Dominic and Grant, planned to go on a hike. Dave, being an avid outdoorsman, and the boys being Cub Scouts, thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors and hiking together. Although the boys had been hiking many times and typically hiked all day long, they decided to make it a short journey in order to be back in time for a family campfire before a storm was to hit that evening.
With the necessities needed for a day hike, the three of them set out for their adventure. Sarah waved good-bye to her husband and boys, not knowing that it would be the last time she saw them alive.
While the boys were hiking, Sarah and Kate took the youngest children, Finn and Elise, to the stables to see the horses and then to the playground. On their way back to the cabin, it began to drizzle. Sarah was surprised to see that it was raining earlier than expected and anticipated her boys return.
Hours crept by and the afternoon drizzle turned into a steady rain; still the boys and Dave had not returned. Sarah was sitting in the cabin growing anxious when Annette, the lodge manager, knocked on the door. Annette told Sarah she would drive her van to the trail and pick the boys up to get them out of the cold rain. When Annette finally returned, Sarah was surprised to find that she was alone. Knowing her husband and children were skilled outdoorsman, she didn’t panic as a search party was assembled to find her family.
A fifty-person search party continued until midnight to no avail. Not wanting to panic, Sarah convinced herself that Dave must have left the trail to find shelter for him and the boys and would return once the storm had subsided. The next morning the search party continued and Sarah began to panic. Although she had not accepted it in her heart or mind, she knew in her spirit that her boys would not be coming home.
Around 10:00 a.m., a call came through that the boys had been found. Upon hearing the call, Sarah knew immediately that something was wrong. She called her and Dave’s parents and begged Annette to take her to her boys. Once Annette received more information on the condition of the boys, she drove Sarah to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, Sarah was told that her husband did not make it. Hearing that her life partner and best friend had been taken from her was too much to bear. Life drained from her spirit and Sarah immediately felt dead inside. When she arrived at the hospital she was taken to see her sons who were lying lifeless on their hospital beds. For two hours, a team of doctors and nurses did everything they could to bring the boys out of their hypothermic state, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Sarah was completely broken. She said good-bye to her two boys and went to the morgue to say good-bye to her husband.
Dave and Sarah’s family members arrived and took Sarah and her children back home. Back home, Sarah had no will to continue on with her life. She felt unable to function, much less provide for the children she still had on earth. Each morning when Sarah woke, she had a feeling of absolute emptiness, hopelessness, and darkness. Her emotions were paralyzing, and most days, left her unable to get out of bed. She felt that the suffering her boys had to endure meant she deserved to suffer herself. Sarah began tracking her life in weeks since the accident and her only goal was to survive.
In February, Sarah called Caritas Family Solutions to schedule a counseling appointment and spoke to Dr. Lillian Sullivan. Dave’s benefits allowed her and Kate to receive counseling services and Sarah knew she needed to seek outside help. Her first visit with Dr. Sullivan, Sarah cried through her entire appointment. Although she knew she needed help, she was angry and refused to listen to the advice she was given.
Seven weeks after the death of her husband and boys, Sarah was suicidal. She no longer wanted to go on living without her family and she was desperate to leave this earth. Her feelings about death were strong, but she hid them from Dr. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan wanted Sarah to begin to structure her life and get back on a routine. This advice made Sarah angry. She felt that letting go of the grief and despair would mean she was letting go of her boys and that was a choice she was not willing to make.
Months passed and with Dr. Sullivan’s help, Sarah was able to survive the first year. She attended counseling sessions twice a week and finally, in the summer of 2014, Sarah’s life began to change. Her life stopped becoming about grief and became more about living. She wasn’t just surviving each day; she was looking into the future.
On the second anniversary of her husband’s and sons’ passing, Sarah was distraught and had no idea how to get through those three days. She began to write down the memories she had of that weekend. Letting it all come back to her, she wrote for eight to ten hours a day. Filled with determination to tell the story of her brave boys, she went to their gravesite and promised them that their passing was not an ending but a glorious beginning. By the end of February, Sarah had written so much it was enough for a book. She contacted WestBow Press and decided to self-publish the book about her journey. Sarah’s book, From Here to Heaven, went live on December 18, 2015.
Less than a month later, January 13, 2016, marked the third anniversary of her boys’ passing. Sarah finally feels hopeful and is excited to see where her journey takes her. She no longer feels that she is merely surviving, but living. According to Sarah, without the counseling services she received from Caritas Family Solutions, she would not be where she is today. She would not have the strength and the courage to tell her family’s story. She is forever grateful for the help she received.
Betty and Cecil enjoyed many years as a married couple. They shared everything, and as they entered their golden years, several life events set them back. Cecil suffered from heart disease and had three heart attacks; Betty was diagnosed with osteoporosis and took a bad fall from a step stool.
Their children decided that it was time for them to move to a place that would see to their needs as they faced aging and health issues. They decided that Fox River Apartments – a service of Caritas Family Solutions – would be the perfect fit for Betty and Cecil. The assisted living facility is located on five acres in Olney and provides meals, housekeeping, social services, and daily assistance to low-to-moderate income seniors who are not able to care for themselves.
In April 2012, Betty and Cecil became official residents of Fox River and began the next phase of their lives together. Betty smiles as she remembers how they attended activities together and enjoyed visits from their children. However, the reality of heart disease was always present for Cecil, and in July 2013, it won the battle.
With Cecil gone, Betty was faced with the decision to stay at Fox River or to look elsewhere. She decided that Fox River was home and that the family-like friendships she and Cecil had established were strong. Her one-bedroom apartment is decorated with paintings completed by her late husband along with a picture of him that greets her each and every day. Betty enjoys attending the book club and church services at Fox River, and she takes pride in walking a mile each day and staying active with the help of the staff.
Bobby, a bright, affectionate, and respectful boy, was living in a home filled with mental illness, drug activity, and the freedom to do whatever he wanted. This environment facilitated his involvement in gang-like activities such as theft, which left a criminal conviction on his record. He was also failing the majority of his school work. Obviously, Bobby’s young life was in turmoil and he was sent to live with his grandmother.
At age 12, Bobby entered the Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) Program at Caritas Family Solutions. It was then discovered that he had ADHD, sleep apnea, and asthma. He explained that the medication he was given was not effective and he often missed school due to sleep issues. The MST team became an advocate for Bobby at school and assisted him with obtaining the proper medications to treat his illnesses. The team also facilitated a relationship between Bobby’s grandmother and school officials as well as relationships with parents of his peers.
The MST program empowered Bobby to be active in school activities, covering the costs for him to participate in football and after school tutoring. At the end of the program, Bobby was earning A’s and B’s, attending school regularly, and participating in football. Family arguments diminished greatly as his family, with the help of MST counselors, gained skills like trust, communication, understanding, and identifying with one another’s needs. In addition, three months after closure, his grandmother called to invite his therapist to attend a school football game, starring Bobby!
When Carlos was just six years old, he was placed in foster care because his mother and father engaged in severe domestic violence and allowed gang activity in their home. Carlos was raised in an environment where people responded with violence and rage to every question and problem. The terrified little boy witnessed his father kicking his mother and beating other individuals for things as simple as looking at him the wrong way.
By age seven, Carlos was unable to stay in a foster home due to his violent outbursts and deeply instilled rage. It was determined that he needed more intensive services and so he was sent to St. John Bosco Children’s Center. Carlos now receives the help he needs through counseling, positive male role models, and individual attention in crisis situations. He thrives under the care of the professional and skilled staff at the center, and now he can imagine a life without violence.
James suffered from verbal abuse and severe neglect from the beginning of infancy and throughout his life. The intensity of the abuse triggered his developmental disabilities that included Asperger’s Syndrome, Over Compulsive Disorder, and depression.
When James was 14 years old, one of his neighbors called the police to complain of filth and stench coming from the home where James lived. The police found James alone, and discovered feces from more than 40 animals inside the home. They realized that James was expected to take care of these animals on his own. James was immediately moved to live with relatives and the police arrested the caregivers.
Abuse and neglect followed James throughout his life, and within five years, he had been in seven different schools and had lived in six different homes. At age 23, James learned about Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) homes where he could live on his own with roommates and staff assistance. By moving into a CILA home, James was able to find a job working five days a week. He now enjoys new-found independence and is living a happy, safe life.