William (Bill) and Patricia Koniak of Godfrey have been foster parents for about 34 years.
GODFREY — Foster parents don’t have to be young, married or have the best careers. They just need to care about children and provide them safety, food and a place to come home to every night.
William (Bill) and Patricia Koniak have been foster parents for about 34 years, and while there are many happy moments, it’s sometimes tough. William is 78 and Patricia is 72, but that doesn’t stop them from taking in children and raising them as their own. Neither one of them plans to retire or stop helping kids when the need arises, and they would like everyone else to know it doesn’t matter what race, age or religion you are — you can be a foster parent, too.
“I used to run a daycare when I first came to America, so I could take care of mine and other’s children,” Patricia says. “Someone asked if I’d like to be a foster parent, and I thought why not have one more kid?”
At the time, she was a single mother of four children and after having the home inspected by DCFS, she brought someone else’s child into her home.
“I never regretted becoming a foster parent, but there have been tough times. When my husband decided he wanted to marry me, I told him he’d have to apply as a foster parent, and he went ahead and did it,” she says, chuckling.
The Koniak family includes five foster children, two of whom are adults and brothers. One is 25 and the other 23, and both have autism. The other three young men, two age 14 and one age 15, are getting ready for the new school year. One of them is going to be a football player this year in school and is excited about the opportunity.
“Most people think we’re too old to be foster parents, but we’re not,” Patricia says. “It is not a money-making thing. Many people try to get into fostering kids for the money, but you’re in it to give kids a second start in life.”
Many of the children in foster care have had troubled lives, with parents doing drugs or becoming abusive.
While they do receive some clothing money and an allowance, it isn’t much. They receive about $100 each month per child, which doesn’t stretch very far. However, the Koniaks understand that it’s not about the money. It’s about the safety of their children. They want them to aspire to do greater things than they ever could have imagined.
The family belongs to Ss. Peter and Paul Church and are all proud to be Catholic. Two of the kids helped out every week, doing whatever was asked and being part of the church, without being Catholic. No one knew, not even Monsignor Kenneth Steffen. When he found out they weren’t Catholic, he asked them to join, and they did.
“I think it’s very heroic what the Koniaks are doing,” Steffen says. “They’ve raised their own children and have helped over 90 others over 35 years. They are devout in their faith and their marriage. I see them as good models for children who don’t know what a normal family life is. They are very responsible and caring about each of their foster children, as well as being good mentors to other families in the foster care system.”
“You don’t need to have fancy houses, clothes or cars to be a foster parent,” Patricia says. “As long as you have a room, beds, clean clothes and food for them to eat, they are happy.”
These kids just want somewhere to belong and want someone to care about them. So many foster children don’t make it, either in life or in the foster system. Many times, drugs take the lives of these children too soon or the company can’t find enough foster parents for the kids. People like the Koniaks invite them into their homes and provide shelter, but they also do a lot of fun things.
“It’s nice to see some of these kids make it,” Bill says.
The Koniaks work with the Caritas organization, which helps them get the children into the school system and goes with them when they meet with caseworkers. Caritas also offers 15 hours of free babysitting each month, for those who need a night out or have specific obligations.
“We prefer teenaged boys because we feel they are a little easier than girls,” Patricia says. “However, we’ve had girls in the past. We take them on outings, as well as belong to Impact, Nautilus and the Boys and Girls Club.
“You don’t have to be a saint, but you’ll earn your angel wings being a foster parent,” she says.
For information about becoming a foster parent, visit www.caritasfamilysolutions.org or call (618) 394-5900.