In April, Dee Evelo was was among 22 women recognized at the Inspirational Catholic Women Servants for Christ Benefit Dinner at the Christ Cathedral Auditorium. The awards went to volunteers from throughout Orange County whose service has helped to advance the Church’s mission to assist people in need.
Dee and her husband Gary Evelo, longtime parishioners at San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church in Anaheim Hills, believe they were called upon by God to care for his most precious and oftentimes most vulnerable creations, a calling the couple has embraced faithfully for the past 25 years.
During that time, the Evelos have fostered 49 children and adopted 12, in addition to raising four children of their own.
Between their adopted children and the those being fostered, the Evelos currently have 16 children, living under the roof of their five-bedroom, two-and a-half bath Anaheim Hills home.
They range in age from under a year old to 17 years old.
“It keeps you young,” Dee said. “We’re never lonely.”
Of course, there are challenges, some as minor as settling squabbles between teenagers, and others requiring a much greater degree of attention.
“It’s definitely a calling,” Gary said of the commitment. “It took us a while to understand that is what it was, but we followed that.”
Imagine getting such a large brood fed and off to school every morning or what bath time is like.
In some cases, children entering their home have been severely neglected and the Evelos have become accustomed to teaching such basic living skills as making a bed, preparing a meal and doing laundry.
With a constantly changing family dynamic, personality clashes sometimes occur.
“You are putting a lot of personalities together, and sometimes it is like oil and water,” Dee said. “They need to learn how to get along, so you have the consequences or the rewards for talking it out.”
The Evelos have also had to deal with the courts and open up their home to social workers and officials from various agencies checking on the welfare of the children, so privacy is almost nonexistent. Over time, they’ve also experienced some epiphanies.
Early on, for example, they figured all these kids need is a mother and father and a stable home life and they’ll be fine. However, once it became apparent that many of these children experience trauma from not being with their birth parents, the couple has come to understand that therapy and outside help is sometimes needed.
“They grow up with separation issues that have to be addressed,” Gary said. “That is one thing that Dee is really, really good at is advocating for these kids to get the help they need. But that was a learned thing.”
For families who are considering fostering, the Evelos want them to know that the challenges often become blessings.
“To know what the kids came from and to watch them blossom in the stability…Some of them were living in cars, not going to school,” Dee said. “Now they know where they lay their head every night.”
Another joy is watching the children grow and mature over time, Gary said, especially those who needed extra help.
“Now that we know what support we need to give them and getting it early on and seeing this change and how they blossom,” Gary said. “It invigorates you.”
The Evelos work hard on fostering a tight family dynamic, giving individualized attention to each child and encouraging their input.
Every time they consider bringing in a new foster child, the Evelos always hold a family meeting to share and discuss feelings.
One of the Evelos’ adopted children, Lexi, has been part of the family since she was a newborn.
“I think we have a really good family,” Lexi said. “It’s fun having so many kids. It’s entertaining. Sometimes it is sad because you get attached to them and then they leave.”
Even with four children of their own, Gary and Dee Evelo had always considered becoming foster parents, but were not yet 100 percent committed to the idea.
Then, as Dee described it, God helped the Evelos take the final leap of faith.
The first nudge from God presented itself as an article promoting a foster parent weekend that appeared on the front page of the Sunday newspaper. Next came a visit to the swap-meet where the first booth Dee noticed belonged to a foster care agency with a sign that read: “Foster parents needed.”
That same weekend, the Evelos attended a church function that was being hosted by a foster family.
“At that point, that was three things in one weekend,” Dee said. “I figured I was being hit over the head by God. So, we sat down with that foster care agency and away it went.