Denise McGinnis is a Foster Care by Foundations foster mom who was nominated for an Ethie by our Fox Valley Region Foster Care Director, Jess Drews. In her nearly 6 years working in the foster care system, Jess knows first-hand about the large, unmet need for foster homes willing to take in teenagers – especially teenaged girls. Teenage girls in Foster Care tend to present with some of the most difficult behaviors, as many have experienced many years of trauma and neglect. Jess also knows Denise is doing everything in her power to meet that challenge!
Walking into Denise’s living room, you’ll find her walls filled with photos. You think that might sound like your house, but when we say filled, we mean filled! All the wall space has framed images of happy faces and you just can’t help smiling back. Denise became a foster mom in 2007, and over the last 13 years has had 27 girls placed in her home. Many of those girls have gone on to have children of their own, giving Denise 11 grandchildren. So, including Sarah (whom she adopted when she aged out of foster care and continues to live with Denise), and her adult biological children, Nick and Megan, it brings the total to a family of 41!
If you’re familar with the theme song from a popular the late 70s/80s TV show that says “eight is enough to fill our lives with love”, then Denise’s home and life is overflowing with love!
Everyone who knows Denise says she is someone will do whatever she can to help. Her road to foster mom started a when she offered to be a respite home for a friend in need. As time went on, she did respite for a few other families as well. As these kids grew up, graduated, and moved on, she decided she was ready for a foster care placement. She started with one child, then soon welcomed another, and when Nick and Megan moved out leaving more free bedrooms, she decided to fill them all.
She’s had a house full of four teenaged foster girls for many years. Denise understands trauma and has realistic expectations of her kids. Jess tells us that each time she calls Denise about a girl in need of a home, she is excited because she loves the opportunity to take in new kids and that she would take 10 girls at a time if we let her.
In the past few years, Denise started a tradition of a family Christmas photo and invites all her former foster kids, who she refers to as “my kids.” As many as can show up for the photo, and afterward they all go out to dinner and Denise gives them all gifts. This year, they will be postponing the family photo until they can gather safely. This year, most of the family will connect over Zoom.
But this big family doesn’t just get together for the holidays, Denise does things with the adult kids throughout the year. Denise will regularly put up a message on Facebook such as, “cooking dinner tonight, any of my kids are welcome to stop by.” And many of them do because her door is always open.
In past summers, she has organized what she calls “Camping with Mom” events , where she rents campsites in Door County and provides tents, bags, gear, food, and plans fun activities. Denise believes, “it is important for the kids to remember someone always cares about them. It’s equally important to get outdoors to keep their mental health in a good spot. Often the kids don’t have extra money for fun stuff, so I figure it is a good way to support and see them.”
Denise is the forever home for dozens of young adults out there who had been given up on time and time again.
In addition to all of this, Denise works in guest relations at a local hotel. In her spare time (we’re not sure how she has any spare time), she started the Community Giving Closet a clothing closet out of her church, Hope Community Church in Howard. Denise also cares for an adult, former foster child who she has adopted, who has special needs. And she just signed up to be a Girl Scout Leader.
While Denise has fulfilled wishes of a forever home for so many, we asked her what her own wish would be. She said she wanted a hotel so she can take more kids in. She dreams of building tiny houses for kids aging out of foster care.
Obviously, Denise likes to stay busy and clearly loves children and helping others! She is an excellent advocate for foster care, and we are so grateful that she is a member of our foster care family.
Thank you to Denise for opening your heart and home and creating your beautiful family bound by love!