Keri Vellis doesn’t shy away from heartache. As an emergency foster parent for the County of Sonoma, she knows life comes with struggles and gut-wrenching circumstances.
Rather than avoid situations that often are complicated, even tragic, Vellis, 44, steps up to help make a difference.
With three biological children and three children adopted through the foster care system, ranging in age from 1½ to 16, Vellis and her husband, Ted, have been welcoming foster children into their Sonoma County home for nearly five years. Because of safety concerns for the children placed in their care, the couple asked that their hometown not be named.
At last count, 10 kids have stayed with the family, most for a few days to a few months. To help ease the transition for displaced children, Vellis searched for a storybook that could gently address the topic. When she couldn’t find something suitable, she decided to write her own book for foster children and adoptive kids.
Although she pondered the idea for two years, Vellis wrote her 18-page picture book, “Sometimes ... A Story of Transition for Foster and Adopted Children,” while waiting to pick up her kids from school.
“It’s always been in the back of my head to write one,” she said. “I wrote it in one day in the carpool line, and I knew I had it.”
The book follows a timid foster child, holding closely to a Teddy bear, meeting with new caregivers and settling into a new home. It provides comfort and reassurance, explaining, “Sometimes kids can’t stay where they live, and for one reason or another you have to leave.”
It continues, “Sometimes you need to go live in another house ... until things get figured out.”
Vellis based her book on her own firsthand experiences working with foster children. Lively watercolor illustrations help tell the story, with local artist Jin Lehr capturing “every emotion, every niche,” Vellis said. Lehr, 25, was a foster child in Sonoma County.
Vellis is hopeful “Sometimes ...” will help ease the fear and uncertainty many foster children feel when transitioning from their homes. Self-published by Vellis in June with an initial run of 1,500 copies, “Sometimes ...” has been winning praise from children at Sonoma County schools and at Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, where Vellis has read her book, answered questions and listened to kids share stories about becoming foster children.
According to the state foster parent group, in January there were more than 53,000 children from newborns to age 17 living in child-welfare-supervised foster care in the state. In Sonoma County, between 50 to 75 are in need of a safe home each day. Vellis hopes law enforcement officials, social workers and foster parents will utilize her book as a resource to help children recognize they are safe and loved in their transitional homes.
After a career managing dental offices, Vellis pursued emergency foster parenting to make a difference for children.
“We’re only here once,” she said. “I wanted to do something to impact the world.”
As a full-time stay-at-home mother with an innate ability to juggle her kids’ multiple sports teams, after-school activities and homework, along with advocacy and appointments for services for foster kids, Vellis knows a phone call can change directions.
“With the drop of a hat, you can get a call,” she said. “You are on call for anything.”