Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 07-03-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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SMITHFIELD SCITUATE FOSTER GLOCESTER EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE & OBSERVER | JULY 3-10, 2019 NORTH COUNTY 7 LINCOLN – Lincoln resident Eloise Ricci was recently recognized during Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island's 25th Anniversary Charitable giving program for open- ing her home to more than 60 foster children. Ricci and her husband Bill have nine children, some adopted through foster care, but there are no labels in their house. "They're all kids," she said. Ricci came to know Neighborhood as the primary health insurance plan provider for her children in foster care. "They take care of all of the medical so I can take care of the baby," she said, adding that they "make it easier to care for children with different medical needs." "There are times when I don't know whether they have a food allergy, or whether they have tubes in their ears or tonsils. With Neighborhood I can make a call and I'm connected with a specialist," she said, which is especial- ly important when caring for children who may be too young to advocate for themselves. At the start of their 18-year foster journey, Ricci said she expected they'd experience some challenges. "Sometimes before a placement they'd come to me and say: be prepared. But I haven't had any issues. I don't have horror stories to share. It's always love." She supposes part of the secret to success is running a tight ship, balanc- ing a no-nonsense attitude with lots of love. If one of her kids refuses to shower when asked, the water is run- ning and there's a towel in their hand before they can refuse again. "You can have a meltdown. I won't entertain it," she said. She's also forced to consider the troubling situations some of these chil- dren found themselves in, at no fault of their own. "What's being put on these kids shoulders often shouldn't be. I try to let kids be kids. To let them know that they're safe now. 'Let's work on you and let the adults work on them.'" In addition to being an advocate for the children in her care, Ricci tries to be a resource for their mothers; offer- ing support for them to earn a second chance at parenting. "I want to help these mothers get their children back," she said. "I'll take a child for five days, two years or forever, but my goal is to take care of their child while they get back on their feet. I try to develop relation- ships with the birth families." "I'm not putting up any walls, though," she continued. "I love them unconditionally as if they're staying forever." She'll readily give her phone num- ber to birth mothers and encourage them to call. "I've experienced mothers addicted to drugs who said they were so depressed and close to using drugs that night, but that being able to call and hear 'your baby is fine' or get a picture of their baby makes them feel like they have someone on their side," she said. "They need someone to say: you can do this. You're not giving up." In short, Ricci said she talks to them "like a mom." After nearly two decades of foster- ing, Ricci said she's maintained rela- tionships with a number of mothers. "My phone is constantly ringing, from birth moms sharing stories and foster parents I've mentored," she said. "It's all good … it makes me feel good." Though she said her foster place- ments typically average a year in her home, the number of children Ricci has fostered has been increasing faster thanks in part to Ricci's participa- tion in a new "emergency" program, where children are placed in a home for a two-week period to be assessed. Ricci cared for seven children through that program last year and has fos- tered four more this year. Ricci said there's a serious need for foster parents in R.I., especially because of recent licensing changes instituted by DCYF. Those changes prohibit the placement of unrelated children in foster homes without the director's approval. A caregiver can- not care for more than two children under age 2 or 4 children under age 6 at any time. "People are afraid to get involved with fostering, but I love it," she said. "This experience has been extremely rewarding for me and I feel blessed for the opportunity to be able to do this." Ricci, who in her spare time serves as a mentor for other foster parents, encourages those interested in learn- ing more about fostering to attend an information session offered by The Village on Ocean Drive in Cranston. "Think about the kid and give it a chance," she said. "Especially those with kids of their own. It's one more bed ... one more plate." Asked whether it's difficult for her children to adjust to foster children coming in and out of their lives, Ricci said, "it's not hard for them to bring them in. It's hard for them to let them go." After 18 years of fostering, Ricci said this lifestyle has become "so natu- ral that it's not a big deal anymore. They share their toys and they share their parents." Ricci was honored by Neighborhood Health Plan in June and was chosen to select the first non- profit to benefit from their charitable giving program this year. She nominated Adoption Rhode Island, which is partnering with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to implement the founda- tion's signature adoption program for Wendy's Wonderful Kids, which focuses on finding adoptive homes for older children, sibling groups and chil- dren with special needs. Ricci said she chose the foundation because, "I know that it's more dif- ficult to find forever homes for older children or children with barriers." Neighborhood Health Plan of R.I. president and CEO Peter Marino said the company's 25th anniversary chari- table giving program is a "meaningful way to honor extraordinary Rhode Islanders like Eloise – who have posi- tively impacted the lives of numerous foster children – as well as recognize and support the important work that incredible organizations like Adoption Rhode Island are doing," he said. "We look forward to making addi- tional donations to nonprofit organiza- tions throughout the year as we learn of compelling member stories and causes that are important to them." Lincoln mother awarded for fostering 60 children By NICOLE DOTZENROD Valley Breeze Staff Writer Neighborhood Health Care of Rhode Island pres- ents a check to ELOISE RICCI, second from left, with Neighborhood's president and CEO PETER MARINO and AMANDA CHOINIERE and SHANNON DOHERTY of Adoption Rhode Island's Adoption and Permanency Team. 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