Nestled between tall evergreens and the shadow of Cornerstone Church, the home of Sister Lynn Miller and Sister Sandy Kiefer sits on the hilly side of Campania Street in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood. Sunlight streams into the kitchen, lighting up the winsome smiles of 11-year-old Javonna and her younger sister Jazmine, two of the 91 children that Sisters Lynn and Sandy have cared for since becoming state-certified foster parents in 1994.
Children are placed in foster care when it’s discovered by child welfare workers, or sometimes by law enforcement officers, that their home environment is unsafe. Often, the parents are living in poverty, battling mental illness or a substance use disorder, or struggling to remain stably housed. “The first goal of the system, and of ours as foster parents,” Sister Sandy explains, “is always to reunify the family.” That’s determined by the family courts, who assess the recovery and stability of the parent.
As foster parents, the Sisters’ time with each child is finite, making every moment together a precious gift from God. In addition to providing a warm, loving home, they focus on giving the children the opportunities any other child would have: to take swimming classes or a music lesson, join the baseball team, or simply to have someone to spend time with, reading, coloring, or working on projects. “You realize how important a family bond is, how strong, and the tenderness you have to have for a child to support that bond,” Sister Sandy reflects.
“It’s hard to call the foster care program a ministry because it is our life together,” Sister Lynn says, noting that they have received far more from the children they have cared for over the past twenty-five years than they could ever give. “These children have taught us how to love unconditionally, how to trust.”