Darren Bergeron is one of an estimated 70 million American fathers, but for the five children he and his wife have adopted into a happy home, he’s much more than just a statistic.
Darren and wife, Shawn, met and fell in love while students at Vidor High School. The high school sweethearts wed a few years after graduation and pursued careers that brought Shawn back into the Vidor school district as a teacher and Darren to the U.S. Postal Service. Two years after they married in 1998, the couple decided to share their many blessings and started on the long path to becoming foster parents.
“We took a lot of classes, filled out a bunch of paperwork, had a health and fire inspection, and a home-study,” Shawn exhaustedly rattled off. “Things took much longer back then.”
After waiting two years for approval to enter the foster parent program, the couple was hardly ready for the fast paced stream of children in and out of their home over the next six months. Averaging one new foster child a month in the beginning introduced the Bergerons to the joy of parenthood, but at the same time exposed them to the heartache of seeing those children leave.
“There have been a lot of kids come stay with us that we wish we could have kept,” Shawn said. “It was hard to see them go, but we knew it was the best thing for the child.”
“There was so much we didn’t know back then, being new parents,” Darren said. “It was really hard at first.”
When 7-week-old Jeremiah came into the family’s home in 2002, however, Shawn and Darren knew the infant was destined to become a Bergeron, too. Dad Darren said he knew from the moment he held Jeremiah that, although they shared no blood relation, the bouncing baby boy was meant to be his son.
“My heart was gone right then,” Darren said. The Bergerons first son was adopted later that year.
Over the next 10 years, the Bergerons fostered more than a dozen children, adopting four and filling up the family’s Vidor home. Jonathan was adopted in 2007, sisters Hannah and Rebekah were brought into the fold in 2008 and Jake is still in the process of becoming an official Bergeron.
“Before we did this, I would have never thought,” Darren said, trailing off in thought before joking that as a younger man his future plans only called for two or three kids. “But as it turns out, they’re such a blessing to me. I’ve learned a lot since I became a dad, and I’m still learning more every day.”
Darren, who was raised as one of six siblings, said he regretted not having a close bond with his father as a child, and now he strives to do better than the generation before him. According to the Bergeron children, Darren is doing a good job so far.
“Right now he’s teaching me how to mow,” Jeremiah said of being Daddy’s Little Helper. “He’s also teaching me how to think before I do things; he teaches me a lot of stuff.”
“He’s handsome and he’s cool,” Rebekah added about dear ol’ dad. Little sister Hannah, 3, is a mama’s girl but she still said she loves her dad, who reads to her and makes sure bath time comes complete with plenty of bubbles.
Jake, now 5, said he appreciated the fundamentals that dad is there to give pointers on. “He teaches me how to pee,” Jake said with enthusiasm that made mom blush. “He teaches me lots of things.” Jonathan said he was also grateful for the instruction dad has been there to show throughout the years, especially the assistance given to get rid of those pesky bicycle training wheels no boy wants to sport as he moves through his elementary years.
“I’m thankful that they’re watching, and hopefully I am being the kind of person that’s worth watching. Kids learn from the things we do,” Darren said, “and I want them to learn the right things from me.”
CASA program director Eleanor Johnson said the couple was among the best foster families she has ever had the pleasure of working with, and that she wished all the children in need of homes find parents just like the Bergerons.
“We all think very highly of this family (at CASA),” Johnson said. “They’re both just the greatest people. He’s wonderful, and he’s wonderful with the kids. I just can’t say enough about the family – they’re just awesome.”
The Bergeron family belongs to the Cathedral of the Pines Church in Beaumont, and the children are home-schooled by their mom and a consortium of parents involved in the same educational program. Shawn has been the president of the local chapter of the Foster Parents Association and the couple has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Foster Parents of the Year. The Bergerons credit their faith, and the assistance of helpful CASA workers and volunteers with getting them to the point they are today.
“Sometimes it’s been difficult,” Darren said. “It’s definitely been God and a lot of prayer in a lot of situations, helping us.”
Desperately seeking dad
By Jennifer Johnson
A caravan of supporters will leave from the CASA of Southeast Texas office at 2449 Calder Ave. at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 14, to attend a meeting in Houston where participants are encouraged to “Lift Your Voice” and learn how to speak up for children in foster care. The effort is targeted at increasing the number of African American volunteers and foster parents enrolled in the system, and according to CASA of Southeast Texas executive director Lanis McWilliams, Jefferson County is one of the main regions in need of the support.
“If you want to make a difference in the life of an abused or neglected child, get involved with CASA of Southeast Texas,” McWilliams said. “Last year, we served 331 children in Jefferson County. CASA of Southeast Texas only has 90 volunteers to speak up for the estimated 400 children coming into foster care by the end of the year.
“No child should go through the foster care system alone. CASA volunteers work to make sure that the harm does not continue when a child enters the system by trying to get them into a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible,” McWilliams said.
CASA volunteers are regular people, concerned citizens who have decided to give 10 to 20 hours a month of their time to speak up for children in the foster care system, she said. CASA volunteers are trained, supported and supervised volunteers who get to know a child or sibling group in the system and who speak up in court for the children’s best interests.
“If you are angry, frustrated and disappointed by what you’ve seen, channel your energy and emotions into helping children here at home,” McWilliams said. “They need you!”
Statistics McWilliams shared with The Examiner reveal that although African American children make up 12 percent of the Texas population, the same group also represents 30 percent of the children in the foster care system. Additionally, only half the children in foster care have CASA volunteers and only 8 percent of CASA volunteers are African American. Locally, African American children make up 66 percent of the children in foster care.
“For the good of families and our communities, these children need adults who relate to them, who understand their culture and the challenges they face, and will fight to speak up in court for them,” McWilliams said in a call to action, challenging the Southeast Texas community to step up and take care of their forgotten youth. “Every child in Jefferson County deserves to grow up in safe and loving homes. All of us have a responsibility to make sure that all of our children are protected and that their basic needs are met. One child who is abused or neglected is too many. One child who dies because of abuse or neglect is too many.”
The newest class of CASA volunteers was sworn in at Judge Larry Thorne’s courtroom a couple weeks ago, but the agency is already recruiting for the next orientation, set for 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the CASA office, 2449 Calder in Beaumont. For more information about CASA of Southeast Texas or how to support CASA, visit www.casasetx.org  or call (409) 832-2272 (CASA).