Lindsay Simmons has fostered close to 20 children. Last week she received an early Mother’s Day gift when she adopted her own.
Three-year-old Laundyn has been in her care since she was born because her birth mother was a heroin user who left her daughter addicted.
“The only mother she’s ever known is me,” said Ms Simmons, who is also fostering a ten-year-old girl.
“They had to wean her off. It took nine days before she was able to be released from the hospital. The first two days were hard because she didn’t sleep.
“I was bound and determined to make sure that she was going to live the best life I could possibly give her.”
It is a godsend for Ms Simmons, who was told she might never have children of her own after she was raped and stabbed by an ex-boyfriend in 2004.
“I was devastated,” she said.
“It was a hard experience, but I believe that everybody’s got a different calling in life and mine might be just to raise other people’s children. And I’m happy with that.”
The 36-year-old has been fostering since she was 24. She is president of the Foster Parent Association and estimates there are 78 children in care on the island.
“I believe I was born to be a mother. I filled out the paperwork, got vetted and screened and the rest is history,” she said.
“I got my first foster child a couple of months after and I’ve been taking in children ever since. I’m not saying it doesn’t have challenges, but I have no problem loving someone else’s child.
“In and out of my house, on long-term, short-term and emergency placement, I’ve had upwards of 16, 17 children come through my doors.”
She inherited the loving spirit from her parents, Maureen and Eugene Simmons, who open “their doors to everybody”.
The whole family pitched in on Christmas Eve when she received an emergency case — a 16-year-old girl she housed for a few months.
As soon as she got the call, everyone headed to town to buy presents, loading up on jewellery, shoes and clothes.
“My family does it big for Christmas. She got everything and then more,” Ms Simmons said.
“We always make sure the children are taken care of.”
She admits she was a little naive at first.
“It’s a great experience, but I soon realised that these children need extra love. They need more love because they’re coming with so much baggage.
“At first you go through a honeymoon phase where everything is good and then you start taking away the layers and realise that these children have problems that need addressing.
“I learnt to be patient, to listen to the children. If you listen to them you can hear their hearts and find out what they truly need — sometimes it might just be a hug.
“As ironic as it is, a lot of them want discipline and guidance and to be told no; to be given that tough love. They want someone to say: ‘We’re going to work through this and get through whatever problem you have’.”
Her hope is that there are others who share her passion.
“As president of the Foster Parent Association, it’s important to me that the children that are in care can get the stuff that they need,” she said.
“There are so many children in need. More people should become foster parents. These children are our future, we have to give children our time and love.”
Although she has a full-time job as director of operations for Rosa’s Cantina and Chopsticks, Ms Simmons started substitute teaching four years ago.
“The owner, Pam [Quarterly], is very supportive,” she said. “She knows my desire for teaching and the love I have for children so she is very supportive in anything I do.
“I believe in giving back. Whatever I can do to help the community, especially children, I’m all for.”
Next year, Laundyn is off to Bermuda High School.
“I work hard so she can go to private school. The greatest gift I could ever give her is education,” she said.
“My sister pays for her to go to ballet. My other sister pays for her to go swimming. My other sister has her spiritual side — she takes her to church every Sunday.
“Everybody plays a part to make sure she’s well-rounded and has the best upbringing.
“It’s strange how nature versus nurture works. She acts like me, she talks like me; when I look at her I look at me. My mother said if she didn’t know any better she’d think I gave birth to her.
“Her world revolves around me and my world revolves around her.”