Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity is celebrating the start of its 30th year anniversary. It began with a kickoff party on October 19, 2018 at the Hartford Marriott Downtown. I interviewed Habitat homeowners Janice and Kerry Foster for the event. Here is their story.
Raised in Hartford’s Stowe Village housing project, Janice and Kerry Foster lived first-hand the challenges facing their families, friends, and neighbors striving for better lives and looking for a way out of poverty housing. Throughout their school years they were close friends, eventually marrying and raising a wonderfully close-knit family. Though they lived through some tough times and a searing family tragedy, they became pillars of their Hartford neighborhood, always championing better lives for anyone in need.
As a nineteen-year old seeking his path in life, Kerry seized the opportunity to join the Hartford Fire Department (HFD), and a rewarding, three-decade public service career ensued. Racing to the rescue became a way of life for Kerry. As a member of HFD’s Tactical Unit 1 (Tac-1) Heavy Rescue, Kerry fully embraced his career of running toward emergencies. He proudly boasts that TAC-1 is “one of the busiest emergency rescue units in the country.”
While Kerry was pursuing his HFD career, Janice was employed as a medical office assistant and living in substandard Northeast Neighborhood apartments, the only housing her limited income could afford. When she gave birth to her first child, her building’s infestation of mice and roaches became too much to bear. As a caring single mother struggling to make ends meet, it was a call to action. While searching for better housing, Janice heard about Hartford Habitat for Humanity. With a quick inquiry about the process to become a homeowner, Janice thought that Habitat could be the answer to her prayers. It was.
When her application was accepted, Janice began her sweat equity as soon as she could under the firm but gentle guidance of former Habitat Family Services Director Steve Zwerling, and the one-on-one coaching of Ruth Puff, her Family Services partner, both of whom the Fosters regard as family. It’s been more than twenty years since Janice moved into her Habitat home. A couple of years after settling in, she and Kerry married, dedicating their lives to each other and their family. Though his successful firefighting career enabled them to live almost anywhere, Kerry emphasized that he and Janice are “anchored to the Northeast Neighborhood forever. We will never leave our 52 Clark Street home,” a home where they raised four children, and welcome visits from their four grandchildren.
It was a neighborhood they loved – a neighborhood where they could channel their love of Hartford by extending their generous helping hands to ensure their neighbors in need are sheltered, clothed, educated, and fed; they are always cooking for families and big community functions often using the two barbecue smokers in their backyard. Habitat’s mission played a large part in “opening our eyes even wider to the needs of others,” said Kerry. Yet it all could have ended when they lost their son Kerry Jr., known as KJ, to a senseless random drive-by shooting on Memorial Day in 2006.
KJ was a bright, popular eighth grader simply playing in his yard when he tragically died. A visiting friend was wounded and survived. Through the strength of their faith, and to honor of the memory of their beloved son, KJ’s passing became another call to action for Janice and Kerry to give even more of their time and treasure to the community. In memory of KJ they established the KJ Foster Scholarship Fund, and then they poured even more of their personal savings into setting up another scholarship, the Janice and Kerry Foster, Sr. Scholarship Fund, both of which are managed by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Also in memory of KJ, the Fosters sponsor a Waverly Park Little League team, and during Hartford’s annual Safe Night Out event a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Boys and Girls Club.
“Losing our son made us stronger. We’re proud to be role models and help make things happen. People need to take charge of their lives, and we’re glad to help them. You don’t always need money to do good, most of the time you just need to dedicate the time,” said Kerry.
As Janice so wonderfully believes, “If you give, give from the heart — and it’s the little things that count. You have to start somewhere. It’s a wonderful thing to give back. I wouldn’t live my life any other way.”
By running to the rescue of others and giving back to the community, Janice and Kerry paved the way for neighbors to follow their lead and work together to make their community safer, quieter and a healthier place to call home. Kerry believes in Habitat for Humanity. “It’s a great place. It offers a lot, but you have to go get it. Take the initiative. They’ll help you help yourself.”
Don Shaw, Jr. Writer and Editor RedTruckStonecatcher.com
Photos courtesy of Janice and Kerry Foster, Rich Wright Productions, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Highlighted Links are to videos and Janice Foster’s quotation on the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving website.