How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?
We've lived here in Hernando County for 19, first in Spring Hill and currently in Brooksville. We moved here from New York, where I had lived since I was 7. I was born in Kentucky.
Who are the members of your family?
My husband, Patrick, and I have six children of our own and four foster children. Michael, 32, lives in Georgia; Dawn, 30, and her husband, Nick DiFresco, live in Brooksville with their two children, Mary Kate and Nicholas; Danielle, 29, and her husband, Alex Cifuentes, live in Spring Hill with their son, David; Dennis, 28, lives in North Carolina; and Scott, 13, and Colton, 11, still live at home. We have three foster girls, ages 17, 14 and 6, and one foster son, age 15. Dawn is a social worker at Moton Elementary School.
My mother, Judy Dunaway, lives in Spring Hill, and my brother, Cory Dunaway, lives next door to me.
We also have a few pets, including three goats and two dogs. One dog, Treasure, a Great Pyrenees, lives outside with the goats. I think he thinks he is a goat. We also have an inside dog, Trigger, who is a Lab mix.
Tell us about your career.
I was a dental office manager in New York. We moved to Florida to purchase an affordable home. When we moved here, I couldn't find a dental position, so I went into medical billing and worked for the Harbor Behavioral Center. While there I use to see the foster children come in all the time, and most times they looked so sad. I knew in my heart that we could help.
Patrick, who is a sergeant at the women's prison in Spring Hill, and I took the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting classes to learn how to be foster parents.
Then when Scott and Colton started school, I began working at Moton Elementary. First I was working in the lunchroom, and then I expanded and began substituting. I did that for three years and then decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
What kinds of activities are you involved in now?
I'm the president of the Hernando County Foster Parent Association. We meet once a month at a local church. I'm always busy organizing some fundraiser or dinner, and organizing a trip or after-school activity. I also have been writing grants.
Each month we are out at Wal-Mart and Publix collecting for Hernando's foster kids. And each October we have a big family dinner fundraiser at the new VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill. We try to do two fundraisers a month.
The funds we collect help cover all the extras that the kids need. Some of these kids have never been to an attraction or even a restaurant. Last year, we took the kids to Disney for "Mickey's Merry Christmas." The look on their faces made all the work worthwhile. This year we are raising funds to go to Disney's Fort Wilderness.
I also talk to folks who are interested in becoming foster parents. If it's something they are serious about, then I send them to Kids Central, where they offer the classes and do the licensing.
We also hold Christmas parties at First United Methodist Church in Spring Hill and at Community Bible Church in Brooksville, and pass out gifts. We look for sponsors each year, asking for specific needs and wants the kids want. To be able to give them something on their wish list is a terrific feeling.
We also hold shoe drives each December, and I have a "clothing closet" at a local storage unit. I have new and almost new clothes just waiting for when I get that call from a school or a friend or a grandparent who is now raising a grandchild. I deliver the clothes myself. People in general have been very kind, and the storage unit was offered for free.
Do you have any special hobbies?
I don't have time for hobbies. When the kids are out of school, we are busy playing sports, going shopping or to the movies, and visiting local parks or the beach. Each Sunday, after church, we try to see a movie and then have dinner out. Patrick and I have a time share in Orlando, so we often take the family there for vacations.
What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?
Go to the movies, Pizza Hut, Hernando Beach, Pine Island, local parks and soccer fields, and Starbucks.
What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?
Having more foster parents, but also having more involvement with the association. So many people don't know we exist. We need more folks to be aware of us and the foster children here in Hernando County, and for folks to know what we are trying to do for these kids.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
I've always wanted to open up a group home for foster children. I would make it such a loving place for these kids, and I'd hire the people I know who could help me make it a loving, natural home setting for children. If I win the Lotto, that's what I'm going to do.
Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1438.