Karen Winemiller is a Phoenix native who has partnered with Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program for 36 years. Unaccompanied Refugee Minors are foreign-born children in the U.S. without a legal guardian. This program helps unaccompanied minors and the foster families they live with, deal with challenges and assists with legal aid, healthcare, counseling and case management.
Growing up, Karen had four older brothers. She related to them and enjoyed being active. When she became an adult and began considering adoption, she knew a boy would be the perfect fit.
A Calling to Serve Youth
Karen was working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher when she mentioned to her supervisor that she was interested in adoption. A whole new world opened up when her supervisor introduced her to the URM program.
Since then, Karen has fostered over 100 youth from 23 countries. “These kids have brought their country to me, and I have learned so much,” says Karen.
Making Connections Despite Cultural Differences
She smiles about the fact that she would have each child cook their native soup dish, and then name the dish after that child. Getting to enjoy “Deng soup,” “Jose soup” or “Abdul soup” is a fond memory for Karen.
She always made her best effort to get to know her kids and understand the magnitude of their pasts. One of the most meaningful experiences she had was traveling to Vietnam with one of her boys and getting to see where he had lived.
“I have always tried to listen to their stories and just be there for them. They have experienced so much loss in so many ways, and if I can be a second mom to them, that makes me happy,” Karen adds.
Providing Unconditional Love and Support
Despite the language barrier, no words had to be exchanged for Karen to know when her kids were struggling. She made her home a safe place where they could ask for help.
She has gotten to see her kids learn, grow and develop their own identities. She always encouraged them in their hobbies. And if they wanted to go to the temple, mosque or church to attend services, they knew Karen would support them.
Relationships That Last a Lifetime
Karen’s foster kids have moved on over the years, but the bonds they forged remain. Many have come back to visit. They know they are welcome and that they can depend on her.
“I’m still their foster mom, and always will be. I will always think of them as my boys,” Karen says.
URM staff have been honored to have Karen all these years. Like so many foster parents, she feels her kids have touched her life just as much as she has touched theirs.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program could be a great fit for you. Visit our page to learn more and read other stories from our foster parents.