My Y Story: Finding Joy, Purpose, and Connection through Foster Parenting

When Jill Crisafulli was leading the YMCA’s Transitions program assisting former foster youth, she didn’t have any idea that over fifteen years later she would make one of the biggest transitions of her own life – to that of becoming a foster parent. Until recently, Jill served as the Accelerator Y Branch Executive before deciding to begin a new journey.

“I never wanted to leave the Y, I think this is a great organization making a huge impact,” says Jill. “But even early on I had so much respect for foster parents who were helping children who had been so harmed and experienced such trauma in their lives. I would think maybe I want to do that at some point.”

Not only did Jill decide to focus full time on foster parenting, she’s chosen to provide care as part of the Y’s Therapeutic Foster Program which serves children with behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues due to extreme neglect, abuse, and/or poverty. “So I haven’t really left the Y, I’m still very much a part of things,” notes Jill.

As part of the licensing process, Jill was confronted with the extent of the need in King County. “In one training they passed around a list of all the youth awaiting placements who had just come in that day. It was seven pages long.”

Jill’s intent isn’t to start a new family or begin again with a child she’ll raise into adulthood – she has two grown daughters already.  But rather to serve as a supportive figure for kids without resources who need help getting to a place where they can find a forever family.

“It’s that in between piece that I’m excited about,” Jill explains. “To be a safe place for kids to act out and practice the skills they need to be successful in school and home, and to eventually be in an adoptive placement.”

But Jill admits that being a foster parent hasn’t come without challenges. Even with her extensive experience as a Child and Family Therapist she’s had moments where she questioned her abilities and preparation. “There was one youth who was extremely challenging who was doing property damage in the home and constantly having scary blow ups. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Each child has full team of Y staff supporting their success. From case workers to counselors, Jill credits them with helping her navigate this new path. “I’ve had exposure to the program for the last 26 years, but I’m a brand new foster parent and still learning what approaches work best in supporting these kids in a family setting.”

Not only is there the program staff, but the other foster families provide an essential support network as well. Before Jill had her first youth placement, she went out and interviewed two of the Y’s most experienced foster parents who helped her with advice on how to structure her house, working with the program, and thinking things through.  “And I can still call on them now if needed. There is such a fantastic level of support.”

At home, Jill’s wife Kelly is her ultimate champion. “Most important is Kelly being will to do this. I think a lot of people would say you want to do what? But she is incredibly patient; I’ve been blessed with a wonderfully supportive family.”

Just like the rest of the Y, the foster parent program is inclusive and welcoming to people from all communities.  Jill is aware that some people may have preconceived notions of what a family or foster parents be,” but we actually have a high percentage of LGBTQ families.”

Jill explains that it’s important to recognize that small successes have big impacts in the lives of these children who have so often become completely disconnected. For instance, she’s had the opportunity to teach three of her foster children to swim, something they had never had the chance to experience before.

“For these kids just knowing someone cares and having a connection is everything. You think about how we never really grow up, we still call home to Mom or some supportive connection usually. Just giving them that experience has been really great.”