By Intisar Seraaj
*This profile was first published in 2015. Moses Harris passed away in 2018. Rest in peace.
Mattie Harris has taught children for most of her life. So it’s no wonder that she became a foster parent for Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. (SFH). Harris is a retired educator from the Bullock County School System in Alabama. For more than 30 years, Harris taught, fed, and cleaned up after students at Union Spring Elementary. Although she is no longer a teacher in a classroom, she continues to teach at home as a parent.
Her love for children comes naturally. Her husband Moses Harris shares that love. When she approached him with the idea of fostering children, he readily agreed. They began fostering with SFH in February of 2011. However, Mattie’s experience with fostering extends back more than 30 years. In addition to being a teacher’s assistant and having three biological children and three stepchildren, Mattie adopted her friend’s daughter, 35-year-old Karlynn Morales, when she was 4 years old after Karlynn’s mother was murdered. Mattie said she knew adopting Morales was the right thing to do. Morales always called her “mom” even when her biological mother was alive, according to Mattie.
In 2011, the Harrises were ready to welcome another child into their home. Since 2015, the couple has fostered four children, including a sibling group of two and their current foster daughter who is 16 years old. All of their foster children have been “therapeutic,” having emotional and behavioral challenges. With the trauma a foster child may have faced with their biological family and the typical growing pains of adolescence, the Harrises have practically mastered the art of patience. Some of the initial challenges the Harrises have faced while fostering include enforcing rules and handling the child’s emotional condition, which might include fear, anger and hyper-attachment. However, with prayer and reassurance, the Harrises have seen their foster children improve.
“I’m here for you, but you have to do better,” Mattie tells her foster children.
“You get what you want by doing what’s right,” said Moses.
“I’ll be your ‘backbone,’ if you let me,” Mattie reassures.
When words do not work, Mattie and Moses encourage drawing. During the time they fostered a brother and sister, the siblings enjoyed drawing their feelings. They would also sing as a family as a creative way to release emotional frustrations. But even with challenging moments, there were still many wonderful moments. Going to church, watching movies, shopping and cooking as a family are among the best memories the Harrises have while fostering.
These sweet moments were the product of hard work on the part of both children and parents. Foster parents have classes and training to prepare them, but foster children are placed in a new home without much preparation. Although all children will have difficulties adjusting no matter how open they are going into the situation, the Harrises advise children arriving at a new foster home to be positive and grateful because that home may become their “forever home” or a permanent home through adoption of aging out of the system with the same family. Mattie and Moses also encourage other adults to foster and/or adopt, but caution them to do it only for the pure love of children.
“The key thing is if you’re going to foster you have to love kids,” said Mattie. “You have to have patience. If you don’t have love for children and you don’t have patience, then don’t get into this business.”
“If you’re just in it for the money you should leave it alone,” said Moses. Moses explained that going to foster parenting classes provides a completely different experience than that of actually having a foster child in your home.
The Harrises also advise those interested in fostering to be firm, learn to say “no”, establish and follow through with rules, let the child make some of his or her own decisions, and to treat them like your own biological child. “You have to start off how you expect them to end up,” said Mattie. Start with genuine love and that’s what you’ll receive.
*In loving memory of Moses Harris.