Family and foster parenting are focus of Soup and Hope Mar. 2

Nancy Doolittle
Tim Shenk


A baby girl, who was three-and-a-half months old and weighed six pounds, needed a foster family.

Tim Shenk and his wife, Alicia Swords, didn’t know anything more than that after a call from the Department of Social Services in October 2015. They took baby Jevin in and quickly learned to care for her and to love her. It took longer to discover they were becoming family with Jevin and her biological parents.

“Jevin was so tiny,” recalled Shenk, coordinator of the Cornell Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations, at his talk in the Soup & Hope series on March 2. “Reflux made it hard for her to take bottles. She slept in a front pack on our chests most of the days, and we were up with her several times each night.”

Life for the new foster parents was a blur as they got to know Jevin, her parents and the team of people who would care for her. “We met her caseworkers, lawyers, therapists. A nurse came to weigh her every week. There were lots of doctor visits. And very quickly we came to depend on the fabulous teachers at Cornell Child Care Center.” Family and friends helped.

Shenk said the experience of caring for Jevin reinforced his belief in the power of human relationships and “our enormous capacity for empathy, our individual and collective power to do right.” Some of Shenk’s fellow choir members from the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers opened his talk in Sage Chapel with song, and in the audience were his parents, in-laws and his wife, as well as Jevin and her parents, Jen and Kevin.

As time progressed, Shenk and Swords grew increasingly attached to Jevin, and felt conflicted by their “silent secret hope” that they would get to have Jevin permanently. “Intellectually, we knew better,” Shenk said. “We’re both committed to a big-picture vision of a world where all people have the right to dignity, and a right to the resources they need to raise their families in a healthy way.”

But, Shenk said, their perspective shifted as they began to notice how much Jen and Kevin worked to get their daughter back. Jevin’s parents passed every test and arrived early for all of Jevin’s appointments, as well as parenting classes, meetings and support groups. “This is commitment. This is love,” Shenk said.

Last October – a year after Shenk and his wife first took Jevin in as their foster child – Jen and Kevin got Jevin back full time. The couple did not lose touch with Tim and Alicia, however. They visit and share meals, and Jevin stays overnight with her foster parents once a week. “This is a triumphant story,” Shenk said, “but it’s not a simple one.”

Shenk said he is often asked if he and his wife will foster another child. “Maybe someday, but not for now,” he said. “We went into this wanting a bigger family, and we got it. We went into this hoping we might get Jevin permanently.

“But we never dreamed we’d get her parents, too.”