Cindy Bowen grew up in a home with substance abuse and without love. Her mother shipped her around to various relatives because she didn’t much like her daughter. Ira Bowen had 13 brothers and sisters and his home was brimming with affection. Together, they have almost a calling to pool their experiences and share the best of themselves with kids who lack caring and a place to belong.
So, they have fostered 14 children, all with special needs. And they adopted nine of them. All of their children came to them as babies, except the most recent, 4-year-old Yosgart, who became another forever child at Adoption Day Nov. 22. And they also have a foster child with them now.
“He showed me a lot of love, what family’s all about and to be positive,” Cindy said about her husband of 27 years. They met when they both worked at Children’s Hospital, where Cindy would lock the door on purpose so Ira, who worked in security, would have to come and open it.
When the idea of fostering came up, “I just felt everyone needs someone to love them and to be in their corner. I just said we can do this, and we’ll do it together.”
“I’m just used to crowds,” Ira said with a laugh. “It kind of comes normal.”
The Bowens foster children “who don’t otherwise have a chance for a normal life,” Cindy said. “I hate that word ‘normal.’ Everyone wants a ‘normal’ child. But the ones with problems need the love most. And if they’re sickly and need love, this is the perfect home for them.”
Cindy is an emergency room tech at Columbia St. Mary’s. Ira is a retired corrections officer. Both are experienced with dispensing medications, which they keep in a large locked cupboard in their spacious kitchen. From it, they ensure that each of their children gets at least three to five different medications they need per day.
The medication schedule and the multitudinous activities the family is involved in are marked on a big calendar that hangs on their refrigerator.
“The calendar is our bible!” Cindy said.
Things can get hectic, with school meetings, birthday parties, doctors, dentist and orthodontist visits. But dinner has always been a time where everyone sits down together for a meal, which Ira cooks. That’s when the family talks about how everyone’s day went. Sound kind of like the Cleavers?
“Hah! Yeah, especially when we’re all sitting around the table and I’m re-enforcing the rules,” Ira said with a laugh.
There may be a lot of them, but they’re just like any other brothers and sisters, Cindy said. Except maybe that they comprise three different races: black, Hispanic and Caucasian.
“Mama, we’re missing a Chinese baby!” one of her girls recently told Cindy.
“I’m not going to say they don’t have their bad days; all kids do,” Cindy said. “But the kids are our life. We really don’t do much else.”
And they keep the couple – who also have four adult biological children and five grandchildren – young.
“We don’t have time to get old; they keep us going!” Cindy said.
There are all those walks, badminton games, outdoor barbecues every weekend in the summer, school activities. When they had an HIV-positive foster son who had problems with his legs, “We saved our taxes and overtime and put a pool in the backyard, so we could work his legs.” Cindy said.
There’s certainly no time for an occasional game of golf.
“I’ve got a putter downstairs that’s been sitting on the shelf for six years!” Ira said.
And then there’s the work on the house, which never seems to end. What started as a three-bedroom, one-bath house now has nine bedrooms and three baths. The couple do most of the work themselves.
And, don’t forget the animals. The Bowens have two cats and two dogs, one with only one eye.
“Animals are good for kids,” Cindy said. “It teaches them love, to be gentle and to be responsible.”
Despite having days that seem to never end, ending fostering is not on their radar, the couple said.
“I never gave it much thought,” Ira said. “We’re so used to it. And the next time one comes up, we’ll be talking about it.”
Added Cindy: “When they call us, it’s just like, Oh, Sweetie, they need love!”