Finding Love and Permanency With Family, PA

Two hands forming the shape of a heart.If there’s anyone who understands the value of family, it’s kinship caregivers Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. Robert Sr. and his late wife not only raised seven children of their own, but also four cousins who needed a home. So, when Lea’s father contacted the couple after seeing her featured on a news program in Pittsburgh aiming to find her a home, they didn’t hesitate. They called the provided number the very next day and took steps to bring Lea into their home. Unfortunately, only 11 months later, Robert Sr.’s wife and Lea’s primary caregiver died suddenly. Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. are now Lea’s legal guardians, having cared for her with the support of family for the last several years. Lea, who is severely autistic, is a permanent and joyful addition to their family and surprises them daily with her developmental progress.

*Here is their story written from the perspective of Robert Jr.

Autism is unique. While caring for autistic youth can be challenging, Lea brings new life to our household. She loves sorting her toys out and laying her toys out in a certain way. She loves listening to music videos on her iPad, and she's really good at quoting song lyrics. It’s funny because, if she gets mad at you, she'll start singing, "You're crazy and I'm out of my mind” from John Legend. It's interesting how she can put all that together. And she loves to swim! We can’t get her out of the water. Providing Lea with a sustainable life has been an experience that I am honored to do. My mom was a big part of making sure medications were filled, going to doctor appointments, coordinating with the different agencies to make sure we had the services at home and so much more. However, after she passed away, my dad and my sister-in-law took over that responsibility, and then about a year later, I left my job and took over caring for Lea at home. There are days where it can be challenging, but with a degree in biopsychology, I’ve learned how to care for those with disabilities. With services from A Second Chance, Inc., Pendle Mental Health and other support services, we have been blessed by everyone involved in our case. The best help we could’ve gotten was from our family.

Everyone loves Lea. We do our best to involve her as much as we can or as much as she'll want to do. Although difficulties arise, everyone is happy she's here. It is important for caregivers to have patience and understand that there are going to be good days and bad days, but it's all worth it. Seeing how far Lea has progressed since she first came to live with us is the most rewarding thing about being her guardian. When she came to live with us, we were told that she would only say about 20 words. She’s proved them wrong. It's been amazing to see how far she's come and how much she's learned since then. There really wasn't a limit on where she would go. Initially, we were all unsure how it would work, because my parents were aging and my mom had a back injury, and we knew taking on Lea would be a lot of work. But since she's been here, everyone fell in love with her. And now my dad and I are her legal guardians—we went to court to get that settled. She's here permanently!

Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. are kinship caregivers through A Second Chance Kinship Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA. To learn more about A Second Chance, Inc. visit its website.