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21 Years. 300 Kids. 1 Strong Lady.

Vivian Lee: 21 years. 300 kids. 1 strong lady

Vivian Lee, a 21-year veteran of foster parenting retired in April of this year. “It took a lot of work, and lots of prayers and tears,” Vivian says of the experience. “But we knew these kids didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

The “we” she refers to is she and her late husband, Melvin. He was her co-parent and a father figure to literally hundreds of young people before he passed away in 2014 due to complications from a stroke several years earlier.

There were just a few months after Melvin came home from the hospital that they did not have children in their home. But shortly thereafter, placements resumed and Vivian’s caregiver role expanded to include her husband.

“Our house was full once again and the boys even helped me care for Melvin,” she explains.

A Couple who answered the Call

Initially, the Lees cared for both boys and girls, but early in their foster parent journey, they discovered their calling was to care for young men and boys.

Keep Siblings Together

One of the many things the Lees did to make a difference was care for siblings and sibling groups. Watch this video about the importance of keeping siblings together.

All told, Vivian and Melvin cared for 300 children, including 56 sibling groups. Somewhat of a realist, Vivian says that due to past trauma, “some of the boys were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” she says.

Others, she describe as just needing a hug and to be told everything was going to be okay.

Young Men who remember to Say Thank You

Regardless of where the boys and young men were in their journeys of recovering from trauma, the Lees made a lasting impact over the years.

“One young man, even after Melvin’s stroke left him unable to speak, still called to talk to him,” Vivian recalls. “I said, ‘You know Melvin can’t talk,’ but he insisted on speaking to him anyway, so I handed Melvin the phone.”

Though she will never know what the young man said to Melvin, she can make a pretty good guess. He may have called to thank him for taking him to the lake and teaching him to fish or for steering him right into an education or the Armed Forces.

It is also possible the young man shared with Melvin the sentiment so many still share with Vivian today – “A lot of them, now adults, still call to say thank you,” she says.

One former foster boy graduated and immediately joined the Navy. When he came back home to get married, he invited Melvin and Vivian to the wedding.

It was an honor for them to attend and the groom surprised them when he publicly thanked his “mom and dad,” the Lees.

“He hand delivered the wedding invitation to us, so we knew it was going to be special, but we had no idea we would be introduced as his parents at his wedding,” says Vivian.


To learn about becoming a foster parent, contact us at 855-GROW HOPE or growhope@sainta.org.