Lisa Gatewood has 30 children – give or take.
Gatewood, a co-owner of Strength Fitness and a personal trainer, also is a full-time volunteer for Safe Families for Children. Over the past 10 years, she has taken in more than 30 children on a temporary basis. Gatewood takes in children whose biological parents might be experiencing drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, illness, homelessness or some other hardship.
“A lot of times there is a crisis situation and the mother needs time to get back on her feet,” Gatewood said. “Sometimes, I have the children for 30 days or 60 days or even longer.”
While a couple months is the norm in the program, Gatewood’s current set of three siblings has been with her for two-and-a-half years. The extended stay has her and her husband on track to adopt the three siblings, ranging from 2 years old to 5 years old.
The decision to adopt was a big one for Gatewood and her husband, who already have three biological children – a 26-year-old, 21-year-old and 5-year-old. But the commitment to children and helping those in need was easy.
“It’s been a totally different experience,” Gatewood said of deciding to adopt. “Normally, we say it’s like catch and release because you get wrapped up in these kids and love them, but you know you are going to have to see them leave, which is always sad.”
Gatewood’s inspiration for volunteering comes from her grandmother, she said. Her grandmother gave her whole life to helping disabled children, Gatewood said, in addition to raising 10 children, helping run a business and assisting veterans.
“She always inspired me to do the same thing,” Gatewood said. “One of my favorite quotes she would tell me is from Einstein who said, ‘Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.’ ”
Working with Safe Families is a sacrifice in time, love and money, Gatewood said. From diapers to formula and clothes, the volunteer has to purchase what is needed for the children in their care. For those who cannot house children, there still are opportunities to donate money, purchase diapers and volunteer in other ways.
Because Gatewood is going through the adoption process with the three children now in her home, she said she has switched to donating to the agency’s diaper bank and helping in other ways. But once the adoption is finalized, she plans on getting right back to housing children on a short-term basis.
“Hopefully, in six to eight months, I will be able to bring in kids again,” Gatewood said. “Because it’s not only rewarding to see the difference I can make, but it can make a difference in your own kids’ lives, too.”
The thought of caring for children for a couple months at a time can be a daunting thought to some, Gatewood said, but Safe Families is a tight network of volunteers. Gatewood said the three children now in her care have five other siblings who are being cared for by other volunteers.
To make the process easier on the volunteers and the eight siblings, Gatewood said they all meet frequently so the children can stay in touch and the volunteers can offer assistance.
“Safe Families really is a network of families that help each other out,” Gatewood said. “You’re never doing it alone. There is always a whole group here ready to help.”
Susan Bouterse, who works at Safe Families for Children, said Gatewood has been an incredible volunteer, and her passion is contagious.
“All our volunteers are amazing, and so is Lisa,” Bouterse said. “She has done so much for us and continues to do so much. I don’t know how she does it.”