Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Big Kid" Shares Life With Foster Teens and College Students

Mai Williams with her family. (Clockwise from front left  - Isaiah, ChaQuana, Mai, Deonte and Markeisha. Photo by Chris Sloan

Mai Williams with her family (Front row, ChaQuana, Markeisha, Isaiah; Back row, Deonte and Mai). Photo by Chris Sloan
(VICTORVILLE, Calif.) “I’m just a big kid,” says Mai Williams of Victorville.

But Williams, 36, is a big kid with a big heart. She is not only the mother of three young people, she has also opened her home to other children as a foster mom, including one teen-age girl for whom she has already become the legal guardian.

She does all this while working full-time as an admissions representative for Four-D College in Victorville, and while pursuing a Master’s degree in human services at Chapman University, which has a branch campus in Victorville.

While raising her own children (Deonte, 20; ChaQuana, 16 and Isaiah, 13) Williams had always wanted to extend her love to foster children that she might eventually adopt. But her ex-husband had reservations.

Her children knew of that dream and ChaQuana was especially supportive. In 2006, a few months after her parents divorced, ChaQuana told her friend Markeisha Clark, now 15, what her mother wanted to do.

“I told ChaQuana ‘I’m in foster care. Why doesn’t your mother adopt me?” Markeisha said.

Markeisha wasn’t happy in the foster family she then lived with, so she gave ChaQuana a business card for New Beginnings Foster Family Agency, which is the agency that had placed her with her former family. ChaQuana gave the card to her mother, and asked that Williams seriously consider contacting the agency to see what would be required to bring Markeisha into their home.

“Although I had always wanted to have foster children, this is how I got started,” Williams said. “That card for Markeisha gave me the motivation.”

After New Beginnings conducted a home study and Williams attended their foster parent training sessions, Markeisha came to live with them. She was Williams’ foster child the first year; then Williams obtained guardianship.

Guardianship is similar to adoption, in that Markeisha officially became part of the family and Williams now has all the rights and responsibilities for Markeisha as she does for her minor children. But Markeisha is maintaining the name she was given at birth.

After Markeisha, Williams welcomed other foster children into her home, including a pregnant teenager now living on her own with her baby.

“She was a sweetheart, “ Williams said of her second foster daughter. “She reminded me of myself at that age, as I too was pregnant as a teenager.”

Her foster family currently includes two 17-year-old boys who will either be returned to their real mothers’ custody before their next birthdays, or who will live with Williams in the San Bernardino County foster care system until they complete a college education.

While most of the relationships Williams has had with her foster children are temporary, she is grateful to have had the chance to show them her idea of what a loving parent should be.

“I’m not a saint, but I know how to have fun. I give them love, because that’s what they need,” Williams said. “There has to be disciplinary guidelines that I enforce, but I let them be free to be who they are.”

“As long as they do what they are asked in the way of chores and proper behavior, they will not have a problem living here,” she said. “They will have a lot of fun here.”

Her sons, while not as supportive as ChaQuana initially, agree now that having foster siblings is the best thing for their family.

“We always felt like someone was missing from our family before,” Isaiah said. “Now, we feel our family is complete.”

Williams’ commitment to helping young people become the best person possible also helps at Four-D College, where most of the students are young adults looking to education as their key to a better future.

“I love being in a position to help them better their lives,” she said.  “I also love seeing when they finish their education at Four-D College Their lives change with new beginnings.”

Some Four-D College students, Williams acknowledged, are actually older than she is. She can relate to them, as she herself just completed a bachelor’s degree on May 23, 2010, with a major in sociology and minors in psychology and criminal justice.

Williams began her college education just three and one-half years ago, starting with an associate degree at Barstow College and finishing with the bachelor’s degree at Chapman University’s Victorville campus. Shortly after, she began work on a master’s degree at Chapman.

She has done all this since taking Markeisha into her home.

“It has meant that when I’m at home, I have spent a lot of time doing research and typing papers on the computer, time that I wanted to be spending doing things with my teens,” she said. “But I believe pursuing an education is worth it.”

Williams’ sudden interest in furthering her education after becoming a foster mom is because she now has an even bigger idea for helping troubled young people.

After completing her master’s degree, Williams wants to start a residential resource center somewhere in a rural part of the High Desert, serving boys ages 9 through 19. She plans to work with the foster care systems of large cities throughout the United States, such as Los Angeles and Detroit, Mich.

“It will be a place where they can get away from their problems and discover who they really are,” she said. “Teen-age years aren’t supposed to be spent worrying about gangs and drugs and parents doing the wrong things. They’re supposed to be a time for you to go to school and enjoy life.”

Her future goals will take her away from Four-D College, but William’s current boss, Four- D College President and CEO Linda Smith, understands. A little less than 20 years ago, Smith also had a big dream that involved giving people the resources they need for a better life.

In 1992, Smith realized her dream by opening what is now known as Four-D College. More than 10,000 people have since obtained the skills they need for careers in health care because of Smith’s dream.

The success of Four-D College has exceeded what Smith dreamed of 20 years ago, and she hopes the same for Williams.

“I know if Mai could, she would have 10 foster children or 100 foster children,” Smith said. “She edifies Four-D College’s philosophy of caring and compassion. Because of her, these children have a wonderful opportunity for a better future.”

Four-D College provides education in the growing health care field at locations in Colton and Victorville. Four-D College offers programs in vocational nursing, medical assistant, medical billing and coding, dental assistant, massage therapy and pharmacy technician.

New courses begin monthly at Four-D College and courses are available in the morning, afternoon and evening to meet the needs of working adults. For more information or a tour, call (800) 600-5422 or go to