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Retired Derry farm couple named foster family of year

| Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

The 10-year-old treehouse perched in the backyard of Harvey and Nancy Doyle's Derry Township farm has seen its fair share of children.

It's a memento left by Mike, a 17-year-old foster child who lived with the Doyles for a few months and built the treehouse as a senior project in high school.

The blue two-story farmhouse is full of mementos from the more than 50 foster children who have called it their home for just a few weeks or as long as a few years.

Parents of six children, the Doyles recently were named the 2010 Foster Family of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association. They have been foster parents through Adelphoi Village since 1994, said Doreen Bollinger, foster care supervisor.

The Ohio couple met in high school and started caring for foster children after their daughter, Kimberly, befriended a foster child in high school. The 15-year-old girl was pregnant and lived in a bad foster home.

"We took her to dances, picked her up and took her to different places," said Nancy Doyle, 71. "My daughter asked her, 'Hey, why can't you just come and live with my parents?' and the girl said, 'Because they're not foster parents.' "

Once Kimberly graduated, she suggested her parents use their big, empty house as a foster home.

The Doyles say they are strict with their foster children, but only in the hopes they'll make an impact during the time they spend with them. Homework must be done; personal hygiene is a must. They figure what worked for their six children will work with their foster kids.

Harvey Doyle, 73, a retired agricultural worker who drives a school bus for Derry Area School District, lets some of the children work on the farm for a paycheck. He considers himself the disciplinarian, although he does have a soft spot.

"I spoil them sometimes, because sometimes they deserve to be spoiled," Doyle said. "One girl, I bought her a makeup kit ... and she said, 'This makes me feel special.' I said to her, 'You already are special.'"

Rose, who lived with the Doyles for three years, wanted Harvey to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, even after reconnecting with her birth father. An invitation to Rose's daughter's birthday party graces the Doyles' kitchen counter.

Other foster kids still stop in for an occasional visit. Rose and her family recently spent a few days, and Mike, who built the treehouse, has dropped by and even helped Nancy with dinner.

"He was a good kid. You could trust him with anything," Harvey Doyle added.

Some cannot be trusted, like the boy who left an apology note in the middle of the night and ran away after meeting a childhood friend, stealing the couple's old car and attempting to drive to Florida to see his mother. He was found the next day, and "the car was trashed," Doyle said, but the boy was fine.

They have never adopted any children, although they have come close a few times. One was 9-year-old Michelle, who had a speech impediment and called the Doyles "Mommy and Daddy," as many of the children do.

The couple cared for Michelle for a few months, helping her overcome her speech problem. They took her to a pre-adoption center and had to leave her there. She pleaded with them not to leave, a memory that strikes a chord to this day.

"We missed her a lot when she left," Nancy Doyle said. "She regressed, and when we found out she was going to be moved (to another foster home), I said, 'I'm taking her back, because I don't want her to have to go through that again.'"

But a Butler couple stepped forward to adopt Michelle, and the Doyles decided not to stand in the way.

"We were lucky enough to have six kids of our own, and this couple didn't have any," Doyle said. "I said, 'Then we're done. I will not keep those people from having her.'"

Several Adelphoi Village foster parents have won the foster parent or family of the year award over the years, Bollinger said. The agency, headquartered in Latrobe, tries to make a nomination every year, she said. Requirements include a minimum of five years' experience as foster parents.

"And someone who stands out from the crowd," said Bollinger. "Their caseworker, Maria Houser, wrote up a very nice recommendation."

The Doyles learned of their selection in the fall and were honored at a banquet in Harrisburg.

"We nominated them for their many years of service and the number of children they have worked with," Bollinger said.

"They are very energetic and well-organized," she said. "They are just a very loving family. They try to get the kids involved in activities when they are in their home. They are devoted to the kids that come in and make them part of their family."

The Doyles admit there are mixed results with foster children, depending on their age, their cooperativeness and their length of stay. The couple say a single success story makes the work worthwhile.

"If you can help just one kid change their life, help one kid stay off welfare and out of bad situations, you have done your job," Nancy Doyle said.

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