Extreme Makeover family pulls up stakes

Silvas follow calling to help foster children that will age out of the state system


Saturday is officially the day the Silva family, who captured the hearts of people across the country with their efforts to foster and adopt children, move to Grafton, Vt., for the newest chapter in their lives. Ken and Doreen say the Lord has called them to help foster children who age out of the system when they turn 18.

“There is a huge population and many of them end up homeless,” says Doreen.What she sees is a ranch where teenage foster children will gain a sense of belonging, a foundation, before transitioning from the state system to self-dependence.

The plan hasn’t gone exactly as the Silva’s envisioned, but then, other doors have opened and they believe they will be shown the path.

In the last two weeks, they finalized adoption of three more children, bringing the ranks of the family to nine children between their biological and adopted children. That was all part of the plan.

Ideally, the Silvas saw themselves taking what the community has built for them here and using those resources to start Salamander Ranch in Vermont. It seemed like it would work. The owner of the 100-acre property in Grafton was willing to wait for the Silvas to sell their Warwick home.

And when they started, it seemed like the high visibility of their Warwick home would work to their advantage. The house on Yucatan Drive was selected for the Extreme Makeover Home Edition show featured on the ABC television network. As the Silvas were whisked to Disney World for a surprise vacation, teams of local contractors and volunteers descended on the modest home, razing it and then building the ideal home for their expanding family. Working around the clock, everything was accomplished in a matter of days and when the family returned, not only did they have a new home but also appliances, furnishings and a fresh start they never dreamed possible.

Even though the house lacks nothing, the market and the economy haven’t been kind. The Silvas had lookers, some of whom, no doubt, were just curious to see the house featured in the show. They didn’t receive any offers to buy the property that is currently listed at $389,900.

It looked like the plan to help teenage foster children about to leave state systems would be shelved. They called the Grafton property owner and said it didn’t look like it was going to work.

Not long after, Doreen said she got a return call and the owner suggested renting with an option to buy. That’s what’s going to happen. The Silvas have found someone to rent their Warwick home while they rent in Vermont.

It’s still not a complete break from Warwick. Ken, who works for the Department of Public Works, plans to keep his job here for the time being and live at his sister’s home. He’ll commute to Vermont for the weekends.

“I can never thank the people enough,” Ken says of the outpouring that accompanied the Extreme Makeover and followed in the wake of the program. Without that, he acknowledges they would not have the resources to take on their newest calling.

He’s troubled by how some have reacted to the news that the house is for sale and they are looking to move.

“That’s what hit me, that they were saying we were only thinking of ourselves. But how can they consider us selfish if we’re doing more?” he asks.

Doreen says that Country and Western singer Jimmy Wayne helped define the need she believes the ranch will fulfill. She said Wayne was a foster child and his adoption at the age of 16 changed his life. Wayne formed the Meet Me Halfway project, bringing attention to his efforts to help foster children, by walking across the country. Doreen says she talks with Wayne but has yet to tell him of what she and Ken have planned.

With two ponds, a barn, a recreation hall, cabins and a house on the property, they see a place where families with foster children will be able to visit. They see animals as playing a role in their program, as children gravitate and relate to animals, especially when feeling estranged by their peers and adults. Doreen expects to be in contact with agencies in Vermont and is hopeful of winning grants to assist with the project.

She knows it won’t be easy and it’s going to mean leaving a lot behind.

Asked what she will miss most, Doreen replies “everything…my church, my house, the people.” But she knows what she needs to do.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment