Transforming their own lives and the lives of others

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Louise Carson

Sometimes life takes unexpected turns. Ten years ago, American Nelly Coenraad never would have imaged she’d be living in Australia, married to a professional basketball player, with three foster children keeping her busy…

At that time, Nelly was studying psychology at Nova South University in Florida, a college close to her family home and extended family. But as often happens, Nelly fell in love and life began to change. Nelly met Brisbane native Tim Coenraad who was also studying and playing basketball at the university. Eight years ago they married and moved to the Wollongong area of NSW where Tim now plays basketball for the NBL's Illawarra Hawks.

“It was very hard for me to move to Australia in the beginning”, said Nelly. “I am very close to my family in Florida. It’s strange that I now live on the other side of the world, but it was meant to be this way! I was destined to meet Tim in Florida, he was destined to play basketball in Wollongong, and we were destined to meet our kids and become foster parents here.”

In January 2017, about a month after becoming authorised foster carers, Nelly and Tim welcomed two sisters in long-term care, aged 4 and 6. In April, the girls’ 8 year old brother joined his siblings.

Nelly and Tim decided to explore foster care after trying a number of years to have a baby. They had used IVF and thought of adoption. But knowing the foster care system – Nelly is a qualified social worker – she knew there are many kids out there who need a good home, particularly sibling groups where it’s ideal for them to stay together.

“So many children don’t get to live in a safe and stable environment”, said Tim. “Becoming foster carers is probably the best thing we have ever done. The kids are beautiful, kind and smart. With the addition of their brother, we feel like a real family together.

“We would like all three children to become the best they can be. We try to do this by providing an environment where they are supported at home and at school. It’s important to us that the kids feel safe and loved. We recognise the trauma they have been through. We remind them all the time that they are here to stay with us, they won’t be going anywhere no matter what they say or do.

“The kids are really settling into life with us. They have made such huge strides already and we have learned so much as foster parents. We are making little family traditions like every Friday night we like to go out to dinner somewhere local, and Saturday night is movie night at home.”

For support, Nelly and Tim rely on each other to decompress at the end of the day, as well as their MacKillop Family Services case worker.

“I know I can contact my case worker at any time, day or night”, said Nelly. “I have worked for a number of social service agencies in the Illawarra region but I chose to become a foster carer with MacKillop because they really focus on the needs of carers. I thought why have good support when you can have great?”

If you would like to transform a child or young person’s life, contact MacKillop about becoming a foster carer in your community. Call 1300 791 677 or visit www.mackillop.org.au/fostercare.

MacKillop Family Services in Wollongong is holding a free no-obligation Foster Care Information Session at 6:30pm on Wednesday, 14 June. Contact Jade Cody on (02) 4250 5500 for more details.