By Juanita McLellan
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — “If they didn’t know what love was, that was what I imparted,” said Linda Morris, a long-time Emergency Placement Care provider who, along with her husband Bill, have welcomed eleven military children into their home since 2009.
EPC is an Army program that provides the children of service members in the middle of a family crisis with a safe, temporary shelter.
Bill and Linda have a lot of experience with children, having raised two sons and three daughters of their own. Their children are all adults now, with the exception of their youngest daughter who is a senior at Vilseck High School.
The Morris family is also familiar with life in Germany. They were stationed in Baumholder for five years from 1995 to 2000 and returned to Bavaria in 2006. Bill formally retired from his military service in 2012. He currently works in the Optometry Clinic in Grafenwoehr.
In an Army career that spanned over twenty years, Bill achieved the rank of Staff Sargent. He held positions as a combat medic while deployed places like Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. He also worked in health and wellness, as well as the security arena.
Linda works full-time at the Optometry Clinic in Vilseck as a technician. She loves her job, she said, and believes working has in no way restricted her ability to care of the additional children she and her husband have fostered.
Their first duty station was Ft. Hood, Texas.
“We just started taking in kids that didn’t have a place to stay,” Linda said. “Their parents kicked them out.” She later added, “The kids would hang out in the street and sometimes in the front of my house, and I would notice. I’ve always cooked more than what I’ve needed. They would sit with us and eat dinner. They didn’t have a place to go.”
The Morris house has always been a busy place.
“In Texas, we had a small place,” Bill said. “And I recall, in the morning, having to step over a couple of bodies that were sleeping on the floor.”
Some of the children were friends with Bill and Linda’s own children, as they attended the same school.
The Morris family came to Bavaria in 2006, but didn’t become officially involved in providing emergency placement care for the Army until 2009.
“I decided to do it. I heard in 2008 they lacked providers,” Linda said. “I talked to my husband. I was trying to find another way I could contribute more to the military even though I was not in the uniform. We’ve gotten phone calls at two o’clock in the morning.”
Bill admires the selfless, loving nature of his wife.
“She has always had that nurturing quality, ever since I met her,” Bill said.
The biggest obstacle as an EPC provider, Linda said, is getting the children to open up.
“When you are in a strange environment with people you’ve never seen before, you have to really be sensitive to their needs,” she said. “Once you get past that, it can be smooth sailing with the kids. You have to show them that you love them, to get that confidence. It didn’t matter what age, we had children from 4 months up to seventeen, eighteen years.”
Linda has taken special care of each child, especially during the first two or three nights, spending some nights on a floor mattress by the child’s bed.
Saying good-bye is the hardest part, said Bill.
“You don’t think of it until it happens. That early morning, and that child leaves, and you’ve developed that bond. I look them in the eye and say ‘Good Luck.’”
At the present time, the Morris family is willing to provide emergency placement for additional children, but are unable to do so due to the housing requirement.
The program is desperately in need of more providers. Army regulation requires every foreign post to have at least three families at all times, ready to provide emergency shelter and care, said Valencia Barnes, the EPC program manager for USAG Bavaria.
The requirements to become an EPC provider are fairly strict, however. Families must live government housing to be eligible. Army Community Service, the parent organization, is working to obtain a waiver for interested families living in non-governmental housing.
Providers must also be able to meet several other requirements. They must have at least one year before their scheduled departure date to sign up. They must pass a physical examination or have a doctor sign off approving their physical fitness. Finances must be in good order, and a home check must be done to ensure the home is safe. Perspective parents also undergo extensive interviews and receive CPR and first aid training. Parenting courses are also required.
“I think this is a great program,” Bill said. “I would encourage other military families to participate because you get so much support.”
Emergency Placement Care is only intended to last a maximum of 90 days. If the need for foster care lasts for a longer amount of time, an attempt is made to find a family member who can take the child. Child and Youth Services pays for formula for younger children and provides daycare opportunities to EPC families.
EPD families receive $35 a day per child in order to help with expenses and money may be available to pay for afterschool care, though that is determined on a case by case basis. In addition, a case manager is assigned, and the child can receive counseling.
“We are one Army, one community, one fight, and we should open up our hearts and homes to anyone who needs it,” Linda said.
For information about becoming an Emergency Placement Care provider, call ACS at DSN 475-8371, CIV 09641-83-8371 for Grafenwoehr; DSN 476-2650, CIV 09662-83-2650 for Vilseck; DSN 466-4860, CIV 09472-83-4860 for Hohenfels; or DSN 440-3777, CIV 08821-750-3777 for Garmisch.
Photo Credit: Juanita McLellan