St. Francis Dean's Family Includes Dozens of Foster Siblings
"It was an incredible way to grow up."
As her parents get ready to take in their 100th foster child, St. Francis College Assistant Academic Dean Kathleen Gray reflected on the night the family made the decision to start their heroic run of caring for those in need.
"I was nine, in the fourth grade, and I remember going to a restaurant, which was unusual for us, and my mom brought up an article she read about how the crack epidemic was leading to a shortage of foster parents," said Gray, who began working at St. Francis in November of 2016.
She says according to the article, each foster child would stay for just a few weeks, but the first child the family hosted stayed a year, and so did the second. Others stayed for multiple years. Her parents also began taking in several children at once, sometimes as many as five at a time.
The second oldest of five children, one an adopted foster child, Dr. Gray estimates she lived with as many as 50 or 60 foster siblings but considers all of them her brothers and sisters. She admits it wasn't always easy to part with them when it was time for them to move to their next family.
"What we always believed was that if we didn't say goodbye to one child, the next one would not have a place to go."
This was particularly important because her family took in mostly special needs children, many with severe disabilities who needed a great amount of attention and care. She said those children do not have a lot of options in the foster system.
"I was raised to believe that you give what you have to give and that when you need you can take what you need and that keeps it going full circle," added Gray.
That philosophy shaped her life, and brought her to St. Francis College from Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), part of the University of North Carolina system.
When looking to move closer to her parents, St. Francis rose to the top of her list because of a line in the Mission Statement that stresses "hospitality as a challenging, risk-taking social contract."
"If you think about foster care that's exactly what it is. It's challenging. It's risk-taking. It's this contract that we have with the world."
As Assistant Academic Dean, she'll use her skills to meet the challenges students have in pursuing their college degrees.
"I like to solve the problems that stand in the way of students' success," she said, pointing out that as a full-time sociology professor, her job at ECSU, she could help 120 students a semester, but as an administrator she can help solve campus wide problems.
"I find that the most vulnerable students are often the ones least able to navigate administrative systems so if our systems aren't run really well we lose those students first."
Dr. Gray's academic focus is on race, in particular how white people talk about race. After settling in these past few months, she's now ready to continue that work and next semester she's looking forward to returning to the classroom to teach a course on minorities.
Meanwhile, at home, she'll be around to help her parents with their 100th foster child, and many more beyond that.
Dr. Gray says her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother all were foster parents and once her own children are a little older, she hopes to continue their legacy.
St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
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