Foster Parent Elyse Gordon Lives a Life of Tikkun Olam
By Elizabeth Sharzer
In a sunny living room in Long Beach a tiny baby smiles up at foster mother Elyse Gordon, who smiles back at the boy snuggled into her cradling arm. Baby toys and a cheery crib occupy prominent spots in the living room. Long Beach resident, Gordon, has fostered over 100 babies since 1983.
While teaching school in the Long Beach Unified School District Gordon realized, “I didn’t want to say goodbye to the kids at the end of the day.” She didn’t have anyone she wanted to have a family with and fostering “fulfilled a need.” She became familiar with the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, repair of the world, after joining a temple in 2007, but she was living the commandment long before that. “I wanted to help babies in need of a home.”
Now retired, Gordon taught for more than 28 years in general education classes, then returned to Cal State Dominguez Hills for a teaching credential to teach children with moderate to severe handicaps. She spent the following 10 years in the special education preschool at Buffum Elementary School until she retired in 2007.
“I decided to foster in 1983. Since I was teaching, I wanted a child who was school age. My first foster child was a six-year-old, who I fostered for three years. I stayed on the couch for three days after giving him up. My mother told me she was never going to let me do this again because I was so upset.”
She did do it again, and again and again, with the blessing of both of her parents. Gordon decided after fostering a young child that she would only foster babies who either had been abandoned or exposed to drugs. “I have always loved babies. It is wonderful getting a sick baby and making him or her well.” A baby exposed to drugs, she explained, can suffer from withdrawal for three weeks to six months.
Gordon “read and read and read about babies going through withdrawal and I used common sense” to respond to their needs. She also taught an in-service class to others coping with babies going through withdrawal.
She often has more than one baby at home with her at a time. The children stay with her for an average of 18-22 months. During this time, the child’s parents may come for supervised visits; the child will return to the parents if they are deemed responsible or will be placed with an FAF, a Foster to Adoption Family. “I cry when they leave, but I know inside of me that they have had the best start they could possibly have had.”
Gordon adopted Jennifer, one of her foster children, who is now 26. “I was driving home from school one day when she was eight months old and I couldn’t wait to get home to Jennie. I knew I couldn’t let her go. It took three years and eight months for parental rights to be terminated. Then I adopted her. We had lots of wonderful experiences.”
Gordon currently fosters through Families Uniting Families, a Long Beach agency. She receives a stipend each month to be spent on food, clothing and activities. Gordon enjoys taking the babies to music classes.
Many of the adoptive families keep Gordon in their lives. They visit, and every summer she hosts a pool party for the foster children and their families with whom she stays in touch. “There is such a tremendous need for good foster homes. Fostering these babies makes me feel good about myself. I love making them whole.” Over 100 children in Los Angeles County and their families have Elyse Gordon to thank for repairing their lives and making them whole. “This is my small contribution to repairing the world,” says Elyse, “one baby at a time.”