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The City Journals

Single Murray mom's foster parent experience turns into a labor of love

Jan 22, 2019 02:34PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

A Murray foster family became a permanent one. Left to right: Ashley, Jimmy Machelle, Jordan and Stephanie Lake. (Photo courtesy of Machelle Lake)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Balancing the rigors of single parenthood and a full-time job may make some people wish they had an extra hand. But single parent Machelle Lake, who lives on the Murray/Midvale border, not only adopted one but four foster children. She has found ways to make things work while raising her family and working at the Murray Boys & Girls Club.

Bob Dunn, special projects consultant with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake stated, “After she had worked for us about a year and a half, we were concluding a fundraising event and I looked up to see Machelle walking down this long stairway with both hands full of boxes and balancing another one on her head. That’s how I picture Machelle visually in my mind, balancing a million things at once and yet getting it all accomplished with a grin.”

Being a single parent is challenging enough, but being a single foster parent is unique unto itself. “I had the same misconception that a lot of people had: all foster kids created a lot of problems and were out of control (acting out, violence, and behavior issues),” Lake said.

Lake, however, had something unique to offer with her own background. Her sister was adopted into her family of six at age 17. After graduating from Salt Lake Community College and serving an LDS mission, Lake worked mainly in the nonprofit sector. “I actually started looking into adoption in my late 20s, just as ‘an option.’ I had even identified an agency I would work with to adopt at birth. The timing didn't seem right.”

While working for a non-profit television station, she came across a tape about foster care that softened her heart towards becoming a foster parent. The timing though was not convenient for Machelle, since she had just bought a house with her sister and was looking to make a career move. 

“Fast forward to 2010, I'm still living with my sister, but things had shifted. I knew it was time for me to move out and move on. I registered for the foster care pre-service training classes again and moved into my own place. I finished the classes in June and started feeling as though it was time for another life change. As I was trying to decide what to do next, I thought back to the foster care training and realized my interest in social work. I enrolled in school for the first time in 20 years.”  

In a matter of three weeks, Lake’s life would shift dramatically in November 2010. She was offered a job as Director of Special Events for the Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Monday after Thanksgiving she was notified about a possible foster placement of siblings.

“That evening, terrified, I walked into the Christmas Box House to meet my first placement. And the rest is history,” remarked Lake.

Assigned to Lake were four siblings, Stephanie, Jimmy, Ashley and Jordan, who were then 15, 11, 4, and 3. During the first six months as their foster mom, Lake worked with the kids and their social worker to prepare them for the possibility of returning to their mom’s care. Their history was one of instability and distrust of adults.

“So here I am, right after Thanksgiving, two weeks before the end of my first semester, with four kids… as a single woman… doing it all on my own,” noted Lake. In July 2011, the judge terminated the rights of all parents involved. “I had a decision to make. Do I make this a permanent family or do I continue to foster them until a permanent home was available (which may result in separation from each other or even aging out of the system)? These were four of the strongest survivors I have ever met.”

The siblings agreed that Lake was who they wanted to call mom. By December 2011, they completed the adoption process and were officially a family. 

“My biggest personal challenge was feeling inadequate for the responsibility. I had never been a parent before. I had to learn to be ok with doing the best that I could and knowing that I would not do everything perfectly,” said Lake.

Lake’s best seems to have paid off, as Stephanie, now 23, has graduated from UVU with a degree in theatre/acting and is currently serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Atlanta, Georgia. Jimmy graduated from high school in June 2018 and currently has a full-time job. Ashley is in seventh grade and active in soccer, along with her brother Jordan who is in the sixth grade. 

So, what does Lake wish next for her family?  

“Grandkids!” she exclaimed.