Zo Tichenor always knew she wanted a big family. Although she got her wish, it didn’t come in the manner she envisioned when she was young.
Tichenor, and her husband, Rusty, have been foster parents for 28 years. During that span of time, they have hosted five to six teenage girls at a time. Tichenor said she has lost count of how many foster children they have hosted in their home, which she laughingly refers to as “organized chaos.”
The couple has two biological children, now 30 and 35, who were only two and seven when a friend asked Zo if she and her husband would consider fostering. She said they took the plunge and have never looked back.
Teenage girls are the only demographic the Tichenors foster as Zo said she simply feels called and connected to this group of growing girls. The young women who enter the Tichenor’s home come from a variety of backgrounds and situations, many of which Zo describes as “traumatic.”
“We deal with heavy stuff — and sometimes all you can do is laugh through your tears,” she said. “We try and give them the experience of a ‘real’ family. We eat as a family, and the girls help. We try and teach independent living and talk about things like money skills.”
The home is ideally set up for multiple teen girls, with a walkout basement that has a den, bathroom and laundry room, as well as sleeping quarters. The convenient arrangement of the home is another thing Tichenor cites as a blessing.
“I have a sign that says, ‘God moved the walls’ and that’s what happened,” Zo said.
For a time, the couple had elderly parents living with them in addition to the young people in their care. Tichenor said that was actually a wonderful time in her household because the girls living there at the time were able to see the relationship between generations and witness first-hand the devotion, care and respect given to Tichenor’s parents toward the end of their lives.
Zo said appointments and court dates take up much of their daylight hours so they have learned to make the most of the positive moments.
Tichenor recalled a recent experience while she was driving a foster daughter to an appointment and the young lady in the passenger seat looked at her strangely.
“Mama Zo, you’re crazy,” the teen said.
“I’d rather be crazy than going crazy,” Zo replied.
When people tell Zo, as they often do, that she will receive a special crown in heaven for her work here, she says she tells them, “Sure, if there’s a crown for crazy!”
Though she downplays the work she and her husband do, she freely admits it’s not for everyone.
“Your first responsibility is to your own family,” she said, adding, however, “If someone feels the call [to foster], they should try it.”