Walking Her Talk

by Becky Keife

More than a decade after graduating from Azusa Pacific, Jaci (Kostka ’83) Hasemeyer, an elementary P.E. teacher, encountered a student who altered the course of her life. Little Billy was that day’s recipient of Hasemeyer’s Good Sport Award, which included a free coupon to a local skating rink. After all the students left, Billy handed back his prize. “He was sad and embarrassed,” Hasemeyer remembered. “He told me that I better give it to someone else because he was a foster kid and lived in a group home, and no one would take him skating.” She questioned him, assuming surely there was some relative or friend in his life. He told her no, but thank you, and with tears in his eyes, walked away. Hasemeyer was left with a skating pass, a broken heart, and a passionate resolve to help.

That experience triggered a long succession of events that culminated in fostering 22 children, 9 of whom Hasemeyer and her husband, Eric, have adopted (2 more are in the adoption process). Added to their 3 biological children, that makes a huge, happy family of 16. “We prayed as a family about the kids God wanted to place with us. We decided to take in older children and siblings. Most adopting parents want babies, and since we had had ours, we wanted to be available to kids considered unadoptable. We also committed to being a ‘forever home.’ If the children did not return to their biological parents, we would adopt them; they would never have to lose their family again.”

Home Is Where the Heart Is

A kaleidoscope of kids from different ethnic backgrounds with varying degrees of emotional and physical disabilities has found their forever home with the Hasemeyers. Luke, now 14, came to them on a feeding tube when he was 5, wearing diapers and weighing only 26 pounds. Though mentally handicapped, he has since learned to eat, speak, and love sports. Like Luke, each Hasemeyer child has a story worthy of a novel.

"No one can do everything. But everyone can do something."

Upon reaching capacity after their second home addition, the Hasemeyers wanted to find another way to help the thousands of local foster children still in need of a family and Christ’s love. One night at the dinner table, they thought of a fundraising walk to raise awareness about foster kids’ needs and help connect them with Christian camps and mentors. “We had already started a ministry for becoming foster parents at our church, but we wanted to call the greater Christian community to be doers of the Word. I remembered what Coach Terry Franson used to tell us when I ran track for him at APU: If we call ourselves Christians, we have a responsibility to live like Jesus. He reminded us to ‘walk our talk’ every day, so we called it the Walk Your Talk Walk.” The walk started with about 30 of the Hasemeyer’s family and friends striding along their church’s neighborhood streets. They raised $1,500 that first year. On March 27, 2010, Jaci, Eric, and their 14 children led a brigade of more than 1,500 people across the California Baptist University campus in the Sixth Annual Walk Your Talk Walk. The participation of 20 local churches, city officials, college students, and Child Protective Services social workers made this a true community affair. They raised about $13,000 to benefit foster kids in Riverside County. Two film crews also attended to capture footage for upcoming documentaries on the Hasemeyer family. Hasemeyer believes that “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” After the walk, participants visited various tables with information on ways they can continue to make a difference, like becoming a camp counselor or educational advocate. “Without knowing it, God allowed me to be used in Jaci’s life and now it’s exciting to see the ripple effect in the ways she is impacting children, families, and Christians,” said Terry Franson, Ph.D., former men’s and women’s track and field head coach and current senior vice president for student life/dean of students. “I continue to tell students to live a life of a silent sermon. Though Jaci is very vocal about her passion for helping foster children, her life alone speaks volumes of her love for Christ and people.”

“The answer to the problems in the foster system is caring people getting involved,” she said. “Foster kids look like any other kids. They are just kids, but with big hurts. They are just like us—lost without Jesus—but because they don’t have parents, it shows up sooner. Without help, they have no hope. These kids have helped me understand my life and the need for a Savior—how lost and hopeless we are without our heavenly Father. He came to us, chose us, adopted us, and made us a son or daughter. Adoption is God’s idea; we just follow his lead.”

Becky Keife is a freelance writer living in Glendora, California. beckykeife@gmail.com