At the top of Casper Mountain, there lives a family with nine children, 16 Siberian huskies and, according to the pack’s matriarch, a calling to provide a home to local children with broken families.
“We’ve cared for just over 50 kids,” said Kristen Marler, who, with her husband Steve, have housed a fraction of Natrona County’s foster children since 2008. “Six have stayed.”
This morning at the state Capitol, Gov. Matt Mead will honor the 11 Marlers – two parents, three biological children and six adopted children – for winning a 2013 Adoption Excellence Award, a national honor through a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The family was selected for the award in early December, a result of its sustained work toward improving the lives of Natrona County children afflicted by familial separation, addiction and other troubles.
The Marlers were honored not only for their commitment toward the foster children living in their home, but also because of their commitment toward helping those children’s families on the path to reunification, according to Rose Fry, Natrona County’s foster parent coordinator.
Fry said the family has also had marked success taking in children with difficult, chaotic backgrounds and providing a stable environment in which they succeed and learn to do productive work.
For example, atop Casper Mountain this past year, the whole Marler crew set their collective energy toward building an addition to their wood-sided house. Everyone from Steve – an engineer with Diamond Oil – to the three 6-year-old sons and 4-year-old daughter played a role until the job was completed. No contractors necessary, according to Kristen.
Similarly, the children are nearly constantly playing outside – skiing, snowmobiling and even dogsledding. The children are homeschooled by Kristen, who has a degree in elementary education from the University of Wyoming.
“The top of Casper Mountain is their backyard,” Kristen said. “It’s therapy for them.”
The hard part
Kristen said the Marlers go through the same trials and tribulations as any other foster family in Natrona County or across the United States.
“The hard part is the not knowing,” she said. “It’s tough on the kids to be in limbo. We can’t reassure them that they’re going to be going home, or even that they’re not going home. That’s tough as a parent to see.”
Coming and going in the Marler house, or any other foster house, is tied to the courts, Fry said. The process of reunification or finding a permanent home for a child can often become a long, drawn out process.
“It’s up to the judge,” Fry said. The couple adopted six of the children they cared for.
“We just keep faith that God has a plan for each of these children,” Kristen said.
Kristen said she and Steve were honored to receive a national award, but said she dedicates it to all the local foster families and children.
“Compared to what the kids go through, they should be the ones getting the award,” she said.
“People don’t realize the need for foster families and help for foster children in Casper,” she said. “Even if you can’t do the training and become a foster house, there are a lot of ways to help out, and there’s a need here.”