Paul Johnson knew that there was something special about working with children when he began his career in 1981 as the physical education director, and eventually executive director for the YMCA in Scottdale and Uniontown.
Over the course of 17 years, Paul had the opportunity to be a positive influence on children’s physical, social and emotional development. During that time, Paul also became a member of Rotary International. He and his wife, Brenda, were given the opportunity to become host families through Rotary’s exchange program for youth from all over the world. It was then when their eyes were opened to the experiences of working with youth and how they could help.
When Paul began working at Adelphoi in 2000 as a counselor at Alliance House, his eyes were opened again to the need for youth to have consistent support from adults in their life. But it wasn’t until Paul changed his role at Adelphoi and became a Foster Care family recruiter that he decided to take his passion for helping youths to a new level.
After seeing so many children in need of a loving home, Paul and Brenda decided to become licensed as foster/adoptive parents with Adelphoi. “Fostering children gave us a chance to work with a child one-on-one,” said Paul. “I tell families that that you will soon realize that it is not about you, but about the kids and what they have gone through, and what they need.”
Paul and Brenda admit that it isn’t easy, but there have been some great moments that have happened along the way. Paul recalls the day when their daughter Tasha, whom they adopted in 2012 at the age of 17, asked if she could call them “Mom and Dad.” “She had always called us Paul and Brenda up until this point. It took her eight years to realize that we were sticking with her through the many difficult times that life brought to all of us,” Paul said.
The Johnsons credit their extended family and church as their support system through the difficult times. They also felt very prepared with over 30 hours of valuable trainings such as child development and parenting, CPR, and safe crisis management, all offered through Adelphoi.
Although they felt prepared, Paul says you must learn to “Expect the unexpected. Your sense of a ‘normal’ home environment is often so far from what your foster child has experienced. Their responses to what you provide for them may not be what you expect. For example, they may now have their own bedroom, but they were used to sharing with several siblings, and now they feel lonely and frightened at night.”
As a foster family recruiter, Paul has been able to share his own experiences with other foster families as well as offer support when needed. At the same time, Paul credits his family for their influence on his decision to be a foster parent. “My parents were always welcoming people who shared their life with one another, each of us, and those around us, friends and neighbors. I learned early that you need to stop and listen and be there for others in a time of need, and they will also be there for you,” Paul noted.
Paul and Brenda both come from large families, so having children of their own, and now having a grandchild, has brought them both joy. They are very proud of their children. Their son Mark is a respiratory therapist at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Tasha recently became a mom and is engaged to be married.
After 20 fruitful years at Adelphoi, Paul has made the decision to retire. He is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including his new granddaughter.
Adelphoi is looking for families who are interested in “helping teenagers strengthen their connections to family and their community as they become our next generation of neighbors, co-workers and parents.” Visit www.adelphoifoster.org or call 1-800-KID-5928 for more information.