Fostering a community

Nestled in the shadow of Mt. Tom in Easthampton, the Treehouse Community was founded to support families that take in foster children in the hopes of stopping the bounce through the system. Among the townhomes that house families who are fostering children, live senior residents. The result is a multi-generational community where one generation helps another. The seniors are vital to the support system that enables parents to succeed and the children to thrive. Now approaching its tenth year, the numbers reflect a success story and defy statistics on foster children. This series of photographs gives us a glimpse into the lives of some of the residents over the past year.--By Globe Staff photographer Joanne Rathe
Treehouse resident Liz Poudrier hugs Sarah D’Amato,19, who had just delivered her a hot Thanksgiving meal. D’Amato wanted to give back to the community that raised her and has for the past few years prepared a Thanksgiving meal, which she distributes to all the elders at Treehouse. D’Amato was placed in 25 foster families by the time she was 8 years old and was then adopted by Mary and Jack D’Amato . The family spent the last 10 years living in the Treehouse community, where Sarah has flourished. She is a recent high school graduate and has just begun taking courses at Holyoke Community College “I have like six grandmas here,” says D’Amato. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
D’Amato gets help from Treehouse resident Mary Steele in setting up her apartment, which is upstairs in her parents’ home, shortly after the family moved out from the Treehouse community. The family recently moved out to open up the spot at Treehouse. Steele, who also lives at Treehouse, has been very involved with the family over the years. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Although she no longer lives in the Treehouse Community, D’Amato often visits to see friends and seniors. D’Amato is one of the many success stories of this community. Every year children move on to the next grade and there have been no arrests, no teen pregnancies, and no failed placements. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
“The state is not a good parent; it’s families that kids need,” and with that mission statement, Treehouse founder Judy Cockerton (right) developed a community where foster kids could build enduring relationships while families could get the support they need while helping this most vulnerable population. In photo, Cockerton and Sally Popper (left), psychologist with the Treehouse Community, interact with a foster infant during Project Thrive! Birth to Five initiative, which helps build secure attachments for foster children. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Mary Steele, 81, says she moved to Treehouse “because I wanted to be useful.” Among the many things she does to enrich the lives of families is regularly baby-sitting this young foster child, who lives at Treehouse with his foster family. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Sandra Rubio, who grew up in Holyoke, knew there was a desperate need for foster parents in her community. First came Ashlynn, an emergency placement whom Rubio agreed to take for a weekend. “Monday morning never came,” Rubio said. Aliana later arrived as a 4-day-old infant born with drugs in her system, Ashylnn, now 10 and Aliana, now 7, who have been adopted by Rubio, snuggle with their newly married mom after the wedding ceremony last December. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Looking out for one another are adopted children from different families. Tanisha,13 (left), checks in with Ashlynn,10, after school outside the community center where the younger kids and teens get homework help and after-school snacks. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Every year, Sandra Rubio has an adoption anniversary party for her two older girls, Ashlynn ( 6-year adoption anniversary) and Aliana (4-year adoption anniversary) . They are still waiting for 2-year-old Alexandra’s adoption to be finalized. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Seniors are strongly connected with families, whether it is helping driving kids to a doctor’s appointment or simply giving stressed parents a break. After driving the Rubio girls to a theapy session, Treehouse resident Gloria LaFlamme gives Ashlynn a birthday present before returning her and her sister Aliana to school. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Before dinner, the Rubio family stop to say a prayer of thanks to their neighbor, Rachel Henderson, who has helped baby-sit over the years. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Judge Daniel Swords of Hampden Juvenille Court in Springfield holds Alexandra Rubio after adoption proceedings in his courtroom. The family had waited almost two years for the adoption to go through. Angel and Sandra Rubio laugh as Alexandra gives her dad a high-five in the courtroom. “It’s great to have a day like this; I wish we had more,” says Swords. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
After the Rubio family formally adopted Alexandra, they pose her with a series of signs outside the courthouse. The first read: “I’ve been in foster care for 1015 days.” The next sign she held said: “ But today, Sepember 21, 2015, I was adopted!” (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Emily Lewis, 69, who has been living at the Treehouse Community for two years, plays football with Mathew Mikulski. Along with his brother Luke, Mathew has Fragile X, a genetic condition that affects their physical, cognitve and social skills. The boys were both adopted from foster care by Ruth Mikulski and her husband, Eric. Emily watches them every Friday afternoon. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Treehouse Community member Lynne Knudsen, 82, offers a piano lesson to Stephanie Wright. Stephanie, who has Down syndrome, was adopted by the Lumpkin family. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Liz Poudrier, one of the seniors in the Treehouse Community, tosses a football to Mathew Mikulski, 11, as his father, Eric, at right, watches during a going-away party for the family. The family, which has lived at Treehouse Community for three years, bought a home in the Berkshires. The residents formed a circle and as they tossed the football to Mathew, they told him fond memories they had watching him grow in the community. Both Mathew and his brother Luke ,16, who were adopted from the foster care system by the Mikulski family, have Fragile X syndrome. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Treehouse founder Judy Cockerton writes a “welcome” sign with sidewalk chalk outside the community center. Cockerton, who has been nationally recognized for her work in foster care, sees a vision of every child rooted in family and community. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
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