By STEPHANIE BERNABA On Aug. 27 of this year, via Zoom and through the Probate Court inside Cranston City Hall, Fer Teresa Breto Johndrow was given a new family. Originally from Venezuela, Breto found herself in foster care after arriving in the United
On Aug. 27 of this year, via Zoom and through the Probate Court inside Cranston City Hall, Fer Teresa Breto Johndrow was given a new family.
Originally from Venezuela, Breto found herself in foster care after arriving in the United States in 2012, when she was 12. Having been moved from foster home to foster home, separated from her biological family, she quietly yearned for a Spanish-speaking family to adopt her.
Two weeks prior to Christmas in 2016, Candace Johndrow, longtime project manager at Family Service of Rhode Island and a newly licensed foster parent, received a call from the North American Family Institute asking her to take the now 16-year-old girl in for respite – just for a few weeks – because they did not want to see her without a home over the Christmas holiday.
“She came in very timid,” Candace said of Fer. “Very quiet. I was told that she wanted to be in a foster family, but one that spoke Spanish.”
Candace explained that despite the language barrier and the short notice, she agreed.
“At the end of the two weeks,” she said, “Fer was like ‘Can I stay?’ And I told her I would love to have her stay, and it was just a beautiful thing from then on out.”
“Very shortly after,” Candace added, “we had hoped to adopt each other, but there were some legal difficulties that made us have to wait until she was 21.”
After arriving at Candace’s home, Fer worked on her English as part of the language learner program at Cranston High School East. She graduated, became a U.S. citizen and began a course of study in cosmetology at the Paul Mitchell School.
“And she’s about to get her driver’s license, which is amazing,” Candace added. “That’s pretty exciting.”
Candace’s pride for Fer, who added Candace’s last name to her own prior to her adoption, is tangible.
“I think it’s part of my purpose,” Candace said. “I don’t think anyone has just one purpose in life. I think I stumbled into this because of a professional opportunity a few years ago, but it is the most fulfilling, rewarding, joyful thing I have ever done. And it is also the most humbling, heartbreaking thing I’ve ever done. I am so grateful for the opportunity and the resources that I have to be able to provide a safe space for young women.”
Candace spoke of the heartbreaking nature of her journey, explaining that many of the teens she’s fostered “just do not know their value. And there are significant issues with confidence and self-esteem that really limit their ability to decide.”
Fueled in part by her own difficult childhood, Candace said she possesses a unique and specific empathy for girls raised in foster care. She says she feels most accomplished when her girls find their “swagger” – their own sort of confident glow that emerges once the girls begin to recognize and step into their own self-worth.
“They become more social, they have more healthy and happy relationships,” Candace explained. “I find it very important to support them however I can, and try to help them realize how amazing they are with their unique talents and gifts, and that everything that is possible in the world for anyone else is possible for them.”
Fer lived with Candace between 2016 and 2019, when she moved out and rented an apartment with her fiancé. Fer lives on her own and works now, but noted she still visits Candace about three days per week.
Fer said she appreciates Candace’s warm, maternal nature, and that it took her very little time to get comfortable after her arrival.
“I love her really so much. She really acts like my mom,” Fer said. “She’s funny. And when I’m sad, she always wants to make me happy. She really understands me.”
“I feel grateful,” Fer added about her adoption. “I really wanted that when I was in foster care, and I thought it was never going to happen. But it did happen.”
The adoption itself was a quick affair. Candace and Fer hopped onto Zoom at an appointed time, surrounded by numerous virtual supporters, whom Candace said “kept trying to enter the Zoom meeting after the adoption had concluded.”
Though there was little pomp and circumstance to the ceremony itself due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Candace and Fer both stated the day was “perfect.”
They even have matching tattoos commemorating their becoming a family.
Candace has another foster daughter in her home, who is currently 17 and she also plans to adopt.
Fer explained that she, her adoptive mom and foster sister have lots of “girls’ nights.”
“We always try to make dinner together, or we go out to something as a family. We do nails – she paints my nails. And I do her makeup,” Fer said.
Candace explained that it wasn’t her intention to become an adoptive mom, which she says now is one of the most beautiful things she has ever had the privilege of doing with her life.
“I have two daughters now,” she said. “I have two beautiful daughters that I would do anything in the world for, and I think would do anything in the world for me. And I did not have that before.”