A chance at life

Meet the Garcias, who have dedicated their lives to rescuing children

Irene and Domingo Garcia at the family dining table that seats up to 20.

Irene and Domingo Garcia at the family dining table that seats up to 20.

PHOTO by melanie Mactavish

Setting the dinner table in the Garcia family home is no simple task. Sure, right now there are only 13 people living on the large property in Magalia, but the table seats 20.

In the 32 years Domingo and Irene Garcia have been foster parents, they’ve adopted—or become legal guardians for—17 children. They’ve also opened their home to dozens of California’s neediest kids. Some have severe health problems, and others bear emotional if not physical scars. Almost all of them have difficulty learning or socializing, putting them in the category of “special needs.”

“We’ve been married 44 years, and we’ve been fostering for 32 years,” Domingo said during a recent phone interview. “We have kids from 8 to 44 and every decade in between. Now there are 11 kids in the house. Some of them have moved away, and some of the kids we’ve fostered were with us for only a short period of time.”

The Garcias moved to Butte County nine years ago after doing some research into where they could make the biggest impact. Upon their arrival, they got all their paperwork and licenses in order and signed up with Remi Vista Inc., a foster-family agency based in Redding with an office in Chico.

“They are a really unique family and a family that has a dedication and devotion that is pretty rare,” Becky Winton, a clinical psychologist and regional director for Remi Vista, said of the Garcias. “It was really a gift to Remi Vista to have them be a part of our agency. They’re just very positive, and their parenting is very loving and caring and structured. Almost every kid who comes into foster care needs a structured existence.”

In many ways, Domingo and Irene have become model parents in Butte County. Not only have they cared for many of the area’s children—probably 40 or 50, Winton estimates—but they also speak at parenting seminars and offer mentoring services for young families.

Why? The answer is simple.

“I believe that the family is very, very important,” Domingo said. “It’s the future. It’s the basis from which everything comes.”

Domingo and Irene met, fell in love and got married by the time they were 16 years old. They had two biological sons, whom they love dearly, but Irene wanted a baby girl. Unfortunately, health issues prevented her from having any more children, so they decided to look into adoption.

“We adopted a little girl with special needs. The doctors told us that if she lived past 1 year old, she would never walk or talk,” Domingo said. “That little girl is still with us—she’s almost 32. They thought she wouldn’t last a year, but we’re sure she’ll outlive us.”

Back then, the Garcias were living in Simi Valley, a safe and comfortable area north of Los Angeles. With their sons safely in middle school and an infant at home, they decided they had room for one more.

The Garcia home accommodates their large family with a setup that includes this classroom where the couple homeschool the children.

Photo By Melanie MacTavish

“We requested a boy about her age because she needed a sibling,” he said. “He came with a brother, and before we knew it we had a houseful.”

Before long, there were no more children in Simi Valley who needed fostering, he said. The well had run dry, he surmised, because of the relative prosperity of the region. So the Garcias did some research and set their sights on Butte County.

“We looked to find where the need was,” Domingo explained. “Most of the children we get now are from drug raids. And we built our home to accommodate them—our dining room table seats 20; we have a classroom where the kids can learn using iPads.”

Life as a foster parent isn’t all glamour, however. Domingo and Irene put a tremendous amount of effort into working on the kids’ self-esteem, dealing with health problems that sometimes require frequent doctor visits and medication, and trying to serve as positive role models.

“Sometimes foster parents have an idealized view that they can just get these kids and love and cuddle them and everything will be OK,” Winton explained. “The truth of the matter is, it’s many hours of being consistent in offering structure, and being loving and caring but also staying up at nights when they’re having night terrors and teaching them tasks that might take longer to teach them than a child who hasn’t been traumatized.”

Domingo agreed that being a foster parent can take its toll.

“It’s very emotionally draining,” he said. Right now, he’s a stay-at-home dad and Irene works as a hairdresser. But they both put in the time to teach the kids not only math, English and science but also morality-based subjects like the difference between right and wrong or the idea of respect—both for oneself and others.

“We spend the time to train them,” Domingo said. “God has called us to do this. Left alone, they wouldn’t have a chance. They would be a reflection of their environment. Our jails are full of foster kids and children from broken homes.”

The Garcias hope to spread the message that becoming foster parents can change not only the lives of children in need, but also the lives of parents. Irene is working on a book, due out this time next year, and she’s been featured in a film called Deny Yourself about women and religion. In addition, their way of life has rubbed off on their two adult biological sons, both of whom have adopted children of their own.

“People don’t want to do it because they’re afraid,” Domingo said of becoming a foster or adoptive parent. “You have to be willing to give up whatever.”

Remi Vista’s Winton agreed, adding, “There’s such a dedication in the way of being of these foster parents. The Garcias are an amazing example of that. Probably the best that I personally know.”

“I think we give them a chance at life,” Domingo said of the children who’ve come into their life and their home. That alone is enough to drive him and Irene to keep doing what they’ve been doing for the past three decades.

“We have no regrets. We love it. It’s the way we choose to live.”