When Cornelia Cheatham was given six months to live after being diagnosed with breast cancer 21 years ago, she decided to give the little time she had left to a good cause.
“I was real young and I wanted to do something to give back,” Cornelia Cheatham said. “I made a promise to God that I was going to help children.”
The Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards recently named Kyle residents Cornelia and her husband, Lionel Cheatham, Foster Parents of the Year. Shannon Ireland, executive director of the board, said the Cheathams deserve the honor because they have fostered 61 children over 15 years.
“It’s a great honor,” Lionel Cheatham said. “There’s so many deserving foster parents out there in the state of Texas, and we’re just fortunate enough to have been selected.”
Cornelia, now cancer free, said about 15 years ago she and Lionel began watching “Wednesday’s Child,” a television program about children in the foster care system finding permanent homes. The program prompted their decision to become foster parents.
“Kids need love,” Lionel Cheatham said. “They need guidance. They don’t need screaming at. They don’t need punishing. That has happened to them all their life. That’s why they’re in foster care. They need to see that the way they were brought up might not be the only way to live.”
Marques, 13, has been in the foster care system since he was five years old, and with the Cheathams on and off for about three years. Marques said he feels comfortable with his foster family.
“This is one of my favorite houses because there’s a lot of stuff we get to do, like play sports and go places,” Marques said.
Academics are important in the Cheatham household, along with any extracurricular activities the children want to do. Every Sunday the entire family attends church.
Cornelia said she is determined to ensure her foster children have normal childhoods, despite the fact their peers may notice the unique aspects of these kids’ lives.
“I want them to be treated the same as anybody else,” Cornelia Cheatham said. “The word ‘foster’ scares some people.”
The children fostered by the Cheathams have gone on to be Division 1 basketball players, attend college, serve in the military and have families of their own. The Cheathams said all of their foster children have been successful in life.
“We enjoy (being foster parents), and we like to see great results,” Lionel Cheatham said. “There’s nothing that can amount to the feeling when you look at a kid, or you get a phone call, and they say, ‘Dad, I just got that job.’ There’s no greater satisfaction. That’s what I like best.”
The couple keep every letter and present they receive from their foster children. The Cheathams said there is always someone staying with them, and they “would not have it any other way.”
They plan to foster children until their health prohibits them from doing so.
The Cheathams said the children have taught them many things throughout the years, including patience and the importance of listening. Cornelia said she and her husband love meeting each child, their different personalities and diverse families.
“(The children) come here, and we have the resources to help them,” Lionel Cheatham said. “When you put love with it and a little bit of caring, it always works out. This is their home. This is not just a place they are staying at temporarily.”