Growing up, Candice Hill knew she was different – self-reliant, a tomboy, and – by her own admission – a bit of a pain.
“I was kind of an outsider in my family,” Hill recalls. “Both of my parents were always really close to my younger sister, and I was just always really independent.”
So Hill was surprised when her dad – David Harrison, President of Rental Concepts LLC, dba RNR Tire Express – asked her to leave her job in banking and come work with him in rent-to-own.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to be one of those owner-kids everybody hates,’” remembers Hill. “But he persisted and, eventually, I came over.” Thirteen years later, Hill is Director of Operations and runs 13 of the company’s 28 stores.
That was 2008 – a BIG year for Candice Hill, as it’s also been 13 years since she and her husband, Robert, first began their journey as foster parents.
“My husband and I dated in high school and married in college,” Hill explains. “And I told him, ‘I really want to adopt,’ and he said, ‘I really want to have just my own kids.’ And my dad didn’t think it was a great idea; your parents want you to do normal stuff, and that’s just not me.”
Nevertheless, the Hills saw a video presentation at their church about becoming foster parents by The CALL – Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime – and Candice’s perseverance finally persuaded her husband to go to an informational meeting.
“Somehow or other, I get him signed on,” chuckles Hill. “And it was like 50 days from the informational meeting to having children in our home – which is waaay faster than normal. We went from being two 25-year-olds with dogs to a household with four boys. And it was one of the absolute biggest blessings of my life.”
May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge the 463,000 American youth in foster care, and the family members, foster parents, volunteers, mentors, child-welfare professionals, and policymakers who help them find permanent homes and connections.
“Every foster-care kid is in a situation that is not their fault in any way,” Hill attests. “They’re pulled away from everything they know and pushed around from foster home to foster home. The basic things we take for granted, these kids don’t have in their lives.”
The Hills’ four boys – Issac, Marcus, Matthew, and Nathan – were all between the ages of 9 and 15 [“We had wanted two girls ages 2 -6,” laughs Hill], and had been living in a cult calling itself a ‘ministry.’ The year after the boys came to live with the Hills, the cult leader was convicted on ten counts of child rape.
“They were brainwashed, and it was difficult,” Hill says. “Two were brothers and two were not, but they all came together as a sort of sibling group. Later, the two brothers moved on, and we took in Issac’s older brother, Spencer; he had run away from the cult and came to live with us.
“The boys were with us only a few years, but in-between, God thought it would be hilarious to give us a birthchild, our son Ephraim, and 22 months later, he doubled down and sent our daughter, Evie, as a surprise,” she continues. “Issac and Spencer were still living with us when she was born, but once they moved on, we decided to close our home to fostering for a while to give our kids some normalcy – well, as normal as they’re going to get with us, poor things.”
“When the last of the boys moved out, all of a sudden there was quiet,” notes Hill. “And we still had two toddlers, so it sounds crazy to say it was quiet, but it was. When you’ve had a house full of kids, there’s just a quietness you’re not used to. When they left, it left me an appreciation for every stage our young children go through, because I know one day, it’ll be quiet, and I’ll miss it all over again.”[Incidentally, Candice’s father warmed up to the foster-care situation rather quickly, buying the boys their first bicycles and teaching them how to ride – and even teaching some of them how to drive!]
Though the boys lived with the Hills less than five years and the couple never adopted any of them, the connection they created during that tumultuous time is a lasting one.
“The boys still come over every week,” says Hill. “I love it when as many of them as we can get show up, and they’re playing games and I’m cooking dinner for everyone, and the house is full of that noise again.”
And, as Ephraim and Evie turn 12 and 10 respectively this year, the Hills are considering re-entering the foster-family world – and hoping others will do the same.
“We’re talking about opening up our home again to foster children,” Hill asserts. “We’ll need to recertify, but that’s the plan. If more normal people who don’t have it all together – like me – would foster, then I think, gosh, imagine how much better the next generation could be. We’re not perfect, and luckily, you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent. You just have to be present, patient, and willing to share your home.
“And you do really need to be called to it,” she adds. “You need to search your heart and understand, these kids are being torn from families. If you can give them somewhere they can have food on a regular basis, a safe place to sleep every night, through the night, a place they can celebrate their birthdays, then that’s something really special.
“We went into it thinking, ‘Oh we’re going to help these kids,’” concludes Hill. “And they helped us. Our boys have blessed us more than we could have ever blessed them. They’ve widened our hearts.”