The Giron family, left from first row, are Luz, Mark, Jeffrey, Alicia, Levi and Robert. Second row, from left, are Maria, Brandon, Shana, Age and Ken. Parents Sherri and Frank stand proudly behind their newest foster clan.

Family comes first

The Girons build a house
of love for foster children

Long before Sherri Giron married, she knew she could make a difference in a child's life and began her quest to become a foster parent.

Family Tree logo "I always loved kids and wanted at least 10 of my own," she said. After seeing an advertisement seeking foster-care providers, she immediately signed on. In 28 years, Giron has been a foster parent to more than 300 children, about 70 of them on a long-term basis.

Luckily, her husband, Frank, has a "go with the flow" attitude.

"My mom and dad were foster parents before they had me, so I was never alone," said 17-year-old Shana, the Girons' biological daughter. "I have three older half siblings, so with them I was the baby of the family."

Right now, Shana is the eldest child. "I try hard to be a good example to them all," she said. "I like most of the activities that go along with being oldest, like taking them to sports, school or being the one in charge on trips without Mom and Dad. I used to think I wanted a big family, too, but now I see that it costs too much. I don't want to work as hard as my parents, so I think I will only have five or six kids."

Foster care goes beyond merely housing and feeding a child. It's about taking a child who may not have learned coping skills, bringing them into your home and modeling behavior for them, she said.

"These kids are a product of the system," Sherri Giron said. "I do it to help people out. I want them to have skills that they can use in their everyday life.

"I always try to get the children to join youth groups that offer them opportunities ... anything that keeps them off the streets and provides good role models."

People always are surprised by the Girons' willingness to take in all the "bad kids."

"They aren't bad. Some of the things they do are bad, but we are here to teach them the right way," said Frank. "I don't think they enjoy doing bad things, but for some of them, that is how they have been raised. How are they to know any different until they are shown another way?

"We are working on changing the behaviors. ... We don't want to change the child."

"If it weren't for living at the Girons', I would never have graduated from high school," said 23-year-old Nani. "They never gave up on me and supported me through all of the bad times. I'm sure I would be living on the streets if it weren't for them. Now I am married with a 2-year-old daughter."

The Giron foster family, which currently numbers 12, are among the sailing students aboard the trimaran, "Free Spirit," moored in Kewalo Basin.

MORNING PREPARATIONS start early in the Giron household, now numbering 12. "There are the usual morning spats," said Sherri, along the lines of: "Tell so and so not to look at me," "It was my turn to go through the gate first" or "He took my favorite spoon." "But we have a routine pretty well worked out," she said.

"Sometimes we get along and sometimes we don't," said 12-year-old Maria. "I have my own room, so if I don't want to play with my brothers, I can go hide in there."

"Sometimes my brothers irritate me," said 12-year-old Jeffrey, who nevertheless enjoys playing basketball with his brothers. "They're good but I'm better. Sometimes, I just let them win."

After Frank leaves for work, Shana helps supervise breakfast while Sherri grooms the children and gets them ready for school. The search for missing socks, shoes and other items "that the dog must have hid" is a continuous battle. "The dog always gets blamed for things like that but is not necessarily guilty," Sherri said.

THE GIRON HOME is also a place where the children's biological family members can feel comfortable, Sherri said. "The parents know where I live, so they visit and drop off cards. The kids are happy. They always drop off gifts at Christmas.

"The families still care about the kids, so I try to make it so there are no hard feelings -- they feel loved by everyone."

None of the birth parents have been violent or threatening. "They have trusted that their children are healing well in our home and are willing to have them back in their lives someday."

The goal of foster care is to allow the kids to return to their original homes, but sometimes it doesn't work out. Many of the children end up staying in the Giron household until they head off to college.

These days, many of the children the Girons hear about have behavioral problems resulting from their parents' drug abuse, said Sherri. Patience is a requirement of foster parents, and expectations can't be high.

In some cases, the children who have witnessed the hardships caused by drugs become strong opponents of drug use.

"I will never use drugs because drugs make you do stupid things like choose them over taking care of your children or fighting over stupid things," said 14-year-old Brandon, who found stability in the Giron home. "I don't have to worry about being separated from my brother and sister ever again."

"I will never use drugs, 'cause that is probably the reason I got in special-education classes in the first place. I know now that it is not my fault," added 13-year-old Robert. "I am trying my best. I got all A's and one B, in band."

Music has been a powerful influenced on the children. All of the older kids in the Giron household play a musical instrument, with enough variety -- including flute, drums, trumpet, clarinet and cello -- to form a little orchestra.

"Looks like we'll be adding a pianist, ukulele player, another flutist and drummer to our musical group," Sherri said. "I've found that playing an instrument has really helped their focus and had a positive effect on their schoolwork."

Other activities that have helped the youths develop social skills include soccer, Tahitian dance, hula, swimming, karate, church youth groups, basketball, cheerleading, football and sailing.

On The Cover: Sherri Giron goes sailing with her foster children. They are, clockwise from Sherri: Alicia, Luz, Age, Jeffery, Robert, Maria and Brandon.

MAINTAINING A SCHEDULE for everyone in the household is no easy feat. A family schedule is posted on the front door.

"The teenagers are responsible for making their own doctor's appointments and keeping things updated on the calendar," Sherri said. "I spend a lot of time taking them to therapy sessions, filling meds and chauffeuring them to different activities.

"We use a different color ink for each child, so even the little ones know when they have something scheduled that day."

A pickup truck allows space for the extra-large family.

The kids appreciate having a stable home. "Now I feel safe," said 9-year-old Alicia. "I don't scream anymore.

"Sometimes I forget to do my chores and get sent to my room. I feel like screaming but I read a book instead," she added.

Thirteen-year-old Age added: "I had the worst temper in the world. Now, I can control it most of the time. I found out that I am good at lots of things."

"When I came, I didn't like small kids," said 17-year-old Luz, who wants to make sure she graduates from school before having any of her own. "I love babies now. I never knew I would have so many brothers and sisters. I would like to be a foster parent or adopt some children because they need homes, too."

"Living at our house is a good form of birth control for these young girls," added Sherri.

The reward to society is immense. "I'm really proud of them," Sherri said of her charges. "None of them were pregnant before they were married, and none got into drugs and alcohol."

Her reward: only the letters of appreciation and notes addressed to "the best mom in the world."

Individuals interested in becoming foster parents may call 263-0920 or visit


Club helps foster kids
sail toward better lives

Thirteen-year-old Caleb grabs the helm and steers the Free Spirit out to sea. Other youngsters release the sails on the 48-foot trimaran.

They all are members of the Captain's Club, a sailing club that during eight years has given more than 200 foster and at-risk kids the opportunity to learn how to sail. The club's mission is to "enhance the child's self-image by learning and experiencing life at sea."

Youths ages 10 to 16 meet twice a week for the club's "Intro to Sailing" course. Ocean safety, basic sailing skills and teamwork development are stressed.

The cost is "a good attitude and desire to have fun," according to club founder Capt. Gordie Morris. The idea is to perpetuate their return or encourage them to enter similar programs.

"The captain's rule is law, and if they don't abide, they may not return," says Morris.

The cruise provides an opportunity for the youths to change what might be viewed as bad behavior.

"The ocean is a wonderful environment," Morris says. "They can be who they want to be. No one knows their history.

"They are put in situations that allow them to build self-esteem. They take care of each other ... we are responsible for each other's safety. No teasing or cursing is allowed," said Morris. Talk is positive, with discussions about their favorite subjects, school grades and friends.

"Most of the time we have a caring, nurturing group, and they learn to treat each other with respect."

Each member of the Captain's Club is assigned a duty aboard the "Free Spirit." Brandon, left, gets ready to hoist the mainsail.

The "Mates" program invites graduates of the class to board the Free Spirit the first Thursday of each month to continue their sailing experience.

About 12 to 20 mates return for the reunion. "It gives these kids a sense of confidence -- a lot of foster kids don't have that," said Sherri Giron, a foster mom who regularly sends her seven foster children to the program.

"After my kids went sailing, they had the chance to go to school and impress their friends. It's normally the other way around, with the other kids telling them about trips to their grandparents', fun at the water park or going skiing.

"It gave them so much self-esteem to be the center of attention and envy of the group."

The older kids' newfound confidence was apparent. "I'm the only one of my friends who knows how to sail," said one of the foster children, 17-year-old Luz.

Volunteer mentors are continually being sought. "The mentors are so important. We couldn't do the program without them," said Rich Marshall, board chairman for Captain's Club. "It helps if they know how to sail or have an interest or professional knowledge of dealing with these types of kids."

"The kids often have people dropping in and out of their lives," added Morris, "but the mentors are always there." Dialogue between the children and mentors continue to build positive attitudes and friendships, he said.

Mentors also teach the children how Columbus navigated the ocean and how contemporary sailors aboard the Hokule'a relied on the stars to guide them, as well as more tangible matters such as tying knots.

"I can tie the best knots," said 14-year-old Brandon. "I used to practice tying up my brother. ... He could never get loose."

Twelve-year-old Makahe'a's favorite spot is at the helm. "I love to drive out of the harbor. You get to make lots of turns," she said.

Charles, 15, enjoys the tranquil atmosphere. "I like the waves and ocean breeze," he said, while noting that he also enjoys spotting whales, dolphins and turtles along the journey.

"The dolphins and whales are so cute when they swim next to us," added 12-year-old Maria.

"When I stand in the front, I like to pretend I'm on the Titanic," said 9-year-old Alicia.

"I used to get seasick, but now I'm more used to it," said 14-year-old Age. "Sometimes it is bumpy but no one fell over yet."

Morris even lets the birth kids in the family join in, which strengthens family ties without setting the foster children apart.

"I got to enter the Interschool Sailing League because of (the program). We learned to sail in a boat built for one or two people. We tipped over a few times, but that was just part of the fun," added 17-year-old Shana, Giron's biological daughter. "I like to go back and help with all the new crews that are just joining the club."

Caleb also received a scholarship from Hawaii Youth Maritime Outreach for the Hawaii Yacht Club Junior Sailing program.

"It's people, agencies and clubs like the Captain's Club that allow foster parents to succeed. We raise the children to be all they can be ... a productive member vs. a dependent member of our society," Giron said.

Sunshine Arts hosts an annual fund-raiser for the Captain's Club program. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Captain's Club, P.O. Box 92571, Honolulu 96820. For mentor opportunities or applications for at-risk or foster children, call 456-5103. An application is available at

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