Shared from the 4/5/2021 Tribune-Review, Greensburg eEdition

Adoptive Scottdale father guides growing numbers of foster families

Paul Johnson stays involved with Adelphoi after recently retiring from recruiting job


Paul and Brenda Johnson pose with their Boston terrier, Bubba, at their Scottdale home on March 16. Paul recently retired as a regional recruiter of foster families for nonprofit Adelphoi.


Paul and Brenda Johnson of Scottdale adopted their son Mark as an infant 31 years ago and daughter Tasha in 2012.

Editor’s note: This is an occasional series examining how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of members of our community.

Paul Johnson, a longtime ice hockey referee, relished the ice skating parties enjoyed by the foster kids and families he guided for more than a decade at Latrobe-based nonprofit Adelphoi.

Such group outings weren’t possible this past year, as the covid-19 pandemic imposed restrictions on public gatherings.

But the need for and interest in fostering continued. “The wonderful part of it was that people were still stepping up,” Johnson said.

In fact, the Scottdale man, who served as Adelphoi’s regional recruiter for foster parents since 2008, saw the number of families entering the program jump to 38 last year, continuing a decadelong increase from a previous average of 15 to 18 new families per year.

More than 20 additional families were working toward becoming licensed to provide foster care through Adelphoi in January, when Johnson officially retired after 20 years with the organization, including time as a counselor at a group home for troubled youth in Connellsville.

That was part of Johnson’s 40-year career of service to area children and families, including stints at the YMCAs in Uniontown and Scottdale, where he advanced to executive director.

During the pandemic, Johnson adapted many of his check-ins and training sessions with foster parents to a virtual format. Making online connections for orientation sessions helped protect staff and families from the potential spread of covid-19 and cut down on travel time. But, Johnson said, “For the presenter, I think it’s more difficult.”

In person, he noted, “I’m getting feedback from your eyes, looking directly at me. Maybe you have a question.”

Regardless of how they connected, Johnson and the families he worked with benefited from the firsthand experience he and his wife, Brenda, have as foster and adoptive parents.

They adopted their son, Mark, now 31, when he was an infant. In addition to welcoming foster children into their home, they’ve hosted nine foreign exchange students through Rotary International.

In 2010, they became foster parents of Tasha, then 15; two years later, they adopted her. Eight months ago, she provided them with a granddaughter, Olive, and she is engaged to be married in 2022.

“We came to the decision we could go ahead and adopt her,” Brenda said of their daughter. “Everybody wants a family to be a part of.”

Paul Johnson “didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He’s very passionate about the work that he does. He brought an honest perspective to the role.”

“I just got lucky to happen upon them,” Tasha, also of Scottdale, said of her adoptive parents, whom she visits regularly for dinner and turns to for babysitting. “They were very welcoming. They made sure that my needs came before their wants a lot of the time.”

Paul Johnson said his Mennonite faith and growing up with six younger siblings in a home that was always open to friends and neighbors helped prepare him for working in and providing foster care.

“You just don’t volunteer to become a foster parent,” he said. “There’s something deep within your soul. Anyone should be welcome at your table.”

Johnson “didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk,” said Melanie Gresko, recruitment and family development supervisor for Adelphoi’s foster care and adoption services. “He’s very passionate about the work that he does. He brought an honest perspective to the role. He could answer foster parents’ questions and be open about what that journey entails.”

Foster parents should expect that it will take time for a child who is placed with them to adapt to the new surroundings and relationships, Johnson said.

“It’s recognizing that there’s been trauma in this youngster’s life and there may be things that trigger relapses into that trauma,” he said. “You must bring patience to the everyday experience. Relationships take time.

“As a foster or adoptive family, you have an opportunity to support youngsters through the struggles that they’ve had and to show them what life can be about.”

“I truly loved my job to the last day,” Johnson said. “It provided an opportunity for meeting caring people, so I can’t completely step away from it.”

He continues as a part-time trainer for Adelphoi, imparting skills including CPR. He and his wife are establishing a scholarship, in their children’s names, for foster, adoptive or biological children of Adelphoi foster families.

“Hopefully, three or four kids each year might be able to benefit from it,” he said.

He’s also been brushing up on his swimming, referring back to his work with the Y, in preparation for managing the outdoor pool this summer at Laurel-ville, a Mennonite-founded retreat center near Mt. Pleasant.

“I’m healthy, I’m still active. There’s something else for me to do,” he said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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