August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Have you ever seen that family that carts around tons of kids and wondered, “How in the world do they do it?” Look no further than the Goertz family of Bennington.

Larry and Heather Goertz have four kids: Tayler, 20, Zachary, 16, Kassidy, 14, and Amber, 10. That might already sound like a crazy brood, but it gets crazier. You see, the Goertzes are also foster parents to two different sets of kids. There are the four “little ones”—siblings ages 15 mos., 3, 4, and 5—who don’t live with them, but whom they see every few weeks from morning until night. And then there are the “five”—siblings ages 2½, 8, 10, 12, and 15—who are with them full-time. Sound crazy yet?

“There are hard days,” says Heather, who’s an occupational therapist. “But when we’re all together, that’s when it’s the greatest.” She says that getting the okay from their kids was very important to her and Larry when they made the decision to get involved with foster care. “We’re a foster family, not foster parents.”

Their foster care adventure began in 2011 after their oldest daughter, Tayler, graduated from high school. “It was hard letting go of her,” Heather explains. “[But] we looked around and thought, ‘You know what? We’ve got happy, healthy kids. We’re good at this thing. We have a lot to offer.’”

Larry and Heather Goertz

Larry and Heather Goertz

It started with a boy from Latvia. “Unfortunately, we had more bad days than good with him,” she says. He only stayed 28 days with the family before they all realized it wasn’t the right fit. But then the “little ones” found them; the “five,” too. They fit with the Goertzes much better. “Even with 13 kids in the house at times, it kind of comes easily when you’re doing what you love.”

Although the Goertzes’ youngest daughter, Amber, had to learn quickly that she was no longer the baby in the family, Heather believes the adjustment went smoothly. “We’re still getting to know each other, but we intentionally try to have dinner together three nights a week to become a closer family.”

“We’re a foster family, not foster parents.” – Heather Goertz

Sometimes, however, dinner presents a challenge for Heather (in fact, she’d say meals in general present a challenge). “Our ‘normal’ is healthy food every day and junk food occasionally. The foster kids’ ‘normal’ is the opposite. It’s a struggle to raise these kids without letting my personal health views get in the way. I’m supposed to keep them safe and healthy, but to what standard?”

Even though she wants to help her foster kids live healthier lifestyles, she thinks that forcing them to change their lifestyles when they’ve already faced trauma isn’t helpful. “It all comes through in its own timing,” she says.

One of her favorite stories about their food struggles is about one of the “five” trying broccoli for the first time. “I told him he could have a quarter if he tried it. He said make it a dollar, so I made him a deal that if he ate all of his broccoli, then he could have a dollar. After he did it, he used that dollar to buy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” she laughs.

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Kassidy, Tayler, Zachary, and Amber Goertz

Nevertheless, when times get tough, Larry and Heather have their solid marriage. After 17 years together, they’ve found their relationship to be at the core of everything. “We’ve felt numb before, and we’ve worked through some really hard stuff, but every marriage that sticks together has its ups and downs. Still, our purpose always comes back to family and whatever children God gives us or brings to our doorstep,” she says.

Of course, Heather feels a strong faith and a positive attitude are the main components of getting through the challenges each day presents. “I’m constantly in prayer,” she adds. “I try to focus on the good things…Sometimes, I’ll just turn up the radio and start twirling in the kitchen. You just have to break that negative energy and let go of how you think things should be.”

So why do the Goertzes take on such a challenging opportunity? For one, they’re risk-takers. “We’d rather take risks to do what’s right,” says Heather. But mostly, it’s because they’ve been blessed with a good life, and they want to extend that good life to others. “This is our mission work right here.

“As these kids come, they aren’t just here for a little while. They’re in our hearts forever. And we know in some ways we’ll be with them forever.”