Kidz Harbor founder Angie Colbert estimates 400 children a year have been through the Brazoria County nonprofit that cares for foster kids. As Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the group home’s founding, that amounts to a staggering 8,000 children who have passed through their doors for days, weeks, months or even years.
For Colbert, that journey has been almost twice as long ago as she fostered about 16 children in her home over 18 years.
“Me and my Dad, Jim Green, opened Kidz Harbor,” she said. “He was the minister of a church in Angleton and I told him I still wanted to do foster care, but not necessarily in my home — that I would like to find a facility.”
A friend with a real estate company informed them the property that Kidz Harbor stands on was available. They hurriedly snapped it up and began the paperwork so they could get started.
The buildings weren’t exactly in pristine condition, but that didn’t concern them. Prepping the grounds was much easier than other hurdles they faced in the early days — most notably, finding an administrator who would allow them to obtain a license.
“It’s not common to find, but I live in Danbury and I went to a garage sale and it was a lady that I had known and she was asking how Kidz Harbor was coming along. I said, ‘It’s coming along, but I’ve run into a problem because I need a licensed administrator and I do not know where to find one,’ and she said, ‘Well, my father-in-law is one,’” Colbert said.
Somewhat disbelieving, she says she reached out to the man, Ollie Russell, only to find out that not only was Russell what she needed, but he wanted to move on from a position in Houston. Russell had grown up in a group home and had also previously worked at the children’s home in Oyster Creek.
“He gave us a wealth of knowledge since day one. He led us into the right way to do paperwork, the rules, contracts, all of that. He knew,” Colbert said. “I always liked to tease him by saying I picked him up at a garage sale.”
Russell passed away in 2010, but until then, he was a key figure in the group home’s establishment. At that point, Colbert assumed the administrator duties, having gotten her license in the meantime.
Kidz Harbor has helped lots of youths from newborns to 18-year-olds from Brazoria County, Harris County and across the state of Texas. Often, they receive groups of siblings since they’re one of the facilities that can handle them. The largest Colbert could recollect was six.
Many of the children come from bad situations and some of them come from recognizable news stories.
In one instance, Kidz Harbor took in 35 of 462 children taken from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, after a highly publicized raid in 2014 which led to the prosecution and conviction of leader Warren Jeffs on charges of child sexual assault.
The process of taking in a child typically starts with a call from the state, from which they receive information about the situation. Assuming there is room for them, the children are brought to the facility where they average a stay of 90 days while the courts look for a willing family member or foster home to care for them.
“In that time, we’re doing their physicals, dental, eye exams, psychologicals, getting them in school — many of them have not been to school and if they have been, they have not received services,” Colbert said. “We just try to get all their needs met before they leave us.”
One of those needs is personal for Colbert — duffel bags. She makes sure all of the children who pass through the facility have a place to keep their belongings instead of having to carry them in what is often no more than a plastic trash bag.
Licensed for 62 children, Kidz Harbor is currently housing 23 of them at a required ratio of one staff member per eight children. Workdays are broken into three shifts for morning, afternoon and overnight.
“We just need more staff so we can take more kids,” Colbert said.
Kids Harbor is always on the lookout for more employees who will go through the required training and background checks, but they do have a core group of long-term helping hands that have been there for at least half of its existence. Many have been around much longer. One has been there since the beginning.
That woman is Cindy Gaumer, who says she’s simply there for the kids.
“She keeps wanting to retire, but I won’t let her,” Colbert said with a laugh.
It’s hard to leave, Gaumer says, because the children trust her for their needs and that keeps bringing her back. She also says when she’s not at Kidz Harbor, she’s spending time with her grandkids, so she’s constantly taking care of kids, no matter where she ends up.
She was recently introduced to a 5-year-old who needed a ride to school. She started talking about all the “moms” she has at the home, but told Gaumer that she only has one “grandma.”
“She said, ‘Can I have two grandmas?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, who will be your other grandma?’ She said, ‘You can be my second grandma because you have white hair,” Gaumer said, smiling.
Facility Manager Sharon Beard said she’s also been around since the beginning, handling financials and making sure the whole operation stays above board.
“I would say that this is not a job and I don’t feel like I have to come to work every day. This is more of a mission or a social service to us,” Beard said.
Some children stay longer than others. A long-term building gives those who decide they want to stay a chance to continue residing at Kidz Harbor, sometimes through the beginning of college. The facility is able to handle 24 long-term residents at a time and those slots are usually close to all being filled.
“Sometimes the kids just love it here and they want to move over into that home and if it works out with the case worker and everyone, then we send some there too,” Colbert said.
“We’ve had some kids stay here a long time. Three or four years,” Gaumer said. “I think even up to six years and those particular kids, they come back to visit us.” In a small number of special instances, that’s not where the story ends, however.
Colbert legally adopted three girls over her tenure, one she began watching over at age two and two of them at age four. She recently adopted a fourth, but the circumstances were much different.
“One of the girls that came when she was four had a 10-year-old sister,” she said.
Adoption is a long process which did not finish until four or five years later, at which point her sister was preparing for what to do after she graduated high school.
“I didn’t adopt her because she was almost 18 and I was of the understanding there were benefits from Child Protective Services, so I told her I want to, but for her sake, because she would get free college, I said ‘I’m not going to adopt, because that way you can get your benefits,’” Colbert said.
Years later at the annual gala that Kidz Harbor holds, she was told by a judge that Texas allows for the adoption of adults and Colbert saw her chance to do what she couldn’t then.
“So I adopted that girl. She’s 33 now and last month we adopted her,” Colbert said. “When we adopted her, she cried and said she was always jealous of her little sister being adopted and not her, but she never told us that. So I’ve got four adopted girls.”
Kidz Harbor is letting the milestone pass quietly for now, though they plan to make a little more noise later in the year when their annual gala comes around on October 7.
Their plans for the next 20 years are to keep doing what they’re doing, by taking in children and doing their best to care for them, from the day-to-day needs for their health, structure and schooling to the annual fishing trips and Christmas dinners at Smithhart’s Grill in Angleton.
Colbert says she does have solid plans for a new building which she calls the Library where the children will be able to study in a larger space and a residential treatment center facility for specialized children with additional needs.
“I’d like to see it go on, no matter who is at the helm of it,” Beard said. “I want the legacy to live. I think we’ve made a lot of positive changes since we’ve began and it’s just an ongoing process to be better and better.”
Whatever Kidz Harbor needs to accomplish that mission has been consistently met by the community around them, Colbert said, comparing it to a ministry.
“God has been good to us. Everything we’ve ever needed has come to us through one way or another, either organizations or volunteers or churches — somebody has always come through when we’ve needed something,” she said.
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