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Super dads open their homes, hearts

Donna Koehn The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:01 PM

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The boy can arrive with a chip on his shoulder, the clothes on his back and an attitude that screams at the world to get the heck away.

At that moment of crisis, he doesn't know what he needs, but he's about to find it anyway: a dad.

Lien Anderson, with four sons of his own, and Steve Geise, with one son and two daughters, share 24-hour house-parenting duty with their wives at two group homes in the quiet Family Ministries of Florida compound in Seffner.

The men never know when a new boy or girl will join their households, but they're always on call to be the calming, rule-enforcing, devoted father some of the children have never known.

"Those dads do a phenomenal job," says Bob Sharp, executive director of Family Ministries, which includes three group homes and Legacy Christian Academy, an on-campus school. "The mentoring relationships they build with those kids are lifelong."

Both men are Christians who consider their work a calling, not a job. Yes, they live in the large, comfortable homes for free, with no utility bills, a salary, and as much time as they like with their own kids and spouses. On afternoons spent playing Wii games or biking with the kids, they wonder how they got so lucky.

But the children who come under their roofs can be challenging. Sometimes they are placed there by their parents, who no longer can handle them and need a respite. Other children arrive from state custody with a history of abuse and neglect and a soul-draining succession of failed foster placements.

Family Ministries, established in 1976, accepts children ages 6 to 18. It's a ministry of Horizon Christian Church in Valrico, which is where the families also go to church.

Geise was an only child, and his wife, Samantha, has only a brother. Currently, the couple, their son, 13, and two daughters, 10 and 8, share the seven-bedroom home with six other children.

"We've probably had 40 to 45 kids come through here," says Geise, who has lived and worked at the group home since 2001. "Some are here for two days, and up to eight years for one. Some of them still call us for advice.

"We always tell them we're not there to replace their mom and dad, but almost all of them call us Mom and Dad anyway."

Two of the Geises' biological children were born when the family lived at Family Ministries. The oldest, Noah, was a toddler when they moved in.

"It can be hectic sometimes," the boy says. It's fun, though, when everyone gathers to watch DVDs on the widescreen TV with surround sound.

To make life special for their three kids, the Geises plan memorable vacations for just the five of them.

"We have passes to Disney World," Steve Geise says. "Yeah, we spoil 'em!"

He loves to cook, especially when joined by the whole household. The extended family eats all of its meals together at a 12-seater table with a spinning lazy Susan in the middle.

Samantha Geise says children often seek out her husband because of his "gentle ways."

"Steve is compassionate and extremely giving of his time," she says. "He does devotions every evening with the older boys."

Sharp says Geise is tuned in to the kids' feelings.

"He laughs with the kids, he cries with the kids, he mentors them and he gets down on his knees and prays with them," Sharp says.

If Steve Geise is the inspirational talker, Lien Anderson is the quiet type, more inclined to connect with children as they work side-by-side crafting wooden tables or trimming the hedges. A former construction worker, Anderson keeps the compound running.

"Lien is more interested in what's in the heart of the children than in day-to-day schedules," says his wife, Angela. "He's introverted and outdoorsy."

Anderson has four biological sons (ages 14, 13, 10 and 8) and seven additional kids in his home. He and his wife have been at Family Ministries for about a year and a half, but they worked at a similar group home for eight years before that.

"I came from a broken family," says Anderson, the oldest of six children. "I didn't want that to happen to anyone else."

He says he relates to kids who don't quite fit in.

"Many kids struggle with school, but in a work environment, they thrive," he says. "Working with their hands gets rid of the stress."

It also gives them a chance for honorable work when they grow up, he says.

Both men stress how difficult it is when a child simply cannot adjust to the family life they provide. Some of the children have suffered so much, there's not much even these super dads can do.

But they try. Anderson remembers a girl who couldn't make eye contact and refused to speak, writing everything she needed to say. They rolled with it.

"You have to be willing to be flexible," he says. "Over time, I've learned to re-evaluate success. It's where they were, and then where they are now. One kid only lasted three or four weeks, and I felt we had failed him. But when he went home, his dad called us to thank us because suddenly his son was listening to him."

Sharp says turnover is high in the full-time dad business.

"It's not a job you do to get paid," he says. "These dads have a genuine caring for their kids. They try to make it a home. That's what these kids need more than anything else."

For information about Family Ministries of Florida, as well as ways to help, go to www.familyministriesfl.org or call (813) 681-1942.


dkoehn@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8264

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