SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - Randy Pawlowski, dean at Seminole State College, doesn't need a novelty mug or a T-shirt to call himself a super dad.
In the past seven years, the single father has invited 15 young men in foster care into his home. He adopted five of them, who are now a permanent part of Pawlowski's family.
Pawlowski made the decision to foster and adopt while watching a "Primetime" special with Diane Sawyer. Sawyer's program showcased kids in desperate need of a home and he felt that he would be the perfect person for the job.
"I made a few calls, attended a presentation, took some courses, completed my paperwork, and was authorized to be a foster parent in April of 2007. In June I got my first kid," Pawlowski remembers.
Since then, the Pawlowski home has been filled with laughter and happiness. The teen boys play basketball in the front yard and Xbox in the living room. Every night the family makes an effort to eat dinner together.
The kids Pawlowski cares for have seen better days. Many of them come from backgrounds plagued with drug use and domestic violence but that hasn’t seemed to bring them down.
“I think they have done a great job of persevering through all of the trauma they've experienced in their lives,” Pawlowski said.
He helps them along the way by making sure his household is warm and inviting. All of the kids are treated like members of the family, adopted or not.
Pawlowski even taught six of the kids how to sail and they’ve all started a racing team. They’ve been as far as California and finished first in 10 different regattas.
While on their way back from the races, the foster and adopted kids got the chance to see different parts of the country during trips to Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Pawlowski says through racing the kids have a chance to work on team building skills while having a little fun along the way.
Despite being a single father with a full-time job, Pawlowski still finds time to instill life lessons into the young men. Academics are very important to the Seminole State College administrator and the value of education is something he hopes the boys can latch on to.
“I tell them to try and get an A or a B in every class. Oftentimes I've been the first person in their life who has had that high level of academic expectations,” Pawlowski said
His most resonating life lesson is one that he hopes sticks with the kids throughout their entire lives.
“Always do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”
The need for foster parents in central Florida is staggering. There are over 3,000 kids locally who are at risk of abuse, neglect and abandonment. Kids that Karla Radka, vice president of Community Based Care of Central Florida, says are in desperate need of a stable home.
“Every year as school lets out, we see an increase of kids entering foster care," Radka said.
Also, new regulations that took effect in January are causing these numbers to rise even more.
“Our youth can now stay in the system up until age 21. This means we are seeking homes for our older youth who previously would have ‘aged out.’”
Radka says that placement within families is the ideal for a lot of the kids and they need to find the right home for each specific child. The right kind of foster parent in her eyes is someone who is willing to spend time and effort to put the child’s needs first.
Pawlowski takes those skills to heart.
“You need to constantly support the kids, have their backs, and be really flexible and patient. For me, being a foster parent is about a lot of balance in life.”
Before helping them with schoolwork or sailing in regattas across the nation, Pawlowski believes his first and foremost job is to keep the kids happy and healthy throughout their stay, even if it’s just for a short period of time.