A bed for every baby

Track coach Keith Thompson is an MVF: most valuable father. He’s a parent of five, but the list of his children doesn’t stop there. Coach Thompson is the co-founder of Bithiah’s House, a residential treatment center that houses and cares for toddlers and infants.

Coach Thompson has always had an inclination toward helping children, but it was his wife, Michelle, who encouraged him to pursue this interest actively. Her passion sparked when she was young, when she had worked in orphanages on mission trips to other countries.

“When we got married, we started to talk more about [adopting children. My wife] was much more passionate than I was, but the more that I was involved in what was going on, my eyes were open to these kids who have no places to live,” Thompson said. “I always felt that we could provide a bed, food and shelter for these kids. It definitely is a passion of mine that these kids are looked after because a lot of other people can’t.”

After their marriage in 2003, the Thompsons had two biological children before getting their foster care license in 2008. Since then, they have adopted two children and fostered over 15, one of whom stays with them today.

“In our family, adoption is not a secret. We’re very open. We use the words ‘biological parents’ or ‘adopted parents.’ Right now, we don’t call ourselves adoptive parents, we’re just ‘parents’ to our kids. They are going to grow up asking questions about where they came from, and we’re not going to have answers for everything, which is going to be hard,” Coach Thompson said. “We use ‘tummy mommy’ and ‘tummy dad’ and we’re like the ‘forever mommy’ and ‘forever dad.’ We always want to have this ongoing communication so that way they’re not surprised.”

According to Children’s Rights, foster children who are never adopted by families have higher rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration when they become adults compared to people who have never experienced foster care.

“People say how lucky [my adopted and foster children] are, but really, when you think about what they had to go through, to get to where they are with our family, some of them have been abused and neglected. Their mom and dad have lost custody of their kids. And so they’re ripped from anything that they ever have known and have to go to a stranger or a strange facility and start completely over,” Coach Thompson said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also reported that exposure to abuse, violence or negative environments, all of which are common for foster children, impairs proper brain development at an early age.

“They’ve compared the brain of a child who has gone through foster care to [that of] a combat soldier that’s been in war. The same damage that’s done in war is done when kids have to go through foster care. They really have a ton to overcome,” Coach Thompson said. “When I look at my kids that have gone through foster care and adoption, they’re my heroes. They’ve gone through more than I’ll ever have to go through; I can’t imagine what it is to be them.”

And thus, Bithiah’s House was created. The name was inspired by the Egyptian princess Bithiah, who adopted Moses from the Nile River in Christian and Jewish texts and is known as one of the world’s first foster parents.

“It all started off as an idea because we just really wanted to help kids and provide a bed for them. For a while it was only one baby at a time, and it was just not enough when we’re getting calls from the county that has 30 to 40 kids at a time that don’t have a home to go to. Our passion is more toward toddlers and infants, but it’s just such a sad thing that kids don’t have homes to go to,” Coach Thompson said.

Bithiah’s House’s motto, “A Bed for Every Baby,” is just that. Located in Walnut, it is a treatment facility that houses up to six toddlers and infants and provides services including drug withdrawal treatment, physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“There’s things that you can do to help the baby or the toddler to get back to normal more efficiently,” Coach Thompson said. “It’s a passion of mine because I’ve seen my kids and foster placements that we’ve had who have special needs. We’ve been able to work with physical therapists and psychologists and they give us strategies, as a family, on how to help. It really takes a whole family to do it.”

Bithiah’s House aims to set up systems for its infants so that they have undergone necessary treatment and have designated doctors by the time they are placed into their permanent home.

“Our hope that the earlier the kids can have intervention, the more likely that they’ll be able to succeed. We’ve been able to see really big improvements with our kids, with other kids that have come through our home. Every kid deserves to be taken care of. Nobody deserves to be left alone,” Coach Thompson said.

With a trained staff and shelves stocked with baby goods, Bithiah’s House has been ready to open since June. However, the state has been unresponsive in approving the facility.

“It’s just a joy. We love everything that has to do with Bithiah’s House. It’s emotional because of what it represents and what it’s going to do for these kids,” Coach Thompson said. “We have amazing people who are going to be working there, but we’re just waiting for the state to come tour and let us open up. We’re ready to go. If they said we could open today, we’re ready to open.”

Despite the high demand for homes for foster children, Coach Thompson has no upcoming plans to expand Bithiah’s House to a capacity over six.

“I want the kids to feel like they have that as close to one-on-one attention as they can. I don’t want them just to be a number. When they’re at Bithiah’s house, I want to treat them like kings and queens because they’re going through so much more than anyone else,” Coach Thompson said. “First, we want to have this be successful and really do a good job at just this. Maybe next year, if things are going smoothly, [we may] open up a second home.”

While the house was started by him and his wife, Coach Thompson views its growth as the group effort of many people in the community. From monetary donations to toy drives, over $120,000 and countless items, including diapers, baby formula and cribs, have been raised to support Bithiah’s House.

“People have donated just every single thing to this facility. It is beyond just me and my wife doing this,” Coach Thompson said. “The coolest thing is the hundreds of people involved in this with some capacity. Bringing awareness to this has been a really emotional experience to go through and just how kind people’s hearts are.”

Bithiah’s Boutique, a craft fair with about 40 handmade vendors, took place on Saturday, Nov. 19 in Chino Hills. All proceeds from the event went directly toward funding the facility.

By Cherie Chu, Editor-in-chief
Photo by Jeffrey Tran