Couple provides home for special needs children others pass over
Like many families, this one started with an adoption.
All it took was one look and Misty Marksberry and her partner Laura Merideth knew Anastayja was theirs."We fell in love with this little beauty," Marksberry said, holding up her picture. Anastayja was deaf and blind, she had seizures and a number of other special needs. But Marksberry and Merideth only saw love.
After working for years to make the adoption official, the fairy tale turned tragic.
"A few weeks after getting her home we were told her condition was life-threatening and she had already lived passed her life expectancy, and do we want to keep her?" Marksberry recalled.
"Of course we chose to keep her," she said.
In December Anastayja's seizure disorder took her life. She had been living with Marksberry and Merideth less than a year.
"Before she passed we promised her that her legacy would continue and that we would forever take care of kids like her," Marksberry said.
That day the idea for "Annie's House" was born.
Now, the couple fosters six children, all with intensive special needs. They went through all the special medical training and Marksberry stays home, making the house colorful and kid-friendly despite the feeding tubes, meds and special equipment.
"We want to give them every opportunity to be a child like any other child," Marksberry said.
She even sews special dolls with feeding tubes attached, so her kids can see a doll just like them.
All of the children are in state custody except for one, so Fox 25 cameras could only show 4-year-old Zamaria's face. She was born addicted to drugs and has epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and major problems with her kidneys, intestines and airway.
Despite that, she's smiling and talking. The couple says she's flourished in the months since they started taking care of her.
"She was in the NICU for 5 months and then sent over to Betheny Children's Center, lived there her whole life until we took her," Marksberry said.
They are finalizing adoption papers to make her a permanent addition to their home. In fact, they plan to adopt every child who comes through their house if their parents no longer have rights.
"They just thrive better in a home," Marksberry explained, "they feel that love and they get parents hat want to work with them and they have siblings that are around them constantly and they want to achieve. And they can achieve."
That's an idea DHS agrees with, according to spokesperson Sheree Powell.
"We really do believe that children do best in a home in a family-like setting," said Powell.
With nearly 100 kids in state custody with special needs, they need more foster parents willing to take on kids like Anastayja and Zamaria.
"We do not have enough," said Powell, "and there are a lot of children right now who are living in residential facilities because there aren't enough homes for them."
That's why Marksberry and Merideth want to expand. They say they need a van to fit all the wheelchairs and equipment, and a larger home with room to raise more kids in a caring environment.
They want to make Annie's house a refuge for kids that other people often pass over. They say it's time-consuming and expensive to take care of kids with special needs and that many foster parents are overwhelmed at the idea. But because they know and accept the challenges they want to touch as many young lives as possible.
That way kids don't have to spend years living at a long-term hospital or facility.
"They could have parents that love them and a home that was ready for them," Marksberry said.
The couple plans to hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to help their expansion project. To learn more, visit their Facebook pages called Funding Annie's House, non-profit Anastayja's Closet which benefits families with special needs children and Annie's Amazing Journey, which is their tribute to their late daughter.