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A 'Lesson in Humanity' for Stars, Average Folks

February 03, 1985|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Alysa Stevens is 7 years old and she is a foster parent.

Alysa, a humanitarian who's been known to coerce her 3-year-old brother into emptying his piggy bank for starving Ethiopians, earns the $22 a month she pledged to a 6-year-old Filipino girl by doing household chores for her mother and father and for her grandparents, who also are foster parents.

Lifelong Dream

Nancy Wright, 49, is a travel agent in San Jose. She is single and has no children but last year became a foster parent. She chose to sponsor a child in Egypt, "hoping someday I would travel there" in fulfillment of a lifelong dream. She recently returned, bringing back memories of both archeological wonders and her visit with her foster child.

Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows are entertainers, parents and dedicated foster parents to Heba Sayed Ahmed, a 7-year-old Cairo girl, and an Indian girl, Jayashree Yashawante, 13. Foster parents for 31 years, they never ask for a child of a certain age or nationality, figuring, as Meadows said, "Maybe they'll give us somebody nobody wants."

Actress Shirley Jones and husband Marty Ingels have been foster parents for three years. Their child, Kariuki Njiru, an 11-year-old Kenyan, is what Ingels calls the link between Beverly Hills and reality, "a tremendous lesson in humanity for us . . . to realize that there are people living and surviving and even relatively happy who don't know about automobiles, big houses, fancy pets and show business careers."

The bond shared by some average folks and celebrities such as Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra, the Pat Boones, Neil Simon, Tatum O'Neal and the James Stewarts is that each sponsors one or more children in a Third World country through Foster Parents Plan.

Exchange Letters

Allen and Meadows regularly exchange letters with their children in which each tells a little about their everyday lives; the child's big news might be passing a school examination. "We don't tell them things such as, 'I'm starting a new series Tuesday,' " Allen said. "That would be meaningless." To Heba and Jayashree, they are just Mr. and Mrs. Steve Allen, Los Angeles, their foster parents.

Allen, who supports a number of causes and recently returned from Honduras with a group called World Neighbors, said, "The only thing noteworthy about our connection with (Foster Parents) is that we have had the quite rare pleasure of meeting three of our foster children."

In 1958, in Italy, the Allens and two of their three sons visited foster child Roberto, 15, whom Allen had been sponsoring before his marriage to Meadows in 1954. Roberto's father had died in the war and his mother was hospitalized; the child lived in an institution but, for a few days that summer, Rome was his, in the embrace of his American family.

At one time, the Allens sponsored a little Vietnamese boy, Nguyen van Thong, who was brought over to meet Steve Allen when Allen was the subject for a "This Is Your Life" television show. The child later spent some weeks with the Allens. She recalled: "All he wanted to do was watch Western movies. I took him to Beverly Hills to buy a Western outfit, hat, boots--here was this little Vietnamese dressed up like John Wayne."

Meadows said she is still "haunted" by the image of his face, bathed in tears, peering from the window of his departing airplane. He was an orphan who'd been found by French soldiers wandering in the jungle and, she said, "I was the only mother he'd ever known, and Steve was the only father."

Nguyen van Thong and Allen were to meet again, five years later, in Vietnam. But then the years passed and they lost contact. Within the last year a letter of apology arrived at the Allen home from a man who had met Nguyen van Thong in a refugee camp in Thailand. Unfortunately, Allen said, the man was "a damnably forgetful chap" and by the time he remembered to forward to them their former foster child's address it was no longer valid.

So, Allen said, "He's just a question mark."

'A Little Humbling'

In Hong Kong, the Allens visited their foster daughter, Chan Lui; the child's mother had died of tuberculosis and she lived with her father and two brothers in one room of a concrete block apartment complex. "It was a little bit humbling," Meadows said, but knowing they were doing something made her feel "a little less guilty."

Meadows, who was born in China, the daughter of an Episcopalian missionary, said: "I consider what we are doing through Foster Parents Plan like missionary work. It is helping children and I don't think there is anything more important. And, intellectually, I know if we can help it's one less family that's anti-American and one less family that's going to die."

Meadows has a goal--to organize for FPP a budget cruise to the Far East so that American sponsors from all over the United States might have an opportunity to meet their foster children and "they, too, will become missionaries."

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