Lieutenant Bruce Holt
Seaside Police Department, Oregon
Do you have your hankie? Good, you might just need it for this one as there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the interview.
When we met Chief Dave Hamm of the Seaside Police Department in Oregon, we asked him if he had an officer who had helped in the community. He immediately brought up Lieutenant Bruce Holt and his wife Dana. The chief talked up how Bruce and Dana had fostered children for years and would always have babies with them at the kids’ baseball games, church, and other social events. The chief had us at “babies,” and a week later we had the opportunity to interview Bruce and Dana and learn about how they opened their home and family to younger children and infants who needed a temporary or, sometimes, a forever family. By the end of the interview, a box of Kleenex had appeared on the table between the four of us as there had been some laughter and some tears as they shared their big hearts.
Bruce has served his community as a law enforcement officer for 35 years at Seaside Police Department. Seaside is located on a stretch of Highway 101, which runs along the western coast of the U.S., about 80 miles northwest of Portland. It’s known for its gorgeous beaches and beautiful forests. This is where Bruce and Dana grew up. Where they fell in love and have celebrated 39 years of marriage, raised six kids and now have 12 grandchildren. Theirs is a family that grew beyond the traditional beginnings through acts of service to those most vulnerable.
Bruce was always the officer holding the babies when they were on a call and needed to bring in the Department of Human Services, carrying them through the office and caring for them until DHS arrived to place the kids in temporary care. He found that he wasn’t content to just care for them while waiting for DHS, he wanted to do more, provide a family for them, however temporary it may be. He decided he wanted to start fostering the kids. I can only imagine trying to work through your mind the practicalities of this, questioning yourself and if you are up to it, if you believe your family is up to it. This was not a small task Bruce was asking of himself, and he knew that he would need Dana to be 100% on board, willing to dedicate her time, her energy, and to share their family with these kids. I honestly don’t know how the two of them came to their decision together, only that they did and there are so many little ones that benefited from it.
They talked it over with their three kids, who at the time were 10, 8 and 6 years old, as they knew that If they were going to do this, the whole family needed to be on board. With the agreement of the kids, they submitted their request to become foster parents. Before they were even approved, they had a baby placed with them and with that, 26 years ago, they opened their home to their first foster child, a baby they would come to adopt as their fourth child, Brandon.
When Brandon was placed with them, he had unexplained developmental delays. He didn’t didn’t walk until he was 3, didn't say his first word until he was 18 months old, and they were told they should expect to care for him for the rest of his life. They are proud to share that today he lives independently and works as a security guard.
Brandon seemed to hit developmental milestones alongside his younger foster sister, Ashley. There appeared to be a correlation between the two — Brandon began thriving when Ashley was with him, and when Ashley’s biological parents’ rights were severed, Bruce and Dana adopted her as well. Little Ashley came to them one day while Dana was at work. When Dana picked her up, her head was very flat on the back side from being in her car seat so much. That evening, they were out with the kids, including Ashley, when one of their friends, a fellow officer at Seaside P.D. said, “Bruce, you know who this is, don’t you? That’s the baby that was in the car seat when we did that bust.”
Bruce and Dana went on to adopt one more child, Christian. They had fostered Christian before he was returned to his mother. But, ultimately, his mother, who had other children as well, was not up to the task of caring for Christian and terminated her rights to him. His fisherman father also was unable to care for him and terminated his rights too. The Holts were happy to expand their family to include Christian.
Years later, when Christian was playing a baseball game, his biological older brother was also there. His biological father approached Dana and Bruce and asked if he could introduce the two boys. Dana asked Christian if he wanted to meet his brother Chandler, and Christian agreed. From that day on, the boys would spend time at each other’s houses and established a strong, loving relationship.
Bruce and Dana continued fostering young children and infants as they felt that, based on their own family and their experience, these were the kids they could help the most. They found themselves taking in more and more drug babies, so Dana got additional training to better care for them. With an estimated 15% of all babies born in the United States being exposed to drugs while in the womb, the need for this type of care is high and, as you can imagine, many of these babies end up in foster care as their mothers and families are unfit or unable, or both, to care for them.
Bruce and Dana typically had eight to nine kids at a time — a mix of biological, adopted and foster kids making up that number. Each and every little one who came into their home became part of their family. It may have been for just a few days, a few weeks or months, but while they were fostered by the Holts, they were treated no differently than any of the other kids. For each kid, Bruce and Dana just made some more space in their hearts to encompass them.
They also built more space in their house, which was originally a two-bedroom, one-bath home with an attic that was used for the master bedroom. They added another 1,800 square feet – with the help of Dana’s dad, who was a general contractor – and ended up with three bedrooms on the main floor, a large room upstairs for the boys and another bonus room for the family. With a big backyard, their home grew in pace with the family, and to this day continues to welcome the kids back.
Over two decades, they fostered 72 kids, and adopted three of them. Each time they opened their home, their family, and their hearts to these little ones with the idea that they were there to serve the child, to give them the family that they needed right then. They were the children’s voices and would advocate to have them receive the care they required. For Bruce and Dana, knowing that they were making a difference is what kept them going. They liken it to touching generations – each child they cared for was exposed to a healthy family and, because of that, those children could go on to share that experience with their kids.
As Dana said, some of these kids had never seen a dining table – this everyday piece of furniture that brings families together was something they had never experienced. It’s these small things that the rest of us take for granted that Bruce, Dana and their kids were able to give to their adopted and foster kids. My heart squeezes for these kids and overflows for the Holts.
Like throwing a pebble in a pond, the impact is immediate, but the ripples carry the message further, expanding and growing with each new ring. Recently Dana asked her kids if they ever regretted having foster kids in their lives, if they felt that their childhood was cut short because of it. The kids said it was their experiences growing up that made them the parents they are today, that they were thankful that their family was allowed to grow through service and care of others, and were grateful that their parents shared the family with all 72 of the children they cared for.
Today, their kids are all grown up. The oldest, Erin, is 36, Eric, 35, Nicole, 32, Brandon, 26, Ashley, 25, and Christian, 21. These kids all won the parent lottery when they got Bruce and Dana as their mom and dad. Their hearts are bigger than many and their service to others is matched by few.
“A lot of great little faces came through our door,” Bruce shared with us.
Bruce and Dana truly demonstrate what it means to prioritize family and community over self. Their willingness to aid children, to care for them and provide them love and a family, makes them rock stars in my eyes.
Thank you, Bruce and Dana, for being the amazing individuals that you are!
Story by Tricia Simmons, Photographs by Charlie Simmons, Editing by Kevin Frazzini
The Holts with 9 of their grandchildren celebrating Easter 2019. Photo contributed to BAA by the Holt Family.
To learn more about drug babies, or “Infants with Prenatal Substance Exposure,” here is an article from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare: https://ncsacw.samhsa.gov/resources/substance-exposed-infants.aspx
If you have questions about foster care, this video may help to answer your questions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on8r5TXKfYY