She wears no decorations or medals; she’s quiet and unassuming in her nursing scrubs, but there is no question that Pat Neal is exceptional. For 13 years, Pat has been going above and beyond every day, as a therapeutic foster parent in Kennedy Krieger’s Therapeutic Foster Care program.
She shines when she talks about her kids, waving away praise for the important role she plays.
"Even the smallest thing you can do to help a kid is," she pauses, "it’s something bigger. A hug, a smile, a touch, a kind word."
Pat has fostered children with a variety of developmental disabilities and disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and posttraumatic stress syndrome.
She doesn’t gloss over the struggles that are inherent in therapeutic foster care parenting.
"At first it was frightening," says Pat. "But you learn from experience. No child’s the same." She describes some of the difficulties she had, particularly with a young boy she took in - he’s now a teenager and still living with her. "He was a handful," she admits, "But I’m glad I hung in there. He’s really grown into a nice young man."
That nice young man recently reconnected with his biological mother and Pat has been there every step of the way to support him in an extremely emotional and sometimes difficult time.
Though Pat doesn’t brag about it, her dedication and love for her foster children has helped them lead fuller lives.
"It makes me feel that I have made a difference," explains Pat, "to make it better for kids." She smiles and adds, "I think it was my calling."