By Alexa D’Angelo
When Cathi Nye found out a little boy with cerebral palsy in her special education class would have to leave because he was being shuffled to a different group home, she knew she had to do something.
She went home and talked to her husband, Jim Nye, and they quickly decided to bring the 5-year-old boy — John — home.
Three weeks later, he was dropped off at the Nye family home with all his stuff.
A few years later, the Ojai Valley couple adopted a girl who had been John’s foster sister — Frances, who also has cerebral palsy.
Cathi and Jim said they’ve always had an affinity for helping people, and always kept their home and their arms open — which is why Congresswoman Julia Brownley honored them with the “Angels in Adoption” award earlier this month.
“When I met John and his father, Jim, and heard their story and the extreme compassion that Cathi and Jim have for children in our community, I was completely moved,” Brownley, D-Westlake Village, wrote in an email. “They have been amazing parents and compelling advocates for our foster and adoptive youth, as well as for individuals with disabilities.”
The Angels in Adoption program is the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s signature public awareness event that shines a spotlight on the “unspoken heroes” in the communities who have worked to enrich the lives of foster children and orphans in the United States and abroad.
John and Frances are now 22 years old and living on their own, but often visit Cathi and Jim on weekends — they even have dinner as a family every Thursday in Ventura.
Jim and Cathi have two older children, as well, Cassandra and Calvin. A few years after Calvin was born, he was diagnosed with autism, Cathi said that is what propelled the Nye family into special education and special needs advocacy.
Cathi is a principal with the Ventura County Office of Education, a position she’s been in for 16 years. Before that, she was a special education teacher with the Ventura Unified School District. Jim currently works as an in-home supportive services care provider for persons with disabilities and medical issues. Before that, he served as a special education teacher in Ventura County for 10 years.
“I became a substitute teacher to help Cathi, and one day I was in her class and this little boy who was really unsteady and did sort of a toe-walk and then fell into you was drooling all over himself, and me,” Jim said of John. “I later asked the aid if there was a cloth or something that he usually had to help with the drool, and she said no, that he just didn’t know how to kiss because he grew up in the group home.”
Jim went home and told Cathi that if John ever needed a home that they could take him in.
Three weeks later Cathi found out he would be moving and leaving her class. Jim said to bring him home. A few months later, they had official guardianship of John.
John had been with Frances in the group home and the two were close, Cathi and Jim said they wanted to keep a sense of familiarity and normalcy for John so they asked for him to have visits with Frances. The visits were semi-regular for a while and then sporadic when Frances moved to a different group home and was on track to be adopted, but it fell through.
After the adoption fell through when Frances was 14, Jim and Cathi found out and asked to take Frances to their home for Christmas.
“When we were getting ready to take her back (to the group home) she was sobbing at the breakfast table and said ‘I’ve never been with a family at Christmas and I always wondered what it was like,'” Cathi said. That’s when she and Jim decided to adopt Frances.
After Frances was officially adopted, John wanted to be officially adopted too, since Jim and Cathi only ever had guardianship of him. When John turned 18, he signed his orders to be adopted by Jim and Cathi.
“Then we legally had both of them,” Cathi said with a smile.
Brownley met Jim and John two years ago at the opening of Castillo del Sol, an affordable housing community run by the Housing Authority of the city of Buenaventura focused on serving adults with mental or developmental disabilities or individuals who are chronically homeless. The Nye family was a big advocate for the opening of the community — and John lives there now.
“When deciding who to nominate for the Angels in Adoption award, I look for individuals who stand out and go that extra mile,” Brownley said. “They stepped up when these kids needed a stable, loving family. They took action when they saw an opportunity to help a child in need.”
Frances is taking classes at Ventura College to be an interpreter — she’s fluent in Spanish and enjoys school.
Jim and Cathi said John does well on his own — he’s working on applying for jobs now.
“He does have a problem with the phone though,” Jim said with a laugh. “He calls us both 10 times a day. But we always answer.”
John and Frances went with Cathi and Jim to Washington, D.C. for the award ceremony earlier this month, the first time they had been there.
“We had a great time,” Jim said. “We saw the Mall, all the monuments. The kids loved it. It was really fun.”
John will sit and show anyone pictures on his iPad of his niece, his sister’s wedding, his mom and dad at the family’s old house and his trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this month. He very clearly loves his family and wants to show them off, especially his 8-month-old niece. He doesn’t stop smiling when he’s talking about his family.
John uses adjectives like “great,” “good” and “best” to describe his parents.
“Amazing,” John said. “They’re amazing.”