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The Haylett family with their foster children. Courtesy | Shelly Haylett

Tim and Shelly Haylett of Hillsdale received the Con­gres­sional Coalition on Adoption Institute Angels Award for their work in foster care. 

The Angels in Adoption program gives an oppor­tunity for members of Con­gress to honor people in their dis­tricts who have done out­standing work with foster children or orphans. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg rec­og­nized the Hayletts as the 2020 Angels in Adoption from Michigan’s 7th Con­gres­sional District. 

The award includes meeting with members of Con­gress and other groups for round table dis­cus­sions. Shelly Haylett said the most important topic to her is House Bill 4420, which would provide mental health ser­vices for foster children much earlier in the process.

The couple also works for Court Appointed Special Advo­cates of Hillsdale. Tim serves on the board of directors, and Shelly is a vol­unteer who offers con­sis­tency for foster children and com­mu­ni­cates with the judge and child about what is best for the child’s living situation.

Heather Upton, the Exec­utive Director of CASA, said the Hayletts were incredibly deserving of the award.

“Kids come in shocked and con­fused,” Upton said. “Tim and Shelly welcome them in with open arms, and do whatever they can to make them feel safe and at home.”

Shelly Haylett said she got the idea to start fos­tering while selling MRI machines to hospitals. 

“We were able to see how the brain func­tions,” Haylett said. “Seeing that trauma is real and that it affects the brain impacted me.”

Haylett said she didn’t want to start fos­tering until her own children were out of the house so that she could “be all in.” The couple’s emphasis on full com­mitment makes perfect sense to their son, Matt Mueller.

“They’re not gifted with any amazing super­powers, but every­thing they do they do 100%,” Mueller said. “They’ve had their dif­fi­culties, but they per­sisted and put in the time to make sure they are pre­pared for dif­ferent, hard situations.”

The couple has fos­tered 37 children in the past three years as a short-term, emer­gency foster home. Haylett said they welcome children for as short as an overnight stay for as long as six months. 

“We look at each sit­u­ation and what’s best for the child,” Haylett said. “Are the parents pro­gressing? Is there a rel­ative they can live with? Does it make more sense to move them to a pre-adoptive home?”

Children from chal­lenging sit­u­a­tions come to their house on the lake, which the family has named “Camp Haylett.” The kids can run around outside, spend time in the water, or feed ducks and chickens at the nearby farm owned by Haylett’s oldest son.

Haylett said her three sons have always been sup­portive of their work in foster care. She said she remembers how excited one of her little foster girls was when Mueller gave her a stuffed llama for her birthday.

“I can’t resist giving them a birthday present, seeing them light up, seeing them become so much more open even after just three weeks at my parent’s house,” Mueller said.

The biggest chal­lenge for Haylett is saying goodbye, but she said her Catholic faith helps her trust that God works for good in all situations.

“You’re not doing it right if you’re not getting attached and falling in love with these kids,” Haylett said.

Haylett said she has learned so much from the foster children and hopes that other members of the com­munity can too. Voting, offering to babysit or tutor children, or being under­standing when a child is acting up in a store are all ways the Hillsdale com­munity can help.

“The strength of these kids is phe­nomenal,” Haylett said. “I’ve become a much better person and developed an incredible amount of patience by working with them.”