Naknek family has fostered more than 2 dozen children
The Angasan yard is packed with kids, some they have adopted, some they are fostering and some their biological grandchildren. Inside, Nola Angasan braids her granddaughter's wet hair. A group of the kids at the house just got back from the borough pool. Nola's husband, Steve Angasan, is at the beach with several more kids. They are setting a net for smelt.
The Angasan family has opened its doors to children who needed a place to stay for decades. Steve Angasan grew up in South Naknek, flying across the Naknek River every day to go to go to school. When he and Nola married and settled in Naknek in the 1970s, they opened their house as a bad-weather and sports home. If students from South Naknek could not get back home after school due to weather or sports schedules, they could stay with Steve and Nola.
In the early years, they often hosted six or seven kids for a night, and occasionally they hosted as many as 18. Over the years, the population of South Naknek has dwindled to 71 people, and the Angasans found themselves hosting fewer students.
"When all those kids grew up and were gone, and I think there's now only one more relative in South Naknek going to school, we decided to do foster care," said Nola Angasan.
They got involved with foster care eight years ago when a local Office of Children's Services worker came to the family with a request.
"She said 'Nola, you always have kids wherever you go. There's always a whole trail of kids behind you when you got to the school or to the pool. I need someone for this little boy, do you think you could be a foster parent?' I said, 'Well, if you need a place for the boy, I'll surely take him,'" Angasan related.
Since then, as the number of foster families in the Bristol Bay Borough fluctuates, the Angasans have been a constant. At times, they have been the only foster care family in the borough.
"If I don't, who's going to do it, and where are they going to go? Our Native children need to be here with Native homes. They have culture and they have subsistence foods. They need to be safe. They need to be loved. They need to grow up knowing that someone cared for them," said Nola Angasan.
School administration sees the positive impact of the Angasan's stable home.
"Nola and Steve Angasan are some of the most amazing individuals in our community," said Bill Hill, superintendent of the Bristol Bay Borough School District. "They are taking in foster children from up and down the [Alaska] Peninsula, and making a huge difference in their lives. The kids come to school and they are happy. The kids have structure in their lives. Nola and Steve make sure that they are well-fed and cared for in both the physical and the mental sense."
Right now, Nola and Steve are fostering six children and have adopted two. They have fostered more than 28 children altogether, some for only a few days, some for many months. Additionally, they assist their daughter, Dorena Angasan, who is fostering seven children and has adopted one.
Nola can tell a plethora of stories of difficult situations she has dealt with as a foster parent. Children that come into their home often carry with them emotional, behavioral and even physical challenges. In each situation, however, she emphasized that the relationships built with children have more than made up for taxing circumstances.
She recalled with a chuckle that when she and Steve married more than 40 years ago, she told him she wanted to open an orphanage.
Several months ago, he stood in their living room full of kids and asked, "So are you happy that you got your way?"
"What did I get my way with?" Nola asked. He reminded her she wanted an orphanage.
"I guess this is the closest I'm going to get, so yes I am happy," she said, still laughing.