When most people think of retirement, they think of slowing down.
But Nydia Mendez and Jazmine Irizarry decided it was the perfect time to expand their family. The couple, who have been together for 25 years, began fostering children in 2013.
Nydia, a former foster care nurse, knew how important stability was for youth in foster care. Both she and Jazmine were certain that they could provide security and safety for anyone who walked into their Upper West Side home.
The first child they fostered, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism and developmental delays and was legally blind. They fell in love with him right away.
“I was in love with him,” Jazmine said, “and there was nothing that was going to keep me from him.”
Isaiah was 14 months old when he entered the foster care system due to medical neglect. Though the couple initially considered fostering Isaiah, they could sense that he was part of their family and made the adoption official in 2017. He is now a thriving 10-year-old who will enter sixth grade next year.
Their relationship with Isaiah inspired the couple to open their home once again to 7-year-old twins Daniel and Andrew. When Nydia and Jazmine began caring for Daniel and Andrew in the summer of 2017, they realized that the brothers did not know foundational educational concepts. Both of them were held back a grade.
“Educationally, they were so behind,” Nydia said. “I really taught them. Andrew did not know his ABCs consistently. They didn’t know how to read. We worked on learning basic math. I really pushed them and they were receptive because they needed the nurturing.”
Now 11, the boys have become avid readers and consume everything from sci-fi to mystery and graphic novels.
What the twins really needed was a supportive adult to spend time with them, Nydia and Jazmine said. The couple started reading bed time stories to the twins when they first entered their home, and the boys were so excited. To Nydia and Jazmine, the concept of a bedtime story was simple but to the boys, it was one of the most exciting parts of their day.
“It’s been so rewarding to see how happy they are. It’s like something was lifted off their backs,” Jazmine said. “We can see their behavior calm down. They’re very affectionate. Knowing that we can provide for them things that they haven’t experienced before – theater, amusement parks. These things are so simple but people don’t realize that not everyone has access.”
The twins have been to Legoland, Six Flags, the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and have visited Florida and Canada. The family also lives a block from Central Park and frequently explore the park’s grounds.
Isaiah, Daniel, and Andrew will be attending different middle schools next year to explore their desired interests. In addition to creating a nurturing home life, Nydia and Jazmine are fierce advocates for their children’s education.
Isaiah will attend a District 75 middle school but he requires an institution that can cater to both his Autism and vision impairments. It has been a struggle for Nydia and Jazmine to find the right place for Isaiah to thrive, but the couple will keep touring schools in the city until they find the perfect fit.
Ultimately, both Nydia and Jazmine want what every parent wants for their child.
“We hope they grow up to be young men, respectful, productive, get a nice job, and a good education,” Nydia said. “We explain to them every job is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor or president of a company.”