Our People: Q&A with Rachel Rosenfeld and Alesa Johnson

Foster parents

Rachel Rosenfeld and Alesa Johnson seem like they were destined to meet and it is clear that they make one another stronger. Together they have taken leaps into self-realization, parenthood and marriage.

Where are you from?
Rachel Rosenfeld: I was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va. Alesa and I lived within a few miles of each other in Virginia many years ago, but didn’t know each other. We both independently moved to Charlotte in 1987. We didn’t meet for many more years.
Alesa Johnson: I’m originally from Illinois. I’ve lived in Charlotte longer than any other place. So, I consider this my home.

How did you two meet? How long have you been together?
AJ: We met at an Elementary School where Rachel was the school psychologist and I was the computer teacher.
RR: I really didn’t know that I was gay at the time. I would find myself singing to myself as I walked past her computer classroom. I was in my late 30’s at the time. I’m a really slow learner. Alesa proposed to me the day that marriage equality became legal in North Carolina. We were at Food Truck Friday when we heard the news. Alesa said to me, “Now will you marry me?” She then said, “That wasn’t very romantic, was it?” I agreed that it wasn’t. She then said, “You want me to get down on one knee, don’t you.” I agreed again. And then she got down on one knee, in the rocks and dirt, surrounded by countless strangers. She’s usually a very private person. I was shocked. We were married on May 3rd. Our current foster son served as our videographer.

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When did you two make the decision to begin fostering children? How was the process of beginning fostering? How difficult was it to get through the approval process?
RR: I actually made the decision to foster in 1986 when I had my first job in a residential treatment facility. I decided then that I could make a difference with one kid that I couldn’t with the 64 in the treatment facility. I got licensed 10 years later. Becoming licensed was easy for me. I was a school psychologist. The act of actually parenting, though, wasn’t quite so easy. I remember that I’d been asked to write an advice article for our agency newsletter about the time that I got my first kid. He was 13. He had been with me for about three days when I asked him one evening if he’d brushed his teeth and found out that he didn’t have a toothbrush. It was a few more days before it occurred to me to ask him if he’d done his homework. Here I was a school psychologist who preached to parents about the importance of routines and homework, and I hadn’t remembered to practice what I preach. I ended up calling my article, “Don’t Do What I Do, Do What I Say: Advice from a School Psychologist and Newbie Foster Parent.” I think becoming a foster parent has made me a much better and more realistic school psychologist more than being a school psychologist has made me a good foster parent.
AJ: Rachel was already a foster parent when I met her, so I went through the training and we got licensed as a couple.
RR: When Alesa and I first got together, we were really afraid to tell our agency that we were gay. We agonized over the decision to come out. Our agency was super supportive. The funny thing is, my first foster kid was gay. He came out waaaaaay before I did.

How many kids have you fostered so far?
AJ: Our current kid is number 15. We’ve fostered all but Rachel’s first together. The longest a kid stayed was for six years. The shortest stay was for three weeks while a kid’s mother got housing. At one point, we had two foster kids and two bio kids at four different high schools. Rachel and I were each working at different elementary schools at the time, so our family attended different schools. We’ve fostered gay, straight, bisexual, and trans kids.

What has being a foster parent brought to your lives together?
RR: We’ve learned a lot fostering together. Many of our kids come with baggage and will triangulate if we let them. Honestly, in many ways, it was easier to foster as a single mom because there was no opportunity to manipulate/triangulate. However, I definitely prefer fostering together. I think we’re a really good team. I tend to be more professional and Alesa tends to be more real. I think that we really complement each other and our family is much better than either one of us is alone. Some of the things we’ve learned include never making decisions unilaterally. Our catch phrase whenever a kid asks one of us something is “I hear your request. We’ll consider it and get back to you.” Our current kid now says, “Will you consider this and get back to me?” when he wants something. We’ve learned that it’s important to do things together as a family, but it’s just as important that we do things as a couple. Taking respite, where the kid goes to another home for a weekend, has been vital for us.
AJ: I think that we’ve learned that we have two different parenting styles that work very well together. We make a great team and we’re great problem solvers. I think that it makes us appreciate each other in different ways than we would have if we weren’t parents. I think it’s made us more understanding of other people and other people’s situations.

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What do you like to do together for fun?
RR: We love to travel. A few years ago, we took a two-week trip across the country with one of our foster kids in a Volkswagen Beetle. We love the beach and try to go every year. Last summer, we took our honeymoon to Hawaii. While we’ve done lots of traveling together, that was without a doubt, the best trip ever!
AJ: We go to the movies and go for walks. We do a lot of things around Charlotte, mostly when we can take the kids with us. We go out to eat. We love to go to festivals and Pride in different cities. We get together once a month with ladies in our neighborhood and play Bunco. We like to spend time with our grandkids in Charlotte and D.C.

Would you rather have the power to fly or stop time?
RR: Fly.
AJ: If I could go back in time, I’d rather do that, but I’d take flying over stopping time.

Favorite snack?
RR: Ice Cream; Ben and Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio.
AJ: Ben and Jerry’s Everything But The.

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know, or might be surprised to find out?
We took American Sign Language together at CPCC and we’ve been in the Oval Office.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.

One Reply to “Our People: Q&A with Rachel Rosenfeld and Alesa Johnson”

  1. Great interview! If I was a foster child, I would want Rachel and Alesa to be my foster parents.

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