Tragedy befalls an amazing foster family

Photo: The nine children of Curtis and Joie.

By Dan Shufelt

I met Curtis four years ago. He came to Arizona Helping Hands to receive beds, cribs, clothing, diapers, sports equipment and more to help his family. His daughter’s life had been tragically stolen in a moment, and his FIVE grandchildren needed grandpa’s love and safety. Curtis took in his grandchildren despite the fact that as a schoolteacher he had limited resources. AHH filled some of the void with material support while Curtis and his wife Joie piled on the love and put their own grief aside to support the children… a minor detail to add, when his grandchildren came home to grandma and grandpa they joined the FOUR foster children already in the house, creating a family of NINE children under the age of 13.

Through this unspeakable tragedy, a family was forged in love. As we’ve had the chance to interact over the years, I am constantly amazed at how the family interacts, how they play, learn and love each other. It is a wonder to behold.

We’ve all faced real challenges in 2020. Think of sheltering in place and homeschooling nine children. Joie and Curtis took on that challenge and, as is their history, they grew from it, creating new ways of interacting and learning.

The fire on June 12 destroyed the family’s home.

It always seems to be the case that some people and families have more thrown at them than others. Is it because of their strength of character? Is it just bad luck or relative to what is happening in the world? No one can answer that, but for this family, tragedy struck again last week.

On Thursday, June 11, fire broke out in the family home. Thanks to the smoke detectors required in the foster care home inspection process, the entire family escaped safely without injury or worse. Curtis and Joie packed up the family of 11 and relocated to a hotel where they will be living in three suites for the next month while the insurance company and contractors carry on the next steps. The couple hoped to return to the family home the next day to retrieve items since they were unable to get out with anything but the clothing on their backs. In the early morning hours of Friday, June 12, the fire raged again, consuming the entire family home, all of the belongings, every material piece of their life, gone.

When I saw Curtis and Joie on Friday night, just hours after fire had raged through the family home, I saw a resilience in the two of them that I have come to recognize. Despite these horrific circumstances, they were still functioning, still calmly reassuring the children, still loving as only an amazing family can despite all odds. They will survive this tragedy. They will pick up broken pieces and restart.

Along with the items we have provided, the Arizona Helping Hands team will continue to do all we can to help these amazing people. Their family includes not just nine children and two amazing adults, but every one of us at Arizona Helping Hands.

AHH has set up the “CJL Fund” to help Curtis, Joie and their nine children rebuild and move forward. Arizona Helping Hands, 3110 E. Thunderbird Rd, #100, Phoenix, AZ 85032. Online donations: ( 2.5% credit card processing fee deducted from all on-line donations), checks or cash can be dropped off or mailed to our address. Please notate CJL Fund on all donations.

Dan Shufelt is President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the organization and donate today at Contact Dan at Follow Dan’s blog at

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