Just southwest of San Jose, 50 miles from the honking taxi cabs and grandiose computer companies of California’s Silicon Valley, sits the town of Los Gatos. Wend your way through the neighborhoods and find streets with names like Cherry Blossom and Roseleaf. The ranch-style homes with neatly groomed rose bushes and carefully cultivated lawns go well with the peaceful, garden theme.
Cruise down Lavender Lane and find more of the same — until you get four houses down the block and notice a different house — a unique house — with brown trim. The front lawn is a hodgepodge of potted cacti, tropical flowers, and overgrown bushes. The porch includes a ramp leading to the door.
Step inside the world of Lois Ackerman Raap ’68.
Acacia, 15, lounges at the table chomping Doritos. Nathaniel, 20, wanders around the kitchen waiting to ask a question. Theo, 15, reclines with one shoe off in a leather armchair. Through the screen door onto the back patio, Lois hands out Popsicles to Vicente, 10, and Ruthie, her one-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter who follows her around like a puppy. Alyssa, 9, sits on a beanbag nearby, her labored breathing echoing in the background. The phone is ringing inside. The dogs are fighting outside. Raap calls it a party.
It’s an understatement to say that Raap wears many hats. She is a mother, grandmother, caretaker, counselor, teacher, cook, lawyer, guest lecturer, neighbor, sister, and wife — moving so fluidly from one role to the next that it almost goes unnoticed — until you realize just how many lives she has touched wearing all those hats.
“Not only has Lois provided a loving, Christian home to numerous foster children, but she also emulated Christ for her adopted and biological daughters,” writes Raap’s daughter, Rachel Bouman ’98.
Peter Raap, Lois’s husband and teammate, said there is no use in counting the number of kids who have lived under their roof. It’s beyond 40 — with nine as the highest in the house at once. He described his wife as bright, hyper-organized, and very high energy.
“She outruns me,” he said.
Born in Grand Rapids, Raap became familiar with challenges at a young age. Her father moved the family across the country — from Michigan, to Iowa, to Minnesota, to Illinois, to Washington — pastoring Christian Reformed churches. By her senior year of high school, Raap ended up in Bellflower, Calif., where she met Peter.
“Lois was looking for excitement, and I was looking for stability,” said Peter, chuckling.
They married, graduated from Calvin in 1968, and became teachers in California. Lois Raap soon realized her passion was helping children with disabilities, so she pursued a degree in special education from San Jose State University.
“Regular kids lack challenge,” said Raap. She views a special needs child as a puzzle, and her mind immediately starts working out how she will move the pieces.
Before boredom set in, the Raaps were off on their next adventure. They spent nine years teaching and working in Guam, where two biological daughters, Rachel and Sara, were born. During that time, they adopted Lani from the Philippines.
Eventally, the Raaps headed back to California. They signed up in 1987 to be foster parents. Then Acacia came into their lives. In addition to having fetal alcohol syndrome, heroin addiction, and attention deficit disorder, Acacia was diagnosed as being HIV positive. The Raaps decided this was God’s new challenge.
After Acacia, they took on eight more HIV-affected children. When friends, neighbors, and church members reacted with fear, keeping their distance from the Raaps because of ignorance about AIDS, they were devastated, but they persevered.
“If I’m doing what’s right, negative opinions don’t affect me,” Raap said. She clung to the story of Esther and believed God put her in a place of influence or “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
The “AIDS years” were followed by years of caring for other “medically fragile” children with spina bifida, bone marrow transplants, epilepsy, or emotional problems. Sometimes, mothers would live with the Raaps to learn how to care for their children.
One child, Alyssa, had been violently shaken by her father when she was only 12 days old. Her parents were both charged with child abuse and taken to jail. By the time Alyssa was placed with the Raaps, she had been diagnosed as deaf, blind and brain-atrophied. Raap worked on two fronts: nursing Alyssa at home and fighting for the rights of Alyssa’s mother, Staci Altemeyer, in jail.
Raap convinced the court to allow her to bring Alyssa to jail for visits. After a long investigation, Staci was eventually released, and her ex-husband was named the perpetrator.
This was just the beginning of Altemeyer’s journey. In weekly visits, Raap began to teach Altemeyer how to be a responsible mother. She became a Christian and a new member of the Raap family.
“I would hate to imagine what my life would be like if I had never met Lois,” wrote Altemeyer in nominating Raap for the award. “She truly was a light in my very dark life. I am now in a good marriage with one more child, and our home is full of a love that I felt for the first time when I went to the Raaps’ home.”
The Raaps mourned at Altemeyer’s side on April 30, 2004, when Alyssa passed away. Lois said she was eternally grateful knowing that Alyssa was made whole again in heaven. She joins several other children who have gone on from the Raaps’ home to be with the Lord.
Lois and Peter talk about how their own daughters have benefited from the foster care experience. They’ve learned a lot of “life lessons,” including how to deal with death and sickness.
Today, Rachel is an attorney in Sacramento. Sara is mother to Ruthie and is a real estate agent in Oregon. Lani is mother to Peter and is president of an adoption agency in Washington. All three went to Calvin.
In 2001 Raap, always the learner, graduated from law school. She smiles at the memory of taking the bar exam alongside Rachel and being sworn in together in Los Gatos. Today, Raap practices family law so she can better represent the rights of foster children and parents. That is in addition to caring for her ever-growing family.
The phone rings. This time they’re asking the Raaps to take two more girls. The family of five grows to seven.
That will probably change tomorrow.
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