When someone is asked whether they prefer the a.m. or the p.m. shift, their answer usually reveals personal character traits and offers insights about when and how they spend their time outside of work.
“I’m an a.m. person,” said Michael Billings, hub and spoke Program Specialist for Louisiana. “I'm up at 4 o'clock in the morning every day of the week. I get my quiet time in – drinking coffee and getting caught up on the news. By 5 o’clock, the wheels start rolling around here.”
That’s not just a figure of speech for Billings and his wife Pamela Rogers. Wheelchairs literally begin rolling at their home early and don’t stop until late in the evening, leaving friends and colleagues baffled at how they can cram all that living into their waking hours.
Billings, Rogers and Colt, Rogers’ biological son, have opened their hearts to receive the love of Kaci, Ryan and Dallas, three developmentally disabled children who have been intentionally gathered into this family by adoption. They’re joined periodically by a foster child who finds emergency safe sanctuary under their roof until a more suitable situation can be found. Malcom is their current foster child and has been with the family for the past three years.
All this love and devotion was put into motion by Billings and Rogers’ precious baby boy, Park. A micro preemie born at 26 weeks in 2012, Park weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces.
“While he was in the hospital, Park was on a feeding tube and a trach, and we'd learned, you know,” said Billings. “We took part in his care as much as we could. He was in the neonatal intensive care unit for 374 days before he passed away. That was kind of a rough period of time for us.”
Saddened by Park’s death and subsequent pregnancies that didn’t reach full term, the couple took a serious look at foster care. They were sitting in a Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services class to become certified foster parents when they heard an official discuss therapeutic foster care, supporting children with complex medical issues and disabilities.
“We both said, ‘That’s us,’” recalled Billings of the opportunity. “So we got certified and then we waited and waited.” One night at 10 o’clock they finally got a call.
“Ten-year-old Kaci came to us as a 13-month-old shaken baby who is now totally disabled and blind. Eight-year-old Ryan, who is nonverbal and has a congenital brain defect probably was near death four or five times. And 6-year-old Dallas needs a heart transplant and his outcome is unknown, right? He could go into heart failure at any time and that depends on whether he gets a transplant and how successful the transplant is. So nothing is clear-cut, but our thought process is we're going to give these children the best life they can have no matter what.”
They live in this organized chaos, as Billings calls it, in honor of their beloved Park.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” gushed Billings. “We don’t understand people when they say, ‘I couldn’t do what you do.’ If any one of their children would have been born with the same disabilities, then they would be doing it out of necessity. The only difference is we’re doing it voluntarily.”
This past year, the state of Louisiana honored the Billings-Rogers family with the 2022 Governor’s Outstanding Leadership in Disabilities Family of the Year award. The award is given in recognition of a family who has a member or members with a disability and who, by involvement in the community and mutual support of one another, are an example of courage, strength and unity.
The couple, who were married in 2010, are experts in time management and speak with one voice where the kids are concerned. They’re uncomfortable with accolades, but use the spotlight this award has offered in order to advocate for adoption. They encourage visiting AdoptUSKids for information about fostering and adopting a child.
Rogers, a microbiologist by trade, is an educator, teaching biology and microbiology at Baton Rouge area community colleges. As one of Louisiana’s program specialists under mission support, Billings refers to himself as a utility player. He handles audits, property management, fleet, travel, etc.
Billings is grateful for the work-life balance and support his TSA leadership give him.
“Federal Security Director (FSD) Arden Hudson and Assistant FSD-Mission Support Beverly Thompson allow
flexibility and quality life. “’Family First,’ is typically the answer that we get within our organization,” said Billings.
“I’ve known Mike since August 2005,” said Thompson. “I have witnessed firsthand the tragedy and triumph of Mike, Pamela and Colt’s story. Out of great sadness great joy has been obtained for this family and along the way they grew their family in what might seem like an unusual way. However, if you knew them you would quickly realize this is exactly what family is.
“Mike and Pamela’s unwavering commitment to help each child develop to their maximum potential is what they do while being the voice of not only the children they have adopted or fostered, but they have used their platform to advocate for all children across Louisiana and those who need someone to be their voice.”
Theirs is a strong and persistent voice that has reached the right audience.
“I first met Mike and Pam in 2016 when they led the initiative for legislation to increase resources and information about shaken baby syndrome, and I signed into law the Kaci Billings Act named after their daughter,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. “Since then, their family has expanded through fostering and adoption of children with disabilities. Their family exemplifies not only love but also service. Mike has served as one of my appointees on Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council and on the State Interagency Coordinating Council for EarlySteps. It was my honor to present this year’s GOLD Family of the Year Award to their family.”
Editor’s note: March is Disability Awareness Month. If the Billings/Rogers story has made you curious about exploring fostering or adoption, please visit AdoptUsKids.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs