In 2004, Bill Rossiter’s (MARK ’86) youngest child, Samantha, was diagnosed with leukemia. She was 7 at the time. She recovered after two years in treatment, but the experience transformed the Rossiter family.
At the time, Rossiter’s job as an Owens Corning marketing executive involved constant travel. The emotional toll of Samantha’s illness led him to rethink his time on the road. He left Owens Corning in 2007 to run his own marketing firm, Interrupt, so that he could spend more time at home with his wife Susan and four children — Andrew, Zachary, Mitchell and Samantha.
“I wasn’t there for my family, and I knew I needed to change something in my life,” Rossiter says.
He and Susan wanted to take back control of their lives. “And we decided, OK, we also need to start spending time giving back to the community,” he said.
The couple dusted off a plan they’d agreed on more than two decades earlier.
In 1985, when they were juniors in college — Bill at Notre Dame, Susan at Saint Mary’s College — they took a child development course together. They were engaged, and they talked about foster parenting as a way they could make a difference someday. That “someday” had arrived.
After 40 hours of classes and some upgrades to their home, the Rossiters were certified. Now, 11 years later, they’ve fostered 30 children. They typically host one or two at a time, and the children stay with them for a year to 24 months, on average.
Their first foster children were two African American sisters. One was just a month old; the other was 4. The Rossiters hadn’t had a baby in their home for years. There were many long nights spent in a rocking chair.
As they went along, they learned how to do everything from braiding hair to helping them through the challenges of adjusting to a new school.
Negative stereotypes about foster parenting have been another challenge. “People look at you differently,” Rossiter says. “Not everyone is accepting. Sometimes you get weird looks.”
But the journey has been primarily a compassion for some of the youngest and most vulnerable among us who desperately need people to care. Samantha was closest in age and spent the most time with the children, so she became like a big sister to many of them. She’s in college now, studying sociology and child psychology with the intention of pursuing social work.
All four of his kids have been impacted positively by the experience, says Rossiter. “I feel like our biological kids got just as much out of it as the kids we fostered.”
The influence flows both ways, naturally. The Rossiters’ first two foster children spent two years with the family. They still visit regularly and spend some holidays with them, and they still call them “Mama Sue” and “Daddy Bill” — a name that “will be on my tombstone,” Rossiter says, because so many people over the years have come to know him that way. The older sister, now a teen, hopes to go to art school.
When it comes to fostering, Rossiter says it is often the negative stories that make the news. But he believes that his own family’s experience — a virtuous cycle of love freely given — is much more the rule than the exception.
“Don’t let things you have in your head, or stereotypes, get in the way,” he says. “There are millions of kids in the foster care system, and they need somebody to love them and give them life lessons. And if you give them an open bed and an open heart, that’s all they need. It’s really that simple.”
Rossiter also mentors young people through teaching. Interrupt is based in northwestern Ohio near Toledo, so he’s able to return regularly to Mendoza to teach MBA and undergraduate courses in branding and marketing. He is also a judge for the annual McCloskey New Ventures Competition.
“Branding” can suggest something superficial, but for Rossiter, it means finding and grounding yourself in a greater cause. He speaks from experience.
“Every time I teach a branding course, I say that it’s really about a basic question: How can you impact the world?” says Rossiter, whose four biological children now range in age from 21 to 30. “I share that I’m a foster parent because my wife and I decided that we were going to make an impact one child at a time. That’s what we’re good at. And I challenge the students: ‘Find your unique way to impact the world, and join a company that has a community commitment.’”
Mendoza Business’ Ask More of Business™ feature is part of a series of stories highlighting Mendoza students and alumni who fulfill the College’s mission by using business as a force for good in society.