Above all, Kyle Forti wanted to be known as a husband, a father and a foster dad.
And as she prepares to bid farewell to her husband at a service, Hope Forti told Colorado Politics that Kyle's many friends and those whose lives he touched can best honor his memory by giving some thought to helping with foster care.
Kyle Forti, a Colorado Springs political consultant, was one of five people killed in a helicopter crash in Kenya on March 3. He would have turned 30 on Aug. 31.
“That would be Kyle's ask to people, that we can be involved with people who are not like us and give up some of our precious, quiet, perfectly styled life,” said Hope, who with her husband fostered four children over four years and founded a nonprofit to support foster families.
“He would want me to use this as a chance to ask people to think about it, to examine foster parenting. Lots of people shouldn't. But if we had a small percentage of people who could look at it and say, 'Can I do this and do it worthy of a child without self-interest taking over?' then we would ask them to try it.”
A memorial service for Kyle Forti is set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace and St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St., in Colorado Springs, with a reception to follow at the same location. (Forti's family rescheduled the service, which had originally been set for Thursday afternoon, due to travel restrictions and hazards in the wake of a blizzard that blanketed much of Colorado.)
Hope is encouraging friends to bring memories and photos of Kyle to share, and she emphasized that children are welcome at the service.
“It’s really important to our family that we include children and we’re honest with them,” she said in a video describing the planned memorial.
“I'll say, in lieu of flowers, please attend a foster parent information session. Just think about it," she told Colorado Politics. "What do we have other than children in this world? We don't know how to love without learning from children, without learning how to bend ourselves to children that are not easy to love.”
She’s also urging friends to donate to Foster Together Colorado, the nonprofit the couple founded in 2016 to support foster parents. (A memorial project in the works would recruit “more good people” to be involved in foster care. Sign up at fostertogether.co for updates.)
Hope said her husband’s work as a co-founder of Denver-based D/CO Consulting and manager of statewide and congressional campaigns took a back seat to his family role, including as father to their 5-year-old son, Maximus.
“He was going to take this one last trip and then stay home,” she said. “He's been loving this time post-election with Max, they're just best friends. He just really wanted to pay attention to his kid and listen to him as a human being.”
She added: “Foster care shows you the privilege of being able to focus on stuff like that rather than, ‘Are we going to break a window today?’ or ‘Are we going to have a rage and leave school four times in a week because someone corrected our fractions?’”
Talking about foster care and how much it meant to Kyle, Hope said, “is the only way I can make sense of it now and try to make it good.”
“We're seeing so much of this generational cycle of children who don't feel secure and loved and attached and don't grow up into loving families,” she said. “The last conversation we had before he left was talking about how we want to get started with that again.”
Also killed in the helicopter crash were Americans Anders Asher Jesiah Burke, Brandon Howe Stapper and David Mark Barker, and the Kenyan pilot, Mario Magonga. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Hope said the couple found out she was pregnant shortly before he left for Kenya and were planning to start fostering teenage mothers and their babies when he returned.
“We felt like it would fit to have either two babies in the house or two pregnancies in the house. We've always felt we have extra love to give and can always adjust to have extra time to give, and energy. That’s what it takes.”
In addition to fostering four children, starting with a pair of sisters soon after Max was born, the Fortis have volunteered as Court-Appointed Special Advocates of the Pikes Peak Region and lately were providing respite care for more than a dozen foster families.
“We've been talking so much about why this matters to us,” she said. “It's because having seen what we've seen, what happens to a child when they're not loved and nurtured, it's no longer this thing for special people to do foster care. To us, it's like we have to. It's the bare minimum. We can't know what we know and not do it anymore.”
Hope said they continually were struck by the chasm between their comfortable life “and this deep neediness — not just poverty of money, it’s poverty of relationships. That is what we can give through foster care, trying to offer support when a parent is getting close to the edge of abuse or neglect and making sure it doesn't get there.
“We can't fix it all. We're not going to feel like we’re doing enough, ever, but we have seen it, and we can't not see it anymore.”
In their work advocating for foster-care providers — including testimony before committees at the legislature and a regular podcast — Hope likes to make a point about “all these adults in Colorado and here's this tiny little sliver involved in foster care. If we could only double that sliver, we could do so much.”
It comes down to a “deficit of attention,” she said.
“It's not just these over-burdened case-workers, it's a deficit of attention from a parent or a parent-like figure who stays and stays and stays and sticks around. That's what parents do, they stay. The system is not going to get better if we just throw in more and more professionals who are there for a half-hour visit or a therapy session once a week.
“The truest therapy for these children is a stable family that validates their love for their birth family, and to stay with the child no matter what comes next. At least, as foster parents, we can stay and say, ‘I'm not going to just leave you.’”
UPDATE: The memorial service for Kyle Forti was rescheduled from Thursday afternoon to Sunday afternoon due to the effects of a winter storm that restricted travel across Colorado.
The service is set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace and St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St., in Colorado Springs, with a reception to follow at the same location.