After adopting five children, Chip West gives advice to potential foster parents
by Ingrid Rodriguez
photography by Alexandra Arkley
After getting home on a Monday night, Raymond “Chip” West III hears giggling. The children should be asleep, but when he opens the door and looks up, he finds his four-year-old sons, Chase and Eli, at the top of the staircase. He looks around the room and realizes that there is water all over the foyer, the furniture, the carpet and the hardwood floors. “With the water bottle in his hand, Eli says, ‘It’s Chase.’ Like, really, kid,” Chip says. “And Chase retorts back, ‘It’s Eli.’”
Chip, the assistant vice president of capital planning, facilities and space management at the University of La Verne, is the proud father of five adopted African American children. He and his deaf partner Eddie Peigneux are registered domestic partners in the state of California and have been together for 19 years. “One of the things that we both really connected with is that we both wanted a family,” Chip says. “We were just waiting for the right time.” They chose to adopt because both of their mothers were foster parents. “I love being a dad. I absolutely love it. There is no better decision that I’ve made in my entire life than being a dad because it is so transformative,” Chip says.
Cultural home life and family
Chip and Eddie have adopted five children. Taylor, 5, is the oldest. Eli and Chase are 4 years old. “All those three boys, since they’re all within kind of roughly nine months of each other, are very close,” Chip says. Chip and Eddie thought that three children was enough.
While Chip was at California State University, Sacramento meeting with 30 colleagues from across the country in July of 2012, he received a call from his social worker, who told him that Chase’s mother had given birth to a girl. Since Chip and Eddie had already adopted Chase, they were the first parents who got contacted when the baby was born. After 10 to 15 minutes of texting Eddie back and forth, they decided to adopt the girl. Chip immediately changed his flight and rushed home. He was able to see Chloe, who is now 3 years old, the next day.
In October 2013, Chip received another call from his social worker, who told him that Eli’s mother had given birth to a boy. Chip and Eddie had again decided that four children was enough, but since they adopted Chase’s sibling, it was only fair to adopt Eli’s sibling as well. Ethan is 1 year old and the last of the West-Peigneux children. Their household is a duo-language environment because the children speak English and can communicate with Eddie through American Sign Language. Chip and Eddie try to do many things with their children such as going to Disneyland or to parks. “That’s my secret. If I can tire them out, then I get a nap,” Chip says. They also enjoy watching Disney movies as a family.
Spreading the word
Since they are no longer adopting children, Chip and Eddie are involved with a program that recruits potential foster parents. “There are a lot of kids out there that are available,” Chip says. “I always try and make sure that people are aware of that, to help them see that adoption’s an option.” Chip is a foster parent ambassador through a human development and youth service organization called Permanence and Safety-Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (PS-MAPP).
Through this program, Chip and Eddie speak to potential foster parents about the process and their adoption experience. They also give advice and describe the pros and cons of becoming foster parents. “There is a real need for people to open up their homes and hearts to kids that through no fault of their own have had a pretty terrible upbringing whatever that is, and there’s a real opportunity to make a difference in that way,” Chip says. In early April, he organized a panel for 200 prospective foster parents to take place in the fall.
There are more children in the Los Angeles County foster system than there are in any other foster system in the United States. In 2013, the Children’s Bureau listed that there were 402,378 children in the foster system throughout the United States. In California there were 58,699 children in the foster care system and 19,899 of them were in Los Angeles County.
Chip grew up in Winchester, Va., with his younger brother Christopher. His parents divorced when he was in middle school. His dad remarried and later had two more children, Colby and Chris. Chip was influenced by his parents’ strong work ethic. His mother worked for a doctor’s office, and his father worked in quality control for a manufacturing company. He describes his mom as the “glue” of her office because she was dependable and did anything that was asked of her even though it was not in her job description. “That was a big part of our family kind of growing up,” Chip says. “We always did things the right way. We always gave it our all.”
As a child, Chip was involved in theater and choir. He also sang almost every Sunday at Valley Avenue Church of Christ. “That really gave me a lot of confidence growing up because I was precocious, but it helped channel my energy,” Chip says. While attending John Handley High School, Chip became extremely comfortable with performing in front of an audience. He later became involved with the drama club, school plays and the show choir. “Anything that was an opportunity to connect with other people, I was always involved,” Chip says.
Chip attended George Mason University and graduated with a bachelor of science in education specializing in sports medicine in 1995. During his time at George Mason University, Chip was a chapter leader of Sigma Nu fraternity, a resident assistant and an athletic trainer for several sports teams. He also worked at the freshmen center, a program located in the Campus Center. As a student worker, Chip worked on many projects such as the first-year experience program. He began working full-time as the program coordinator and became in charge of planning for orientation, welcome week and parents’ weekend.
Chip met Eddie, who was a student at Gallaudet University for deaf students, in Washington, D.C., through social circles. On his first date, Chip nervously practiced finger-spelling every road sign he saw. In their early relationship, Chip and Eddie would go to museums, deaf events and plays. “(Eddie) was the first person I brought home to visit my parents,” Chip says. He remembers that Eddie was really sweet and a very good cook. “(Eddie) used to cook dinner for me, and I just love that because I love to eat,” Chip says.
After rethinking his career, Chip switched gears because he enjoyed being a part of as well as managing student activities. He and Eddie moved out to Arizona “He and I met and gosh within a year we were moving out to Arizona together,” Chip says. “It seems so crazy now, but we did it.” Chip received his master’s degree in college student personnel in 1998 from the University of Arizona. Chip and Eddie moved to California when Chip became the director of programs and marketing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He oversaw the program board and intramural sports. Chip stayed at Cal Poly for two years before he began working in the student union building at California State University, Fullerton from 2000 to 2004.
Chip decided to go back to school full-time to get his doctorate degree. He looked at a variety of universities before he chose Claremont Graduate University. During his search, he saw a job opening for a campus activities director at the University of La Verne. “I applied and got that job thinking it was going to be just a short term move,” Chip says. “I was going to be here for like a couple of years while I got my Ph.D., and it turns out I’m here now at year 11.” Chip decided to put off his education because he became busy at ULV, and he could not focus as much on his education as he should have.
At La Verne, Chip had amazing opportunities that boosted his career. Within six months, he became the director of student life, and he was promoted to assistant dean of student affairs and director of student life two years later. He was in charge of coordinating orientation, the first-year experience program and leadership programs. As director of student life, Chip advised student government, added Alpha Omicron Pi as a sorority, helped Greek life reach more than 350 members, presented the first Greek Leadership Awards and created Greek Week. “I’m proud to see a lot of it’s still continued even though I haven’t been involved for the last six years,” Chip says. Chip also split the associated students forum into ASULV and Campus Activities Board in order to focus their efforts and get more students involved.
In 2012, Chip finally found the time to go back to school and graduated with a Ph.D. in higher education, administration and finance. He had the opportunity to move over to facilities and capital planning during the construction of the Campus Center because of his previous experience in student unions. “Student unions have really been something that I enjoyed,” Chip says. “Creating spaces for students, collaboration, connections, creating space for them to interact.”
As he went into facilities management and capital planning, there were people who were transitioning out of the department. At the end of that year, Chip was invited to stay and oversee all capital planning. As vice president of capital planning, facilities and space management, Chip has been a part of various projects like the construction of Morgan Auditorium in Founders Hall, Campus West and Vista La Verne. He has also worked to add parking lots, labs and office spaces to the university. “Improving the quality of our facilities is always on the forefront,” Chip says. “Making strategic decisions that benefit the University for decades to come is really important.” He says there are about 30 on-going capital projects, which range from small projects like upgrades to classrooms, technology, infrastructure and sustainability, to bigger projects like the construction of the parking structure and drafting the master plan.
The master plan is a blueprint for the physical and technological development of the University over the next 20 years. While drafting the master plan, Chip had to think in terms of what ULV will be doing in the future. “It’s fun to be on the cutting edge of where the University is going and to see the possibilities that lay before us,” Chip says. “I’m really trying to think long-term what’s going to be in the best interest of the university.” He also planned infrastructures that support the academic mission and therefore make ULV an outstanding institution. Since Chip came from larger universities, he has always been surrounded by larger facilities and more students. “I think larger institutions in my experience have had quality programs and services for their students, and La Verne has really matched that in recent years,” Chip says. Chip believes that the University does a great job of being there for the students.
At home at La Verne
Chip says that, at La Verne, there are many tremendous individuals who go above and beyond every single day who are not paid for that amount work. “If you ask me what I’m most proud of, I’m most proud of the relationships that I’ve had with students through the years,” Chip says. He has never worked anywhere where they have relationships that he has experienced at ULV because he says that the students here are so appreciative and thoughtful. “La Verne offers the intimacy and the connections that those big schools don’t have, so I think bringing that quality of service and delivery and support is exactly what I love,” Chip says. He sees the future of the University as continuing to help, support and nurture the students’ development.
Chip’s coworkers describe him as an effective, multifaceted and passionate person. Clive Houston-Brown, vice president for facilities and technology at the University of La Verne and Chip’s supervisor, describes him as a very capable person with one of the highest energy levels. “He always takes time to recognize achievements, encourage people, praise effort and thank them for their efforts,” Houston-Brown says.
“I get to see first-hand his overwhelming talents in not only understanding, advocating and articulating his own areas of responsibility, but the way he actively engages and partners with other division-wide programs and services,” says Todd Britton, assistant vice president of information technology at the University of La Verne.
Chip stays busy with the projects that he is currently working on. His office is an organized mess with neat piles of papers spread throughout his desk. He continues to work on the budget for the parking structure that will begin construction in October. Behind his desk there is a shelf full of Disney picture frames that he has received as gifts from students and faculty members. Although he has many projects on his plate at any given time, Chip still manages to have time for his five children. The proud father is excited to go home everyday because he gets to spend time with his family. In his own time, Chip plays volleyball and reads books. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives.
On the night of the water park in Chip’s home, Eddie was sleeping on the couch. He was unaware of the situation that had occurred or that the two boys were still awake. Both boys had to clean the mess, and were sent to their room. The punishment: they were not allowed to have popsicles after dinner the following night.