Offering a place to call ‘home’

Cannon Connections photo: Liliana Castillo Maria De Santiago, left, sits with her 6-year-old daughter Kyara and Yolanda Infante. Infante took care of Kyara for nine months while De Santiago was deployed in Afghanistan.

By Eric Butler: Cannon Connections staff writer

Her friends call her yo-yo. But when it comes to taking care of kids, if a military mom is deployed overseas, Yolanda Infante is anything but.

In fact, she always seems willing to help out by providing a temporary home.

Over the past three years, Infante has consistently welcomed the children of her co-workers at Cannon Air Force Base’s Medical Group Clinic into her house.

One of the most recent guests was Senior Airman Maria De Santiago’s daughter, Kyara. After nine months of deployment, mostly in Afghanistan, De Santiago returned to meet up with her 6-year-old

“Miss Yo-Yo didn’t tell her anything. She (Kyara) thought they were there to pick up a friend of Yolanda’s,” De Santiago said. “She looked at me about three times before it kind of clicked. My mom and my dad were there too, so it was really nice.”

De Santiago and her daughter are living at Yolanda and Paul Infante’s home in Clovis as De Santiago waits for her housing to be ready in early July. Though the De Santiagos will soon be exiting, two more young girls of another single deployed mother are also staying at the house.

“I was seeing a lot of heartache with parents who were being deployed and what they were going to do with their children,” said Infante. “Whether they were single-parents or full families, that’s a big hardship on them. I had another child where both parents were deployed unexpectedly within a one-week period of each other.”

“I talked to her, told her I was going to be deployed, and she said she would take care of her. It was much easier than sending her home to my parents or her dad — and take her out of school,” said De Santiago, originally from Sunland Park, New Mexico. “I think she (Kyara) did really good. Actually, I was kind of surprised by the way she handled it.

“I tried not to call her too much. She had dance classes and everything and I didn’t want her to think about me too much. But I would call her once or twice a week,” De Santiago added.

The Infantes have three children who have grown up and left the house. Rarely, Yolanda said, has the house been without a child in it over the last three years.

The deployed parents, Yolanda Infante added, usually leave behind money or send money to take care of certain unexpected costs. But her service, by and large, is without charge for the basic necessities of shelter and food.

“My husband and I are capable of giving the kids love and stability and whatever they need,” Infante said. “My first concern is the child is healthy and well and continuing their normal life.”

“My biggest rewards are the love and hugs that these kids give us. I really enjoy it. I get really close to these kids, but I know I have to return them back and I do,” she added. “I bring them back happy and healthy and maybe a little fatter.”